Why Smart Phones Aren’t So Smart in the Bedroom

Couple in bedFayPsych Staff

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:

De-stress

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).

Un-plug

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

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Structuring Family Life Reaps Benefits for Everyone

Dr. Bill Spaine

Couples with children face many challenges. Balancing the needs of the couple (or the needs of a single parent), work, extended family, and other aspects of daily life can be stressful on both parents and children and may often lead to an overall sense of chaos in the home.

Patients often tell me that they feel overwhelmed from the minute they walk through the door at home. I often hear from them that their homelife feels like “controlled chaos.” Rather than enjoying their family, they just feel stressed. The idea of enforcing rules and setting boundaries can seem like just another burden at the end of a long work day. In reality, establishing a family structure is an investment in their children and in the peaceful coexistence of the family.

To help restore order, I suggest that my patients with children develop a consistent structure for daily life in the home. Research has shown over and over again that children need and want structure and consistency to feel safe and secure.

I suggest that parents start by developing a set of household rules that they will stick to and enforce consistently. Children are reassured by having boundaries within the family and within the home. They also benefit from what they learn about respecting rules and boundaries at home when they are in school or in other settings outside the home.

Here are some simple guidelines I give them to start with:

  • Give each child a set bedtime (and STICK TO IT!)
  • Set clear guidelines and limits for watching t.v. and playing video games as well as using cell phones
  • Each child should be given daily, age-appropriate responsibilities
  • Parents should establish regular age-appropriate chores for each child
  • Define expectations of how children are to treat one another, their parents and guests in the home
  • Establish age-appropriate consequences for each child if they fail to follow household rules.

While such rules may seem obvious, many of my patients find that they don’t really have much consistency in how their family life operates because they are so busy. When a family really establishes a structure and sticks to it, parents are amazed at the difference it makes in their stress level and the outlook their children have.

Copyright © 2011 William E. Spaine, Psy.D.

Family Rituals: Little Things Mean A Lot

Dr. Bill Spaine

In a family life busy with soccer games, business meetings and household responsibilities, many families find it difficult to connect with one another on a regular basis. In the rush to try and get everything done, many families feel like they’re missing out. Parents feel they aren’t really connecting with each other, or with their kids – they’re just going from one activity or responsibility to the next. Most parents see their kids for just a few hours a day, and they tell me those hours are a chaotic blur.

I urge parents to develop family rituals that will help them to connect with their kids in the the precious time that they do have to share each day. Having a strong sense of belonging to a stable and nurturing family provides children with the foundation they need to tackle the challenges they will face in the wider world.

Here are some of the simple rituals I suggest to parents:

Eating meals together as a family regularly.

Meals should include family discussions and time for kids to share their experiences with their family and talk to their parents. Meals should not include televisions or phone calls (by children OR parents). Putting the world “on hold” to share a meal together signals to the children that they, and the family, are important.

Bedtime rituals for younger children.

I suggest parents set up a regular process of preparing for bed that can include reading a story, prayers together, or any other quiet activity that allows parents contact with their children and helps the child “wind down” for sleep. Parents are amazed that when children get into the habit of following a bedtime ritual, getting them to sleep is easier, and they begin to look forward to bedtime as a time to connect with their parents.

Spending time with children individually.

In a busy household with more than one child, getting time alone with a parent means a great deal to children. Individual time allows the child to share his/her interests with the parent, and for the parent to share his/her interests with the child. One-on-one time between child and parent may even minimize the child’s sense of needing to compete with siblings for attention. Parents may be concerned about finding the time to spend individually with their kids, but building a strong connection helps other aspects of homelife go more smoothly – this is a time investment that will pay off now and in the years to come.

There are other family rituals parents can develop to help bring joy and security to family life. These can range from holiday and birthday traditions to weekly family rituals. They don’t need to be complicated and they don’t have to require a lot of work on the part of parents or kids to be successful. Rituals don’t even need to be serious. I know of a family that had a special Green Eggs and Ham breakfast every once in awhile in honor of their child’s love of Dr. Seuss books and as a way to share time with one another. This simple breakfast ritual not only brought the family together, but gave the child the sense that his interests were acknowledged.

Little things can mean a lot over time. Although their son is now grown, this family still laughs about those silly breakfasts, and the son is planning on continuing this tradition when he has children someday.

Copyright © 2011 William E. Spaine, Psy.D. (Excerpted from Pathways, Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates’ Newsletter, 2007, Volume 1, Number 2)