Is Your Phone Hurting Your Relationship?

Alex Boswell

A philosophy towards more meaningful relationships

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In a world filled with technological distractions, and shiny new toys that demand our ongoing attention, it’s a wonder we’re able to communicate with our partners at all.

You see it often; instead of talking to each other, partners will spend their last few waking moments on their phones scrolling through social media. The habit of doing this isn’t only bad for you, it can also be bad for your relationships.

One of the practices you can adopt to help avoid this scenario is called Digital Minimalism. In essence, it means less is more when it comes to technology.

It’s about choosing what apps and devices really add value to your life and serve your goals. If you find you have an overabundance of apps or internet usage, you should think about cutting them off or setting rules for their use so you can maximize the benefits you do get from them.

When you embrace digital minimalism, it’s not only you who benefits from the change in lifestyle but also the people in your relationships.

It makes you pay attention

When you decide to reduce the amount of technology you use, it forces you to engage with the world around you — especially your partner.

You’ll notice more about them, and become far more receptive to their body language. You’ll also be able to understand them more after observing their subtleties — time which is usually lost to a screen. When you overuse technology, it becomes a barrier to learning about the people around you.

A typical example of this in action is when you’re on a date with a potential partner, and during your activity, they whip out their phone to check social media (or whatever else). You suddenly feel bad, but why? It’s because you start asking questions such as:

Does this person think I’m not interesting enough? Are they bored? Do they not value our time together? Do they think the date is going bad?

And this swings both ways; if you’re the one who starts mindlessly using your phone during your date — they are likely asking themselves these questions. If the answer to those questions is yes, then it’s better to be honest about it and end the date.

When you decide to give your date your full attention, you’re far more able to see if they’re a good match for you rather than spending half the time not engaging with them.

You spend more time together

When a relationship progresses, it’s easy to let things fall by the wayside. You get comfortable and used to each other’s company.

Even if you were an attentive dating partner, after a while, it’s almost inevitable these days that you’ll spend more time in physical proximity but mentally distanced.

A lot of people I know (myself included) have fallen victim to the glow of the phone screen right before bed. I’d be scrolling through Instagram, or doing a last-minute scan through my emails, put my phone on the side then go to sleep. My partner would be doing the same thing.

Therefore, it’s no coincidence that besides money, the most common cause of divorce or breakups, in general, is a lack of communication between partners.

So imagine, instead of winding out your day engaging in the endless digital ether, you’re having a meaningful conversation with your loved one. You can talk about anything: goals for the future, a bucket list, the most significant decision you’ve ever made, your family history, and explore what-ifs.

You really get to know your partner with conversations like this, and you can have more conversations when you make room for them by applying digital minimalism in your life.

You share more intimately

You don’t need to share what’s on your mind at every moment with everyone on your social network. I realize that’s (mostly) an exaggeration, but there is some truth in it.

When we share so much of ourselves with everyone, it’s hard to have that sense of intimacy in a relationship. I’m not talking about physical intimacy — anyone can do that; I’m talking about emotional intimacy.

That feeling when you and your partner are sharing a moment that is yours, and no one else’s is becoming rare in the age where we post everything online for the world to see.

The film ‘The Circle’ starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, is a thought-provoking (fictional) commentary on how the world and our relationships could end up looking like if extreme online over-sharing became a reality.

When I watched it, it made me think about my relationship with technology and how it was affecting my personal relationships, especially with my partner who didn’t spend a lot of time online.

It wasn’t long after that I bought the book ‘Digital Minimalism’ by Cal Newport and put his ideas into practice. It helped me evaluate my time spent online, which allowed me to be better present in the relationship I was in.

Practical advice to get started

In his book, Cal Newport suggests performing a 30-day digital declutter. It may sound a little intimidating at first, but there is a solid reason for the way he lays it out.

Chief of those reasons being, we are too easy to make exceptions and excuses — by applying as much friction as possible to start with, you lay a much stronger foundation for lasting change.

This is how Cal outlines the process:

The Digital Declutter Process

  1. Put aside a thirty-day period during which you will take a break from optional technologies in your life.
  2. During this thirty-day break, explore and rediscover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful.
  3. At the end of the break, reintroduce optional technologies in your life, starting from a blank slate. For each technology you reintroduce, determine what value it serves in your life and how specifically you will use it to maximize this value.

While the book naturally focuses on personal self-development, there is also nothing stopping you from making these changes as a couple or group, whatever your relationship looks like.

As with working out physically at the gym or starting your own business, making lifestyle changes with other people where you can hold each other accountable increases your chances of success.

When you’re able to pay more attention, share more time together, and with emotional intimacy using the principles of digital minimalism — you’ll find yourself to be a better partner for it.

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Los Angeles, CA
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