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Opinion: Should a technology free Valentine’s Day be your goal?

Technology and romance don’t need to be enemies. Here’s how to have a successful relationship with your partner and your phones

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Technology can often interfere with connection, but there are ways to use technology this Valentine’s Day to enhance your relationship.

Eliza Anderson, Deseret News

Nobody likes to be a third wheel — especially if the couple you’re third wheeling with is your significant other and their phone. But we’ve all been in that restaurant booth, staring across the table at the back of our partner’s mobile device.

Technology is a notoriously great distractor in special moments. Instead of looking into the eyes of your partner during a romantic movie or candlelit dinner, you may find yourself staring at their screen-lit forehead as they peer down at their phone. And no poem has ever been written romanticizing the forehead glow.

So to have a successful Valentine’s Day, do we need to take the tech away?

I asked BYU professor of family life Sarah Coyne this question. Her response may surprise some. “No, I would not recommend a technology-free Valentines Day,” she told me. She then added, “I’d recommend a technology-smart Valentine’s Day.”

Coyne studies the effects of media use on children and families. While she agrees that technology can be harmful to a relationship if boundaries and expectations are not set, she says that the goal should be to “create a relationship together and with our phones that brings us together.”

Technology is what we make of it and our intentions matter. Some households have a “no phones at the dinner table” rule. At our dinner table, my husband and I often pull out our phones to show each other memes or funny videos we think the other will like. Neither approach here is wrong because they are both centered on the intention of connection. If phones become isolating experiences at the dinner table, then it’s probably time to tuck them away.

“The effects of technology depend not only on what apps we use or for how long, but also on our motivations. ... We shape the experiences we have with technologies and the results of those experiences,” writes Margaret E. Morris in a 2020 research review published in the Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience journal.

Social media, as an example, is a tool that can work for or against relationships, depending on our motivations. Social media can be a means to disassociate from a partner, but it can also be used to send videos and connect with a partner. If our driving motivation with tech is to connect, we will find many unconventional ways to do so.

Morris cites experiences of couples finding unintended uses for technology to connect. One couple who lived in separate cities set up smart lights in their homes, and would often come home from work to find their houses colorfully lit up by their partner from afar.

One of the most beneficial ways for couples to connect with each other through tech is by “using technology to express affection,” Coyne told me. When my significant other sends me a text while I’m at work to tell me he loves me — whether directly or through a meme — it bridges my thoughts of him to the deep reservoir of memories we have, and I feel connection despite distance.

Despite the benefits technology may have on our relationships, we will likely still find ourselves, at one point or another, positioned as the third wheel. Or we may accidentally put our significant other in that place while we stare at our screens. It’s important to approach these situations with care, not snap judgments.

“If your spouse is on their phone and you’re feeling ignored,” Coyne said, “it’s actually not a great time to be like, ‘Hey, get off your phone, pay attention to me,’ because they’re just probably going to be defensive, and the conversation isn’t gonna go well.”

Instead, couples should set their technology ground rules together before issues arise so that expectations on both sides are understood. When issues do arise, Coyne recommends we hold compassion for our partner, we wait to have the big discussion until we feel calm and we take responsibility for how we can improve as well to avoid a one-sided, blame conversation.

This Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to get creative with technology and be intentional about using it to connect with your significant other. While a technology-free Valentine’s Day doesn’t need to be the goal, there is a time and place to put your phone away.

“Technology can be a powerful tool for good. But in a romantic relationship, you don’t want it to be your only tool,” Coyne said. “All the technology in the world isn’t going to help, I don’t think, unless you spend some time together.”