A primary issue affecting long-term compatibility in relationships is how much attention and communication each person needs and receives. In recent years, cell phones and other technology have become a source of much conflict, as couples sometimes pay more attention to their devices than each other or communicate poorly via that technology. Protect your own relationship by considering this research and expert advice and asking yourself, are cellphones destroying your relationship?

How bad is the problem?

Ignoring your romantic partner by paying more attention to your cell phone, known as phone snubbing is wrecking relationships and even causing depression, according to a Baylor University study. Snubbing occurred in 46% of the couples in the study, 32% felt depressed as a result and 22% said it caused relationship conflict.

The Pew Research Center published findings showing 25% of married cell phone users have felt their spouses were distracted.

After coining the term “technoference” — everyday interruptions from cell phones and common household technology — Brandon T McDaniel, doctoral candidate at Pennsylvania State University, co-authored a study published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture reviewing technoference’s impact on relationships from women’s perspectives. The study concludes, “Overall, participants who rated more technoference in their relationships also reported more conflict over technology use, lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms, and lower life satisfaction.”

How can we fix it?

To remedy this situation, we can think about ways to take technology breaks. “Couples should talk about this and set some mutually agreed upon rules. It may be helpful to block out times of the day when they will turn their devices off and just focus on one another,” McDaniel says.

wired for love bookcoverDr. Stan Tatkin, clinical psychologist and author of Wired for Love, told Rewire Me about two Type A clients who each complained the other was ignoring them by paying attention to their cell phones, but was unaware they were doing the same thing.

Tatkin says, “You need an agreement where you can say ‘Put it down and be with me.’” Because we can’t rid our lives of technology, he says we need to focus on how can people manage their relationships, pulling each other back in, without complaints.

The rules have to be based on principles they both believe in, a social contract, explains Tatkin, or they won’t follow it. “Many times, I won’t want to put my phone down, but if the overarching principle is: If one of us is in distress we pay attention, I’m likely to stick to the agreement because I want the same in return.” Tatkin concludes, “It’s good for both of us even though we are different people and we are going to be in different moods.”

What’s the place for texting in relationships?

couple looking a mobile phoneTatkin traces the importance of face-to-face communication to the brain’s survival instinct. “Memories of pain get imbedded, so you don’t get killed or hurt. In courtship, you are focused on learning all about the person and are fully present in the moment.” But very quickly, he says, you begin to operate on auto-pilot based on your experience in the relationship and prior experiences.

This gives rise to problems because you’re not paying attention. In essence, Tatkin explains, we make things up that aren’t real. For example, we may misattribute hostility to body language from across a room or a text.

“The antidote is face-to-face presence.” He cautions not to have important conversations while driving because peripheral vision is imperfect. “Even though most people don’t want to do this, you need to look into each other’s eyes.”

Yet, Tatkin believes texting can be important as a device to “tether” the couple together. During the day, you might text, “I love you” or short flirtations or messages of affirmation. He recognizes some people may see this as a bother, but he believes it the benefits. If you use texts to discuss family business while at work, Tatkin suggests keeping that to a minimum because this may produce the opposite effect.

Careful use of cell phones can bind couples closer together. But carve out a way for each of you to feel supported and heard, not drowned out by the hum of technology.

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