3 Simple Steps to Take Your Power Back From Your Phone
By Corinne Farago
It’s hard to believe we’ve only had smart phones in our lives since 2007. Prior to that if couples wanted to ignore each other they hid behind newspapers.
The cliché of the man, sitting at the dinner table with a newspaper up to his face has been replaced with the couple sitting in a restaurant scrolling their cell phones.
Same problem, same complaint, and same solution, ultimately.
If you’re using your phone as a way to avoid human intimacy, connection and conversation, then it doesn’t matter what you’re hiding behind, you’re still hiding.
Newspapers had a limited number of pages, with limited stories. At some point you were going to read the whole thing and eventually put it down, but phones are infinite, they connect us to a never-ending universe of information.
Phones have become our ‘outside brain’. There is no end to the thoughts, stories, information and propaganda our outside brain insists on sharing with us, whether we want to hear it in the moment, or not.
We’re being well trained to answer the bidding of our pocket masters. Our brains are now wired to respond to the calling of notifications, dings, and bells, with either a minute hit of dopamine or a tiny jolt of cortisol. For most of us, our phones are calling the shots.
A quick look down at our ‘outside brain’, and there’s a whole world of messages and images that say, ‘look at me, I’m far more interesting than the human sitting across from you.’
The couples I coach who are over 60 generally have a more utilitarian, relationship to their phone, like actually having phone calls with human voices on the other end. But for the under 60s, especially those in their 40s and 30s, phone dependency is now on the list of common complaints from partners.
A recent study published in the journal, Psychology of Popular Media Culture examined how smartphone use and smartphone dependency affect the health of relationships among college-aged adults. The study showed a significant correlation between higher levels of dependency on smartphones and higher levels of relationship uncertainty.
Think about this, the typical American checks their smartphone once every six-and-a-half minutes, or roughly 150 times a day. How many of these phone checks are pausing an intimate conversation with a loved one, or interrupting a shared moment of human connection.
The effected partner can become trained as well, trained to feel less important, unseen, discounted by their partner’s phone habits. Studies have recently tied phone dependency to partner depression and relationship dissatisfaction.
“She never puts her phone down, literally.” “Whenever we fight, he goes to his phone and doesn’t want to talk.”
When I suggest some new etiquette around phone use, it’s usually met with a stunned silence. Some couples will look at me like I’m suggesting something quite radical, even dangerous.
I think it’s an heroic demonstration of love, to say to your partner, let’s agree to leave our phones outside of the bedroom, or let’s leave our phones in the car while we eat out, or let’s avoid pulling our phones out if we’ve having a disagreement.
Write agreements down and sign your names at the bottom. Make it formal. Get a witness to sign off on it, whatever it takes for you both to acknowledge that agreements have been made, and then see what happens. Get curious about what life is like when you take your power back from your phones.
What would it be like to remove your ‘alternate universe’ from your together time with your partner, and engage in full sentences that have awkward moments of silence, rambling unedited thoughts, even, God forbid, boredom. Who knows where it will lead?
By removing our phones from our intimate life, we make the time and space to slow down and explore human connection that goes deeper than our usual day-to-day engagement with our partner. We have the dedicated, uninterrupted time, to share ourselves, find out new things about our partner, and stay current with their thoughts, their vulnerability and their intimate confessions.
It’s unfair to ask our partner to compete with the instant gratification of ‘likes’, alerts, calls to action, and feeds that are custom designed to fuel our latest interests.
Every time my phone dings or buzzes with a notification I think about the scene from the Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma’, in which three men are depicted as the controllers behind the phone, working day and night to find ways to draw my attention to my phone; texts from friends, social media, Facebook Messenger, news alerts, traffic updates, voicemails.
The ‘Social Dilemma’ helped me recognize the non-stop war playing out between my phone and my increasingly weary and divided attention. Sometimes I feel like I’m losing the battle, but I’m also hopeful, that as we contend with the ongoing invasion of technology in our lives, we are also defining our values and our boundaries.
I hear parents talk about creating restrictions on phone time with their kids, taking their phones away at bedtime, limiting screen time etc. So let’s bring that same wisdom to protecting our intimate time with our partners by unplugging from the world and learning what it’s like to be alone together in analog.
Here are 3 simple steps to start taking your power back from your phone:
Acknowledge that there’s a problem. Listen to your partner. If their experience of your phone use is causing them to feel unimportant, undeserving of your attention, insecure when the phone is always on and within view during alone time, it’s time to have an honest conversation about phone dependency and solutions.
Agree on what’s important. We all have obligations, work commitments, and parental responsibilities, but you can still eliminate the distraction–set your phone to allow calls from these important contacts when on do-not-disturb, and then use it. The rest can wait.
Create phone-free periods. Agree on specific times like, intimacy dates, evenings after a certain hour (NEVER in bed), long walks, time with the kids, when phones are put away in the other room.
For the ambitiously advanced radicals out there, try a techno cleanse for a weekend or a vacation. Give your brain a break from dopamine/cortisol concoctions that come with every notification. Step back into a relaxed world of analog intimacy, extended eye contact, empathetic listening, and conversations that are more than 280 characters.
Love, sex and desire start with connection. If this is missing in your relationship, I will help you find your way back to ‘face-to-face’ time.
My female cousin was a primary contributor to my early sex education, when I needed it most. For instance she clarified that I couldn’t get pregnant by dancing with a boy, no matter how close we got. She also confirmed that I wasn’t the only person who touched themselves (down there), and most importantly, she showed me that ‘wellness massagers from Sears were used for things other than sore necks and shoulders. A few years later my boyfriend introduced me to the real deal. A vibrator made specifically for genital arousal. It was a cream colored, hard plastic, shapeless cylinder with a twisting on/off switch at the end.
This week a client told me she was doing a Marie Kondo on her closet. She was getting rid of what no longer gave her joy.
We went on to talk about her sex life with her partner and the nagging resistance she has to being touched.
Somewhere along the line she formed a belief system about touch. She couldn’t identify a particular incident that informed that belief system. There was no trauma or abuse. She just knew that when she was touched (even by her loving partner) her body would recoil and she’d shut down.
There’s no getting away from the fact that couples in long-term relationships impact each other profoundly, in small and large ways. If you’re a couple who live together there are moments throughout each day that bring you together to discuss something, to work on a task, to accomplish an errand, to share a story, or listen to one. Partners flow in and around each other with such symbiosis, that we can sometimes feel like we’re one mechanism with a shared mind.
Even in the midst of this unprecedented time, the holiday season is once again upon us. If you’re fortunate enough to have one or more loved ones around you, you’re probably giving and receiving a gift or two. I’d like to share a few thoughts I have on gifting.