It’s the end of a long day and the kids are tucked in for the night. You and your significant other have finally crawled into bed and are actually blissfully alone for the first time all day. It’s the perfect chance to reconnect after a day devoted to careers, kids, and running a busy household. You lean back against the soft pillows, alone at last. And then it happens: instead of spending the evening snuggling together, exchanging intimacies about yourself and your day while you enjoy the pleasure of physical contact with one another, you both bring out your smart phones.
Soon you are both under the covers chatting, but distracted by email, texts and other electronic delights. The chance for a real connection with your partner is gone again tonight, just like it was last night, and probably will be again tomorrow night.
It’s a scene that’s played out in bedrooms across America every night; night after night, after night.
The conversations in those bedrooms often go something like this:
He: So, how was your day? (checking email)
She: It was okay I guess. (reviewing social media app)
He: Hey, I saw Joe at Austin’s soccer game. (composing email)
She: Really? How’s he doing? (sending text message)
He: He said he’s doing alright, but the divorce has been hard on the kids. (opening another app)
She: I still can’t believe he and Abby fell apart like that. (reading text message) You don’t think that could happen to us, do you?
He: I don’t think so, they were really having troubling connecting there at the end… (starting a game)
Couples often come to therapy complaining about “poor communication.” They say that they’ve ”lost touch with one another,” and that they no longer have true intimacy in their relationship. It is not surprising that intimacy can seem so lacking in our relationships when we are unable to get our partners to look up from their smart phone screens and make eye contact with us, even when we are alone in the privacy of our own bedrooms.
In our hurried modern lives, those few hours and minutes we share alone with our partner at the end of the day are a rare chance to reconnect and recharge our relationships. Yet many, many couples fail to take advantage of this time, either because of fatigue or fear of true emotional intimacy with their partner. (Yes, the very thing couples complain is missing from their relationships is often the thing they are unconsciously avoiding. We’ll talk more about this phenomenon in future blog posts.)
It’s easy to go through the motions of a conversation while “playing” on a smart phone (or other electronic device), much like the couple in the example above. We may be “talking” to our partner, but there is no true intimacy to the communication. We may be in the same room, but there is no real physical or emotional connection, even though we are physically present.
When couples allow this kind of disconnect to go on night after night, for a significant period of time, their relationship begins to suffer. If it goes on too long, the damage may become irreversible. (Many of the couples who seek therapy at our practice because of an extramarital affair cite the lack of intimate communication as one of the factors that lead to the affair.) A committed, loving relationship needs true connection on a regular basis to flourish and remain passionate.
So what’s a modern couple to do? If you find that you and your partner are
slipping into the smart phone trap, here are some steps you can take to reconnect with one another:
Establish pre-bedtime de-stressing rituals for yourself so that you don’t meet your partner in the bedroom filled to the brim with anxiety. (You’ll also be less tempted to grab your phone as an outlet for that stress).
With your partner, establish a cut-off time for using phones in the bedroom.
For instance—no phone use after 9:00. Stick to it!
Talk, Touch, Connect
When the phones are switched off, it’s time to talk, touch, and reconnect with your
partner. Look your partner in the eyes and tell him/her what is really going on in your world. Make a physical connection through touch. Listen to what he/she has to say
about what is going on in his/her world.
NOTE: If you have gotten in the habit of “zoning out” with your phone instead of focusing on your partner, this may feel strange and awkward the first few times. Looking your partner in the eyes is an intimate and giving act, and it shows him/her tremendous respect. Take a deep breath to help you relax while you are relearning how to connect with your partner– remember, this is a huge investment in your relationship, and well worth it.
If you will really open up to your partner and learn how to have “pillow talk” again each night, you will be surprised how much closer you will feel to him/her and how much less
desirable that smart phone will seem in comparison. After all, no text message, email, or game can possibly hold a candle to feeling truly close to your partner.
Copyright © 2011 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC