There are so many ways to instantly communicate with anyone right at your fingertips. But despite this age of heightened connectivity, an increasing number of couples come to me citing device usage and social media as an issue in their relationship. Excessive device usage acts as a barrier to quality communication, which leaves partners feeling ignored or unimportant.
Many of us have experienced sharing a significant story with someone and they grab their cell phone halfway through the conversation. Attempting to share the highlights of your day with your partner but they have their nose buried in their Facebook feed? Trying to relay a story about your son but your partner is flipping through Instagram?
Well, the message seems clear – their phone is more important than you are at this moment. Over time, this can be very problematic, leading to feelings of rejection and separateness. You may even start to believe, “Why bother?”
Recent research indicates how cell phones are affecting our relationships. In a study titled “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone,” Meredith Davis and James Roberts suggest that the overuse of cell phones can lead to greater dissatisfaction within our most important relationships. According to their study, which included 145 adults, excessive device usage decreased marital satisfaction.
An additional study by Chinese scientists assessed 243 married adults with similar outcomes. This study posits that excessive phone usage not only decreases your marital satisfaction, but it also contributes to a greater likelihood of depression. And even more concerning is that 86% of American adults constantly check their devices for social media updates, email, and text messages.
The implications are clear; our most important relationships can be dulled and diminished in favor of screen time. But you and your partner can work together to overcome excessive device usage and reconnect with face-to-face time together.
The Importance of Bids
Drs. John and Julie Gottman assert the importance of “bids” in healthy relationships. A bid is an attempt at seeking attention, affirmation, and/or affection to positively connect with your partner.
For example, at a meal together you might say, “I can’t decide between the fish and the steak” to your companion. Although the content of the statement isn’t incredibly important here, it’s a simple attempt to connect with your partner in that moment. Your partner could keep perusing their menu and ignore you, or they could accept your bid for connection and say something like, “They both sound good, but didn’t you just have steak the other night when you tried that new restaurant down the street?”
If your partner responds positively in that very small interaction, they are being mindful that you want to connect with them and are “turning toward” you. Dr. Gottman’s research suggests that successful couples turn toward each other about 86% of the time, and accepting your partner’s bids requires paying attention, which is something you can’t do if you’re using your phone.
Too much screen time may also prompt trust issues. Is your partner communicating with someone else? Are they messaging with an ex through Facebook? Social media may blur the lines of what is acceptable behavior and it could potentially lead to an emotional affair, so make sure to have a conversation with your partner about what is off limits and why.
A good rule of thumb: use real world boundaries as a guide. If you wouldn’t have that conversation with a Facebook friend in real life with your partner by your side, it’s probably best not to do it online, either.
Spending Device-Free Time Together
You should make it a priority to spend quality time with your partner without your cell phone. But before you make any rules, you should examine your own phone habits first and discuss the issue with your partner calmly and respectfully.
James Roberts, in addition to his co-authored study above, also wrote “Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?” He explains that “if you need to improve as well, approach your partner that this is something you need to tackle together. If you point the finger at your partner without taking responsibility for your own behavior, it won’t go over well.” Like Dr. John Gottman suggests, it is always best to express how you feel and what you need by using a soft start-up.
Once you and your partner have that discussion, try taking 30 minutes together, face-to-face, as a trial run without phones. Notice how different your interaction and conversation feels when you can see each other’s facial expressions and make eye contact, which will give you an indication of how much more connected the two of you may be when spending time device-free. Express how you feel after those 30 minutes, and try to build that routine into your daily life with your partner.
Outside of 30 minutes of daily device-free time, silencing your phone during dinner, or even leaving it in another room, is a good habit to get into so you can focus on the meal and on your partner and/or family. You can make an agreement with your partner on when and where smartphones will be allowed or not, and there are apps that you can use to monitor how much time you’re spending on the phone, especially if you’d like to cut back on device usage overall.
Despite these suggestions, some of my clients will say, “But I have to be plugged in for work.” The importance of staying connected to your job is understandable, especially that more and more employers expect their employees to be accessible outside of work, but you can set boundaries for work-related phone use, too. You could try using a “do not disturb” feature on your phone to silence alerts and phone calls, but you can also allow certain contacts (like your boss) to get through in case there’s an urgent issue that needs your attention.
Whether you use your phone for work or leisure, it’s important to make an effort to spend more time face-to-face with your partner. All it takes is to be present, look your partner in the eyes, and have a real conversation. Once you feel more connected to them, you’ll know that it’s worth the effort.
Katie Golem, MSW, LSW
(Katie Golem is a licensed social worker and psychotherapist based in Chicago, IL. Working with both couples and individuals, she is passionate about helping others thrive. She also loves to write – you can find her blog here: artemiscounseling.com. Article originally posted at https://www.gottman.com/blog/smartphone-might-sabotage-relationship/. Reposted with permission.)
[Editor’s note: This article was originally posted at the end of November at www.cpyu.org. While Matt Lauer is no longer at the top of our news feeds, hardly a day goes by without another well-known individual being called out for sexual misconduct. These are points worth reflecting on regardless of the specific name in the headlines.]
Trending. . . Matt Lauer. . . at number one on my news feed. As of this morning, one of the voices that’s been sharing the growing cascade of #metoo stories over the last few weeks is now the subject of those stories himself. I watched as visibly rattled co-workers Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb explained Lauer’s absence on this morning’s Today Show.
How did you react when you heard the story? What thoughts went through your mind?
At times like this, I’ve learned that it might actually be a wiser move to focus on my own thoughts/reaction than on the story and its subject. And I’m not at all proud of the fact that the learning curve on this skill took much more time for me than it should have. And, I’m still tempted to default to focus on guys like Matt Lauer than on myself. That’s a blatant confession.
Upon seeing the news pop up in my feed this morning, I experienced a bit of jolt. Matt Lauer??? Come on. But that jolt very quickly morphed into the thought of “sad but not surprised” . . . a consequence of years and years of watching culture, pondering the reality of human depravity, and looking more deeply into my own broken and messed-up heart. This isn’t the last one of these stories we’re going to hear. . . not at all.
What is that you do with news like this? I think that there’s great value in self-evaluating how each of us evaluates and responds to these kinds of stories. In other words, before getting on with the rest of our day, it’s a good thing to theologize about, to learn from, and to think about how to process these stories with our own selves and with the kids we know and love.
I’ve been working on doing that this morning. In fact, I’ve put other tasks aside for the simple reason that my mind’s been racing. Here are some of my initial, typically-incomplete, and hopefully-helpful thoughts. . .
First, if your initial reaction is a smug, self-assured, disapproving finger wag in the direction of Matt Lauer and others like him. . . well, that’s quite telling. I’m ashamed to admit that in years past I was more prone to head immediately down this Pharisaical avenue than I am now. . . I hope. It’s easy to default into self-righteous finger-wagging when the subject of the story is someone who doesn’t share your views on faith and life, and who is one who sometimes pushes back hard on your views of faith and life. Let’s be honest here. . . if you’re a person of Christian faith you are tempted and even beyond tempted to rejoice in the downfall of folks who think, believe, and behave differently. But when that happens, we really aren’t thinking, believing, and behaving differently. Our actions prove that. Nor are we bringing honor and glory to the One who saved us when we had absolutely no hope at all of saving ourselves.
Second, if you politicize this and other stories like it, then you are making a horrible, horrible mistake.The reality is that this isn’t a political issue. It’s a human nature issue. It’s not an issue for either just conservatives or liberals. It’s evidence of a universal struggle. Sexual brokenness, temptation, and sin in thought, word, and deed is no respecter of persons, faith commitments, or political views. Whenever someone uses the issue as political or ideological ammo. . . no matter who they are. . . well shame on them. And shame on me if I cave into that temptation.
Third, this is a time to remember this rock-solid truth: “There but for the grace of God go I.” While my own human depravity should never be used as an excuse to write-off or justify the sin of others (or God-forbid, my own sin), I must also never forget that if I’m honest with myself, “there but for the grace of God go I.” And while I must reckon with the ever-present enemy of my own depravity and the one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” I must always “stay alert” and watching out for this enemy who would love nothing more than to take me down. And, we all need to be reminded that even he might not be successful in taking us down through sexual sin, any self-righteous gloating over the fact is an indicator that he is very sneaky in other ways. . . like taking us down through pride.
And finally, today’s story and others like it offer us great opportunities to teach our kids in ways that will equip them for a sober-minded life which makes them continually aware of the enemy within. It was timely that even before seeing the story on Matt Lauer this morning, I prayed these words from today’s entry in Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers book: “Protect us from the evil one, and rescue us from ourselves.”
One good sin never deserves another. That’s why we need to spend so much time looking inward at ourselves. Today’s story is not one that should teach us about Matt Lauer. Why? Because in so many ways Matt Lauer is each one of us. Because of that, this is an opportunity to learn even more about ourselves and to teach our kids the increasingly-forgotten skill of doing the same.
Article by Walt Mueller, founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. Learn more at www.cpyu.org.
The New York Times and other prominent news sources recently reported that there is now proof that abstinence-only programs don’t work. A meta-analysis of data (this means analyzing data from a number of different studies) “found no good evidence that such programs delayed the age of first sexual intercourse or reduced the number of partners an adolescent might have.”
Let me first state that such research and reporting is always approached with a bias. It’s impossible to conduct research and write articles like these without the desire to prove what you already believe to be true (just as I write with a bias towards a biblical view of sexuality). In fact, the New York Times article concedes that some research suggests that four abstinence-only programs have had a positive impact (Healthy Futures, Positive Potential, Heritage Keepers, and Promoting Health Among Teens (PHAT)).
While I believe we must be teaching abstinence, I agree with the New York Times that teaching abstinence alone is not enough. In fact, no form of “sex education” is going to ultimately keep teenagers from engaging in sexual activity. We live in a world where sexual experimentation, viewing sexually explicit shows like “Game of Thrones,” and engaging with pornography have become accepted norms even among Christian teens. We have a sexually permissive and explicit culture targeting teens and young adults who have sexual desire and a sin nature. Add to that the impact of smart phones, streaming technology, and the delay of marriage and you have a toxic recipe that seems practically impossible to stand against.
I truly wish there were some course or magic pill we could give teens (including my own) that would instill in them the danger of sexual immorality and the beauty of God’s plan. Unfortunately, there is no such fool-proof plan.
Even Christian-based abstinence programs that have positively impacted thousands of teens and young adults have also created confusion and disillusionment for others who felt God promised them a happy marriage with great sex if only they abstained. Some reacted to such programs with deep shame that they could no longer be among the elite sexually pure because of past choices.
Whatever your opinion of abstinence-only education, please don’t think that what the world is offering is effective in advocating a healthy understanding of sex. Modern sex education encourages experimentation, sexual/gender fluidity, and self-exploration as natural and healthy. This will inevitably end up in more confusion and a view of sexuality is that is completely divorced from God’s created purpose of this gift in our lives.
The bottom line is we need a new model for how we approach sexuality, not just with teens, but even among adults.
We have to have a greater goal than sexual purity.
While abstinence is very important to teach children and youth, it is not the most important message we have to give. More valuable than a teen’s sexual choices is the choice of trusting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Sometimes I fear that we get the cart before the horse. Being sexually pure does not lead to eternal salvation for our children. By contrast, it’s only through a relationship with Jesus Christ that a person has a compelling reason and the spiritual power to say no to peer pressure, strong sexual desire and temptations.
Sexual purity is not just about saying “no” to having sex with your boyfriend. It has to be rooted in a broader understanding of our God’s love for us, the harmful impact of rejecting His design, and the hope of His redemption in our lives. The reality is that most teenagers are looking at porn, experimenting sexually and are not convinced that there is anything morally wrong with any of these behaviors. In fact, the culture is working hard to erase any sexual ethic other than do what you like as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. Showing up with a “just say no to sex” message is like bringing a Dixie cup to confront a Super Soaker.
We need more than education.
While I wholeheartedly support the efforts of those who are teaching abstinence in schools, churches and in their own homes, it’s a mistake to think that information alone will be enough to stand against the internal and external pressures teens are facing. Similarly, a promise ceremony or signing a purity pledge may be external symbols of a commitment to abstinence, but teens and young adults must be equipped with a more complete picture of the spiritual landscape of sexuality. Why does sexuality matter to God? Why do I matter to God? Why is sex so often associated with shame? Most importantly, how do I understand the gospel in light of my sexuality and my sexual choices?
If you’ve been engaging with Authentic Intimacy as a ministry, you know that we are passionate about sexual discipleship™. The sexual discipleship™ model means that we teach about sexuality within the lifestyle of following Jesus, not just a class addressing purity or cultural questions. Discipleship requires relationship, modeling and honest dialogue throughout daily life.
Whatever models we might use in academic settings to teach about sexual health will ultimately be insufficient in keeping them “safe” if teens do not have parents and mentors who have a greater goal for them abstinence.
By Dr. Juli Slattery
This blog has been re-posted from Authentic Intimacy. Used with permission.