Is your smartphone harming your relationships?

Just how much does technology interfere with your relationship? Today’s smartphones enable you to constantly be in contact with everyone, with the office, and access the Internet or the cloud for needed information on the fly. That's good, right?

"It depends" is the answer.

Constant and easy access to technology can often overwhelm the positives and make these devices harmful to your relationships and life. More and more texts, tweets, FaceBook messages, and Candy Crush or other games tend to crowd your time together.

Today I'm going to share how devices can be harmful not only to your relationships, but also to your health.  Then I will offer some tips on how to use your smartphone smartly.

Whats wrong with the constant use of the technology at your fingertips.

  • Lowers well-being.  Research by Brigham Young University shows the majority of women in relationships reported that phones, computers, and other devices where significantly disrupting their relationships and family lives, as well as making them more depressed.
  • Multi-tasking diverts your attention.  With the emails rolling in and the Internet so accessible, you can spend too much time responding to trivial matters.  These constant interruptions and distractions all but eliminate the quiet time you need to think, to solve problems, tackle priority issues, or enhance your connection with the one you love.
  • Interferes with intimacy.  Just imagine a potentially romantic moment—a cozy supper, an intimate conversation, snuggling together—being disrupted by your eagerness to respond to a 140-character tweet or a text message.  What happens?  What message are you sending to your partner?  I can tell you that romance was just blown out the window!  When your partner feels that the message you are sending over and over is “What I’m doing on my phone right now is more important than you;” or “I’m more interested in these random people than in you,” feelings of rejection happen.  Also, don’t feel surprised if your love and sexual life are negatively impacted.
  • Lowers your performance.  According to two studies from the University of Southern Maine, the mere presence of a cell phone can reduce the quality of your task performance by as much as 20%.  It doesn't even have to be in your hand.  Another study conducted by TNS Research determined that workers distracted by phone calls, emails and text messages suffer greater losses of IQ than people smoking marijuana.  These effects accumulate.  Imagine what it does to your children trying to do homework or to the quality of your conversations. 
  • Damages relationships. Your smartphone can make you both absent and rude.  When you are checking your phone or let a call interrupt a conversation, your partner feels unimportant. It's as if you were saying: "You are not worthy of my attention."  This can create anger and resentment, and lower your connection.  Try having a conversation or a meal where you are totally present, with no electronics on or around you, and listening intently.  Notice the difference it can make!

Tips for using technology smartly

To be used effectively, smartphones require discipline and self-control.  If you notice that interference from technology is causing problems in your relationships, consider addressing the issue in the following ways.

  1. Assess the extent of your dependency.  Are you becoming addicted to your devices?  Do you find yourself restless if you don't have access to your phone, tablet, or computer?  Can you hold a conversation without checking incoming input often?  Can you go to a restaurant and not be checking your phone?
  2. Acknowledge valid use but limit it.  Differentiate between responsibilities, obligations, demands, and just plain curiosity or need for instant gratification.  Set up rigorous controls on how often you receive emails (do not use automatic syncing and turn off signals about incoming mail).  Set up time locks that prevent access to games, apps and even the Internet.  Create time-outs from smartphones, especially when you are interacting with your family, during the most productive time of your day, at nights and on weekends.
  3. Agree on fair expectations.  Discuss with your partner how to find a better balance between responding to obligations, demands, or friends and minimizing intrusions into your relationship or family time.
  4. Create technology-free zones and times. Agree on places--like the dining room, or the bedroom--that are device-prohibited.  Decide on times—say, after 9:00 PM— after which nobody will have devices with them.  If for any reason you need to be able to answer the phone—because you are on call, or have a sick parent, or your teenager is out—find a way to have only those calls come through (maybe with a different ring?).  That way, nobody has to worry about interruptions. 
  5. Create downtime from technology.  Without downtime to recharge your batteries, your stress levels increase with damaging effects on cognition and physical health.  The same is true for your family.  Schedule at least a couple of days per quarter for you and your partner to go on retreat and let go of technology interruptions.  You also need some free time from electronics each day and each week.  And the same applies to your family.

Conversation and Connection doesn't happen when you are glued to your devices.  Your relationship becomes stronger when you deepen your ability to focus on the other person, to take time to do fun things together, and to connect at a deeper level.  

Use technology smartly.  Let it help you be informed and connected in a positive way by controlling it instead of letting it control you.  Don't let your smartphone damage your relationship!

If part of your problem is that you are not sure how to talk to your partner, get my FREE Communication Guidelines and learn the Do's and Don'ts of dialogue.

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