Picture this: A beautiful Sunday morning at a beachfront café. After a stressful work week, you and your man are sitting down for a relaxed brunch & some quality couple time. You’re discussing the idea of summer vacation, dreaming up ideas of where you might enjoy more quality time together. Before you can say, “French West Indies,” his cell phone starts buzzing, a call is coming in. Without meeting your eyes, he reaches for the phone. Excitedly, he says “Hey Man, whaz up?” He and his buddy grunt out a quick conversation about a pickup ball game later that day, which, of course, seems completely meaningless to you. He disconnects, and you are now disconnected from him. Your “Boy-are-you-in-trouble” expression solidifies as your honey looks up and says, “What?”
What ensues is not pretty. What’s the real issue here? It is not the cell phone or its use in our society. As a therapist, the beef I have with digital distraction, is that when cell phones are allowed to interrupt a conversation or replace the conversation that is going on, their use is often a cop-out for intimacy and also demonstrates an inability to set boundaries in a fast-paced, ever-connected world.
Put simply: Excessive cell phone use allows us to hide away from our primary relationships…if we don’t really want to engage face to face for whatever reason. If we are squirming in our seats during a conversation that is not going the way we like, we may check the screen to see if anything, something, could please possibly call our attention away.
As we head toward becoming a nation of hyper-stimulated phone junkies, not only do we hide from others but from ourselves, and our deepest thoughts and feelings.
So, how do you know if your relationship is in jeopardy due to Digital Attraction? A couple of key questions:
Have you or your spouse ever spent a day being entertained by your phones, without making contact with another human being? Be honest here. And when was the last time you spent an entire day with your spouse and never checked your phone? Be honest here too.
What is the fallout/toll on the future of couples’ happiness if real face time is so difficult to achieve, in part, because of our digital devices? If we can’t learn to manage our addiction to constant stimulus where are we headed? Imagine a relationship that survives by texting. Without body language, intonation, nuance and emotion we are relegated to interpreting symbols. Nothing will ever replace the human touch. Think about how many times words you have texted were taken the wrong way. (Remember digging out from that mess??)
Cell phones are great for remembering things and reminding us of appointments (like birthdays and anniversaries, even what your partner’s favorite gift is), but they can not feel. We have to leave the feelings, thoughts, and meaning to the humans.
If we want to fully understand the effect of cell phones on our relationships, I am suggesting that you try the following experiment. For three days, do these things and see what you think at the end of it.
Before you start this short period detox from digital devices, think connection to your partner as the overriding goal–and during the steps, continue to think about connection (just not the kind AT&T provides). All of the suggestions below are about maintaining the bond between you and your mate. These steps will reveal to you what you are missing and hopefully will build respect for the real intimacy your relationship needs.
Write down how close you feel on a 1-10 scale at the beginning of the experiment and then at the end.
Digital Detox Steps for Your Relationship
1. Turn off your cell phone during contact with humans, especially during meals, or at times when you are actually having a conversation.
2. Use your phone for phone calls only.
3. Take a half hour a day for quiet reflection. (No TV on.)
4. During that reflection time, write down your thoughts and feelings.
5. Take a daily walk with your partner and leave your cell phone at home.
6. Make a list of activities that you engaged in instead of being on the phone or on the computer. How many included your partner?
Interestingly, folks, the iPhone has an “accept” or “ignore” button. I recommend the latter when you are with your partner. No exceptions unless a family member is hanging from a ledge and they need you to talk them down.