As a baby boomer, I love technology! It’s above and beyond what I ever imagined. Cell phones, I-phones, lap tops, satellite, face-time, social media, all unheard of when I was a kid.
As a relationship coach, counselor and educator, though, I’ve seen the downside. Clients come to me complaining about their partner’s over-use of electronic devices and how it interferes in their ability to connect with each other. Although technology allows us instant access to random people and data, it’s often being done at the expense of creating deep, meaningful relationships with the most important people in our lives! What an irony!
The term technoference was created by Brigham Young University prof Sarah Coyne. She defines it as ‘everyday intrusions or interruptions in couple interactions or time spent together that occur due to technology.” In her study of 143 married/cohabiting women, 75% of them reported that technoference significantly interfered in their ability to connect with their partners.
It seems that many people have addictive relationships or are at least preoccupied with technology- they can’t seem to go without their phones, and MUST check out every ping as it comes in.
Turns out that the instant gratification of the ping of a text, or ring of a phone, or seeing likes on FB cause the release of dopamine, which gives us a ‘high’ feeling which is hugely addictive. We want more and more of it in the same way that drinking or gambling can cause that high feeling.
It’s a challenge not just in couple relationships, but worldwide, as we are profoundly affected by the cultural influence of technology. We see other people constantly on their phones rather than talking to each other, and it’s become the new normal. Back in the day when the early adopters of ‘cell phones’ were carrying around their huge portable phones, we would snicker at them behind their backs, but nowadays, if you don’t have a phone and other gadgets, you’re the odd person out.
Author Simon Sinek loves technology too, but has identified a disturbing trend especially among millennials have grown up with technology. In an interview with, Tom Bilyeu of Inside Quest, he stated that it’s millennials who are especially at risk of going to social media to manage their stress and numb themselves rather than turning to their partners or others for support.
He says we’re all at risk of becoming preoccupied with technology and in danger of missing out on life. His advice is:
“If you’re sitting with your friends at dinner and texting someone that isn’t there…that is a problem. That is an addiction.” “If you’re at a meeting with people you are supposed to be listening to and place your phone on the table (up or down) it is sending a subconscious message to the room that they are not important to you right now.” He also suggests that rather than getting stuck in your phone while waiting for a meeting to start, engage with the people around you, get to know them, ask them questions…connect.
If you at dinner with friends….leave your phone at home. Designate one person to bring their phone. Enjoy the world….look around you…don’t take away those little moments…It is sad that people aren’t engaged in meaningful conversation and experiencing the connection of the person in front of them!’
When it comes to couple relationships, technoference is a huge issue. Here you are in in the middle of a conversation with your partner, when suddenly you’re put on hold while they tend to something more important- their phone.
A study by Christine Leggett and Pieter Rossouw (International Journal of Neuropsychotherapy 2014) concluded that the continuous engagement and disconnection that occurs as a result of checking technology during face to face interactions leads to ‘reduced feelings of safety, control and attachement’ in relationships. No surprise there!
Renowned relationship researcher and psychologist John Gottman says that the number one reason someone leaves a relationship is because they feel unimportant, taken for granted or criticized.
Dr. Sue Johnson, psychotherapist and author of Hold Me Tight, says that we are biologically wired for connection- it is a strong human need that we all want fulfilled, and yet we have so many obstacles to express our need. Add to that the intrusion of techie devices, and couple relationships are at serious risk of never getting beyond superficialities.
If you are the cause of technoference in your relationship, it’s time to take action, unless your okay with a table for one:
- Determine if you have a preoccupation with technology.
- Does your partner complain that they have to compete with your phone for attention ?
- Do You go to your phone to avoid feeling uncomfortable or have potentially awkward conversations.
- Do you get a high from checking your phone?
- Do you take your phone with you everywhere you go and feel stressed out if you can’ t check it every fifteen minutes?
- Do you keep your phone on the table while eating dinner with your partner Interrupt your partner or yourself to check a message?
If this is you, here’s some things you can do:
- Take your partner’s requests seriously. Ask them to share with you the impact that their device use is having on you. Be open to hearing what they have to say. Don’t be defensive.
- Become mindful about how much time you actually spend each day on your devices by tracking it. How much of it is actually necessary? You will probably be shocked to see how much time you are squandering on your devices at the expense of real, meaningful time you’re your partner.
- Jointly create rules about device use for the purpose of enriching your relationship- for instance, no devices at the table. If you must bring a device with you when out, put it on airplane mode and do not disturb as much as possible.
- Schedule device free appointments where the two of you can connect uninterrupted.
- Develop your listening skills. Let your partner know that you heard them and that you have their back. Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t criticize or give advice. Make conversations safe and comfortable so that both of you know you can turn to each other for support rather than rely on gadgets to feel better.
- If it’s your partner who is the ‘addict’, set clear boundaries with them and follow them. Honestly share the impact that them being on the phone is having on you. For instance, you feel unimportant, ignored, taken for granted, not required. Have patience as it takes time to unlearn a habit. Enjoy the times that you do have that are device free and limit your attention to the device use. Don’t become a nag or the device police or this will backfire on you.
Final words of advice from Simon Sinek: Don’t charge your phone by the bed…. Don’t use it as your alarm…buy a clock. If the first thing you do in the morning is look at your phone before saying good morning to your partner/spouse, you’ve got a problem!
If you liked this article and would like more advice on having a better relationship with your partner, you may want to read: Marriage: What To Do When Fantasy And Reality Collide