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Your Phone Is Ruining Your Relationship (Here's How to Put it Down)

communication habits stress May 31, 2023


When we interviewed couples, we heard tragic stories of divorce, constant conflict, and affairs.

But we also heard about a milder, more insidious, force pulling most couples apart.

The smartphone.

Think you don't have a problem with your phone? Think again. 

Most research estimates that fifty percent of us admit to experiencing a full-on behavioral addiction to our phones. And while we might touch our partner lovingly several times a day, we touch our phones an average of 2,617 times each day.

Want to know if you're addicted? Take this Internet Addiction Test from Adam Alter's recent book Irresistible

Here's how you did:

  • Below 7: No Internet Addiction
  • 8-12: Mild Internet Addiction
  • 13-20: Moderate Internet Addiction
  • 21-25: Severe Internet Addiction

We took this and discovered we both had moderate forms of addiction (Nate scored 15, Kaley scored 18).

The diagnosis, however, is far less important than the cure. So here are three tips to help you overcome your emotional affair with your phone so you can go back to having one with your partner.




1. Change your behavioral architecture.

 Behavioral architecture is a fancy name for how the design of your spaces influences your actions. And according to Alder, it's based on a key principle, "whatever's nearby will have a bigger impact on your mental life than whatever is far away."

So consider:

  • Kicking your phones out of the bedroom at night
  • Leaving your phones on a charging station during meals and family activities
  • Going for walks or date nights without your phone


2. Cultivate mindfulness.

 Habit expert James Clear notes that there's something important that happens just before we pick up the phone. It's that moment of craving, the moment when we feel an irresistible urge to check the text, the email, or the Twitter feed.

Mindfulness can help you interrupt this habit. The first step is to notice that it's happening. When you feel this urge, label it in your mind by thinking, "craving" or "phone addiction."

Now here's the jujitsu move. Instead of grabbing your phone, insert a pause. Use this time to investigate and stay present with the sensations of craving in your body.

What does it feel like? Where do you feel it? How long does it last?

The more you shine this light of awareness on your desire for your phone, the more it will begin to fall away.  


3. Change your language.

It turns out that the way we talk about our efforts to put down the phone also impact our ability to do it successfully. When we say, "I can't check my phone" at dinner, we're imposing a restraint on ourselves that often makes us want it more.

So we're better off using a tactic that psychologists call "empowered refusal." It's the shift from "I can't check my phone" to "I don't check my phone." Research shows that this subtle shift in self-talk has a powerful motivational effect that can help us overcome our behavioral addiction to our phones.

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