These five principles should be considered a starting point for the successful cooperative and collaborative management of smart phone utilization in the service of protecting relationships from the harmful effects of overuse. For further explanation of the harm that can be done to relationships from overinvolvement with the smart phone please see the essay, A Love Letter. Please understand that these principles should not be thought of as all inclusive, but merely the basic ideas that partners can use to further personalize Smart phone management to tailor a fit to address the needs of their specific relationship.
- Ask your partner not yourself. A vital principle of successful smart phone management is not to exclusively rely upon what we feel and believe. It is essential that we ask our partner their feelings and perceptions about our smart phone utilization. While we may not completely agree, this serves as the basis for a constructive discussion about how our partners are being affected by our smart phone use. In the discussion, it is critical to listen non-defensively, fully taking it in and thoughtfully considering our partners opinions and feelings. Their impressions can be incorporated into any decisions to adjust smart phone involvement. An example would be time spent involved with social media. Getting feedback toward developing personal guidelines for behavior and choices on social media can be helpful.
- Keep score. A common phenomenon of human psychology that we have observed is that perception and judgment of experience are highly subjective. Therefore, using facts, statistics and objective data to further inform our understanding is often helpful. One famous example is in weight management. We are sometimes asked to weigh, measure and calculate what we are eating, because our subjective judgment often is an underestimate. Similarly, using data to improve our self assessments in smartphone management can be a great help. Most smart phones such as the iPhone provide information on time and subject utilization. This can be found by going to the utilities function. In fact, weekly reports on your phone usage can come to you in the form of an alert. The information that you receive can allow you to make an informed decision on any necessary or useful adjustments in total time spent on your phone or on particular areas such as work or social media. Reviewing this information on a weekly basis can help you to stay on top of your involvement with the device.
- Regularly checking in with each other. Just as you keep track on a regular basis of your smart phone use, it is just as important to check in with your partner’s feelings and perceptions. Asking your partner for feedback is not in the form of a single grand gesture, but rather an ongoing process that allows the cooperative and collaborative regulation of phone use. It is not asking for permission, but rather encouraging and inviting feedback. It is a two way discussion where each partner‘s phone use is considered and evaluated. This approach respects the power and influence that technology has over our lives and our relationships. It is not accusatory. It should not invite defensiveness. It is a team approach to an ever growing threat. It is the recognition that we must band together to minimize the menace that technology poses while we continue to enjoy the benefits that technology provides. It acknowledges the problem that modern relationships will continue to face. It prioritizes the relationship over the device.
- Build in time together. The functions of smart phones have been developed by very clever people with the primary purpose of stealing your attention and monopolizing it as much as possible. Algorithms have been developed and are constantly being improved to achieve this purpose. It grabs our eyeballs and keeps them glued to a screen. Any casino slot machine would be jealous of the power of our smart phones to grab and sustain our attention. If we are focused on that screen we will not be focused on our partner. Relational attention is lost often at great expense to our relationship. This along with the other normal demands of life frequently make it difficult for naturally occurring time together to happen. Therefore, it is important to schedule events, activities and leisure time to be together, not just taking care of business, kids, paying bills, visiting family, or problem-solving. Those collaborations are all necessary, but do not provide the level of relational reinforcement needed to sustain a loving relationship. We also have to be able to have fun together in a relaxed manner. We must talk about it. We must plan it. We must even schedule it. Waiting for it to naturally occur may mean waiting forever and longer than many relationships can afford.
- Monitor and nurture intimacy. Over time in a long-term relationship it is common that intimacy and sexuality begin to wane. I am frequently using the expression with clients that, “life conspires against sex.“ This means that the pressures and demands of a life well lived get in the way. All of the responsibilities that we face stress, illness, medications, family demands, financial demands, work demands and now our screens get in the way. Often there is little time, energy, strength, or attentional capacity left to be able to focus on sex and maintaining rewarding intimacy or what I call sexual wellness. These factors make it near impossible for partners not to drift from each other over time. This can leave us with high stress and feelings of resentment that lead to a growing alienation. Our screens, however still have our devotion. This state of affairs makes it important for there to be regular intimacy. Just as when to go to work, paying the bills on time, and taking Junior to the soccer game are scheduled and demand our time so must sex. Developing a regular routine of getting together perhaps on a certain day at a certain time becomes a wedge against insidious relational drift. Some will say, “ Gee that’s not spontaneous.” Understand, there of course is no prohibition against spontaneous sex. However, waiting for it and relying solely upon it is often a recipe for relational disaster.
To re-iterate the principles listed above are a basic foundation for the successful relational management of screen time and smart phone devices. Please consider using them as a point of departure for discussion, refinement and developing your own relational principles for the successful management of smart phones. The key will be teamwork and utilizing the concepts of cooperation and collaboration. Do not underestimate the challenge or the threat. Act as if the future depends on it.