Opinion: The biggest weapon of mass distraction in marriage? Your cellphone
How often do you or your partner use your cellphone in bed? What about at the dinner table? If you do, you’re not alone
As a marriage and family scholar and a husband married more than 24 years, it is clear to me (as I’m sure it is to so many of you) that there are more activities and distractions clamoring for our time and attention today than ever before.
Don’t get me wrong. Work and sleep are critically important and consume about two-thirds of our day, on average. So is eating, shopping, housework, leisure, hobbies and time with children.
As a result, all too often our spouse gets what I call the “leftovers.” A tired, stressed and overwhelmed person who wants to relax and watch TV or scroll on their phone — alone, with the TV on.
Reliable recent data is difficult to find, but one large study from 2010 shows that the average amount of exclusive couple time alone together (without kids or others) is a mere 44 minutes per day. And I’ve seen some suggest it’s lower than that — between 20-30 minutes.
In the 12 years since that study, the number of cellphone owners has skyrocketed. Among other things, this has led to an increase in what some have called “alone-together” time. That is, being in the same house, but not in the presence of one another.
And I’m afraid that we’re now spending much of our few minutes together in the same room, even the same bed, but on cellphones getting caught up on what’s happening in other people’s lives while our own marriage suffers from relation dehydration.
I used to believe that love was spelled T-I-M-E, but now I’m convinced that one of the greatest gifts you can give your spouse is your attention. Your all-in undivided attention. No phone, no TV, and no mind-wandering (or at least bringing your mind back when it does wander!).
What is the primary culprit of distraction and disconnection? It’s called Technoference — a term coined by my friend and colleague Brandon McDaniel. This is essentially the interference in relationships and interaction from any type of technology — phones, tablets, computers, TV, etc.
I decided to do my own research to see what spouses really think about the role technology and cellphones play in their family relationships. Specifically, how technology interferes with two of the most important spaces for couple interaction and connection — in beds and at meal-time tables.
I surveyed 631 parents across the United States between the ages of 21 and 60 and asked several questions related to technoference. Here’s a few things I found:
- 88% agree that technoference is a big problem in our society, with 62% of those surveyed admitting that it is a big problem in their family, and 70% reporting that technology interrupts family time at least occasionally.
- 45% likewise consider technology a big problem in their marriage.
- More than one-third (36%) use technology in their bed every night or almost every night. Even more (43.4%) report that their spouse/partner uses technology in bed almost/every night. That may be why 24% feel like their partner’s use of technology in bed interferes with their sexual relationship
- More than half (55%) feel like their spouse/partner spends too much time on their cellphone and 48% wish their significant other would spend less time on their cellphone and more time with their children.
- 53% believe they are on their cellphone too much while 59% believe their spouse/partner is on their cellphone too much.
- Nearly 4 out of 10 (38%) adults admit to using technology at least occasionally while eating at home with family members. This only drops slightly to about 35% who report using technology while eating at a restaurant with their spouse/partner at least occasionally.
In other words, across nearly every question I asked, there were surprisingly high levels of technology use. Among other things, all this technoference adds up to significantly less time spent together as a couple, less satisfaction and connection, and higher levels of both depression and anxiety
So what do we do?
We start by kicking technology out of our beds and off of our tables (including at restaurants). Those can be considered sacred spaces for connection.
We can also learn to give intentional and mindful awareness to the urges to check our phones. We can learn to feel it but not follow it.
I’m also not a fan of double screens. That means watching TV while scrolling on your phone. Watching a movie with your family? Put your phone down or leave it in another room. Be “all-in” with who you are with and what you are doing.
In my opinion, the six greatest gifts you can give your spouse are your love, time, attention, affection, appreciation and forgiveness. How are we going to do any of that while our minds and hearts are directed somewhere else?
So, I’m throwing down the gauntlet to you. Are you ready to take the dare? Then do whatever it takes to invest more of your 44 minutes each day with these dear ones in your life and less with people you don’t know (and will never know) via your phone.
David Schramm, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Utah State University specializing in marriage and family studies.