Are you one of those who a smartphone is ‘outsmarting’ their marriages/relationships? If yes, you definitely need to read this lengthy article by UK family expert, Katharine Hill.
Katharine Hill wrote: Last week I read an email from a woman in despair because she feared her 12- year marriage was all but over.
Clare stressed she loves her husband but admitted they haven’t had sex for more than a year. “All the physical and emotional intimacy between us has gone,” she wrote.”We barely seem to know each other any more.“
Despite feeling horribly disconnected, Clare insisted she and her partner spend plenty of time together as a couple.
They’re raising 2 children and share a life, a home and a double bed. Once their daughters are tucked up for the night they even spend their evenings curled up on the same sofa.
But, she said, it isn’t enough. “He’s next to me, watching the same TV programme, but we’re not in the same place because he’s so focused on his phone,” she explained. “When we go up to bed, the phone comes too and I end up falling asleep feeling dreadfully alone.”
It was only when I got to the end of her email that I read Clare’s most telling words. “I just wish my husband found me as interesting as he does his iPhone,” she wrote, before signing off with the startling claim that she fears he “loves that wretched device more than he does me“. It was that final sentence — so full of sorrow and resentment — that, for me, sums up so much of what has gone wrong for this couple.
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Clearly, there are 3 of them in their marriage: Clare, her husband and his mobile phone. Whether they’re watching TV together, out for dinner or just chatting over a cup of tea, his phone only has to ping for his attention to be diverted from his wife straight away.
Where once they shared pillow talk, these days he checks his work emails and social media accounts in bed.
Clare’s husband is a successful businessman who operates across different time zones, which understandably makes it difficult to switch off from work. But it’s the phone taking over in the bedroom which really rankles — and depresses — Clare.
When I made contact with her, I discovered that she’s strict with her own phone use, and makes sure the children’s time on gadgets is limited.
“But my husband refuses to curb his own unhealthy habits,” she told me. “I feel like he brings the office into our bedroom each night. I think he’s so used to being on his phone while he travels that it’s hard to switch off in the evenings. It irritates me that he’s looking at it when we watch TV and even during meal times, but it’s when I turn to him in bed and he’s peering at that screen with his reading glasses on that it makes me feel like hurling the thing at a wall. It’s so intrusive. No wonder our sex life has died. It’s the last thing he looks at before he goes to sleep and he picks it up again before saying good morning to me.”
I wish I could say that Clare is the 1st person to share this kind of problem with me. Unfortunately, though, this unhealthy relationship dynamic is anything but rare.
Researchers recently published the results of a major study into the detrimental impact that the screens in our homes can have on our sex lives. A television in the home is enough to damage a couple’s sex life, making them 6% less likely to make love. But, wrote the authors, “the smartphone might be the real sex life killer.”
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This research, led by the University of Delaware, found that people are increasingly willing to substitute electronic media for real-life intimacy.
Meanwhile, research experts Deloitte last week released its annual Mobile Consumer Survey, which looks into people’s habits on their smartphones, which found that 43% of us think our partner uses their phone too much.
All of this resonates with my work as UK director of the charity Care For The Family, which supports relationships and family life. My job means that, at our events, I repeatedly speak to people like Clare whose relationship lacks physical closeness because one or both of the couple are in thrall to their smartphones.
There is an urgent need to create boundaries to protect our relationships and love lives. Because it’s no good if, once the children are in bed, a smartphone free-for-all ensues. If you or your husband are scrolling through emails or social media feeds in bed, then you’ve effectively brought several hundred other people into the room to join you.
You’re globally connected, but emotionally cut off from the person lying next to you.
This, says office manager Louise Berry, sums up much of the damage excessive smartphone use is doing to her marriage.
She and her husband, Martin, 42, a national accounts manager for a drinks firm, often sit in the same room while holding a conversation with each other via Facebook.
“We’ve got into this terrible habit of engaging with lots of people on there instead of just talking to each other,” she explains. “I suppose it’s more interesting, but the downside is that we feel horribly disconnected these days.”
Louise, 49, agrees that this has impacted on their love life. “Where we used to lie in bed cuddling and chatting, which might then naturally lead to making love, these days we’re both glued to our phones until lights out. Sometimes he’ll want to have sex, but I’ll be engrossed in my phone and by the time I’ve put it down the moment’s passed and we just go to sleep. Other times it’ll be the other way around, and I’ll be the one left feeling rejected.”
Louise says she sometimes wishes she could turn back the clock to when she and Martin, who live with their daughter, Summer, 7, in Portsmouth, first met 9 years ago.
“Smartphones weren’t such a thing then,” she says. “I remember how much closer we seemed, probably because we spent so much more time talking to each other. We made more effort to go out together, too, whereas these days we’re stuck in this rut of spending our evenings on our phones and can’t be bothered to arrange anything. I know we have a daughter, but that shouldn’t stop us from having a shared social life in the real world. When she’s gone to bed we’re just too busy with the one we’ve created on social media to make that effort.”
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Louise says that while she admits to being on her own phone too much, her husband’s use is truly excessive.
“If we’re out as a family, having a meal together or even if I’m trying to hold a conversation with him, Martin is constantly on his phone. In fact, if I try to picture him then the image that pops up is of the top of his head because he’s constantly looking down at the screen on his phone. I feel like I’m permanently annoyed with Martin because I never get his full attention. If I ask him to do a chore for me, like fix something around the house, it doesn’t happen — and that’s not because he can’t be bothered; it’s that he didn’t register that I’d asked him to do it in the first place because he was only half listening, distracted by his phone.”
No wonder this couple’s love life has been affected. Being intimate requires giving your partner your undivided attention. How can you do that if you jump every time you get a notification on your phone?
After all, these phones of ours are so very clever when it comes to getting us to notice them. Every news and social media app we download is programmed to pique our interest with alluring pings and vibrations that soon light up the reward centre in our brains.
Meanwhile, physical closeness requires regular eye contact with your partner — you can’t achieve that if you’re constantly looking down at your phone instead of across at their face.
We don’t feel like we’re betraying our loved ones by behaving in this way, because that little device in our pocket doesn’t feel like a person.
And yet we sleep alongside them; we carry them around with us from room to room. We panic when we we don’t know where they are — really, they might as well be human. No wonder they can cause so much damage.
I won’t pretend to be immune to any of this myself. As someone who repeatedly has to bring my own smartphone use into check for the sake of my relationship, I’m observing rather than preaching here.
Actually, only this week, I shared a long car journey with my husband, Richard, who offered to drive. My first thought was: “Oh great, a couple of hours where I can catch up on my emails.
And that’s despite having shared countless conversations with people who’ve told me how shut out they feel when they’re behind the wheel and their partner’s on their phone. “I feel like she’s gone into a world I’m not part of, and I might as well be in the car alone,” one husband told me.
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Recently, Richard and I went out for coffee. He stayed at the counter to collect our order while I grabbed the only free table. As I looked around the cafe, I noticed several other couples around me. Almost all were sitting opposite each other in silence, engrossed in their mobile phones.
It struck me that if they’d been having coffee with someone they didn’t know so well, or were on a first date, they’d have put their phones on silent and made the effort to talk.
Then, as Richard came over with the coffee, I felt my own phone buzz in my pocket and my hand automatically reached to check it.
Despite everything I know about the damage smartphones can inflict on a relationship, I was still desperate to see who or what had demanded my attention. I stopped myself just in time, remembering that the person I really needed to focus on was sitting right in front of me.
I’m not saying that we should ditch smartphones altogether. Far from it — we live in a digital age and the use of technology brings with it huge opportunities as well as challenges.
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One of these is the way it allows couples to stay in touch when life pulls them apart.
My role at Care For The Family means that I am often away speaking at our events.
With conflicting work schedules, communicating every day and by any means possible — be that via phone calls, texts or internet apps — keeps us in step. Our smartphones make that easier. But we also know that to protect a marriage, we need to have rules that limit the negative impact this technology could have on us.
Richard and I have found that keeping notifications switched off during down time together — or even turning our phones off altogether — really helps. We’re looking at instigating a bedroom ban, too.
Above all, we always try to remember that there’s only ever room for 2 people in a marriage — and that if you keep prioritizing your smartphone over your partner, then ultimately that might end up being all you’re left with. Couples who agree to set smartphone boundaries tend to have healthier relationships with them.
Below is a guide on how to set boundaries for bedroom phone habit
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