A Therapist Gives 4 Tips To Protect Your Relationship From 'Technoference'
Are you in a relationship with your partner or your phone?
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | October 14, 2022
Many people come to therapy hoping to improve the communication they have with their partner. They may say things like:
- "We spend a lot of time together but I'm still worried that we're drifting apart."
- "I feel like my partner is always on their phone. It's giving me anxiety."
- I'm not sure either of us really knows how to 'disconnect' anymore."
These are valid concerns. One recent study published in the academic journal Media Psychology found that an overuse of technology, compared to other leisure activities, significantly increased relationship conflict and dissatisfaction. Other research published in Sex and Marital Therapy found that technoference can sour a relationship's sexual chemistry.
Here, I'll talk about four ways to protect your relationship from technoference, phubbing, and other negative influences of modern technology.
#1. Don't use your phone for anything you wouldn't feel comfortable telling your partner about.
Sometimes, it's not the technology that's driving a wedge in your relationship, it's the lack of trust. You may wonder what your partner is doing when they are on their phone for long stretches of time. What are they smiling about? Why do they look so interested? What do they know that I don't?
These types of thoughts can weigh heavily on you. They may cause you to jump to conclusions or second-guess the status of your partnership.
It's important to voice these concerns to your partner. Tell them that you feel cut out when they are on their phone and ask them to take a break or set boundaries.
By the same token, monitor your own use of technology to make sure your partner doesn't feel cut off either. Communicate with your partner what you are doing on your phone, try to include them when you can, and avoid any activity that could compromise the trust your partner has in you and your relationship.
#2. Use technology in ways that augment your relationship, not sideline it.
Do you and your partner have a favorite TV show that you always watch together? Do you plan a weekly 'Netflix and chill' night? Do you have a shared social media account that you both contribute to? Are you jointly involved in any online communities around a similar interest you have?
These are some of the ways you can use technology to augment the depth of your connection.
Try to avoid bad habits, such as:
- Checking your phone or email shortly after returning from work. Relationship scientists talk about relationship 'jet lag,' a feeling of disconnection that occurs when couple's reunite after spending a stretch of time away from each other, like being at work all day. To break relationship jet lag quickly, focus your attention exclusively on your partner and avoid any technological distractions.
- Don't check your phone during dinner or meal time. Your mother probably required you to turn off the television during dinner time when you were growing up. Apply the same etiquette to your phone.
#3. Set technology boundaries and hold each other accountable.
What technological boundaries have you set for yourself and your relationship? Do you have a no-phone day? Do you try to minimize your screentime after 8 p.m.?
If you're experiencing technoference in your relationship, it's important to have a conversation with your partner about what boundaries need to be put in place to keep your relationship in a healthy place.
#4. Tip the scales in favor of active leisure activities.
While technology can help you and your relationship when used properly, its happiness-boosting powers pale in comparison to traditional forms of leisure. One study published in Social Psychology and Personality Science found that people who take part in more active leisure pursuits such as praying, socializing, and exercising tend to be happier than people who engage in more passive leisure pursuits such as watching TV, napping, and resting.
Moving your body is one of the keys to happiness. It is all but lost when you are on your phone, tablet, or TV.
With a bit of effort, technology can shift from a net negative to a net positive for your relationship. To break the pattern of technoference, remember to (1) use your phone in ways your partner would approve of, (2) use technology to do more things together, (3) set screentime boundaries, and (4) don't choose your phone over other hobbies or active leisure pursuits.