How to Deal With a Partner Who Won’t Get Off Their Phone
Imagine this: you're excited for date night with your partner—it'll be the first night this week you're spending time together. But when you get to the restaurant prepared to catch up, they won't let go of their phone. You feel ignored because every sentence is interrupted with a reply text or a scroll through social media. What should you do?
It's not easy to confront a phone-obsessed significant other about their usage problem, but it is possible. We talked to two experts to determine the best way to handle the situation and come out from the discussion with more one-on-one time sans phone.
Don't take it personally.
If you catch yourself wondering if your partner's excessive phone use has to do with you being boring or not enough, stop right there because it's simply not true. “Like all addictions, excessive phone use is not your fault and you shouldn't feel to blame," says Jason Wheeler, PhD, a New York City-based clinical psychologist. However, you may want to consider if the phone usage is a tactic for ignoring another problem in your relationship. Wheeler says addictive behaviors are sometimes used to avoid and create distance from other, larger problems. If you have a hunch this is the case, bringing it up could make it easier for him or her to see what is happening. But if the phone usage is simply a bad habit, there are other measures you can take.
Voice your concerns.
The first step to fixing any relationship issue starts with confronting the problem. And lucky for you, there's a tried-and-true way to voice your concerns without insulting your partner, says Wheeler. “A very useful formula for bringing up all kinds of difficulties is I feel X when you do Y," he says. “For example, I feel hurt and ignored when I come home from work and you don't look up from your phone to say hello."
Wheeler says this trick works because you're not placing focus or blame on just your partner. Rather, you're bringing up your own feelings and in turn, lessening the chances bae will become defensive. “This [method] doesn't make assumptions about what your partner is thinking or feeling, which can also help make him or her more open to hearing you," Wheeler says. However, if you try Wheeler's formula and it doesn't work, it could be a sign your partner doesn't care about your feelings, which is a much larger problem than a phone obsession.
Sure, we live in a time when our cell phones are essentially extensions of ourselves. Our photos, intimate conversations, passwords and more are stored on tiny devices, so it's no wonder we take them anywhere and everywhere and check them often. However, there is a line that should be drawn in your relationship, says Dana Holmes, a lifestyle and etiquette expert and founder of MetroMomClub.com.
To help your partner get the start they need to being a little more phone-free, Holmes recommends planning what she calls unplugged adventures. “Some people just need a couple of days, or hours, without wifi to realize that they're addicted and to see how awesome life is when you're not tethered to your phone," she explains. Try taking your boo on a walk or hike and leaving your phones at home or in the car so there's not even a wink of temptation. “Describe the world while you're out–what you see and what you hear," Holmes says. “It'll open them to mindfulness, which is something that phone addicts lose touch with."
Suggest a leave-your-phone-at-work day.
Wheeler suggests a tactic similar to Holmes': ask your partner to keep their phone out of physical reach by leaving it at work overnight. “Most of the real functionality of a smartphone can be accessed on a computer, or can wait until the next morning," explains Wheeler. After all, pretty Instagram photos, funny tweet and Facebook browsing are often the true reasons people are all-consumed by their phones. And luckily, refraining from each of these activities doesn't create a life-or-death situation.
If your partner isn't ready to leave their phone in their cubicles, you could start out smaller by requesting you have “bedtimes" for your phones, Wheeler says. Set an agreed upon time when both of you will stop using your phones for the evening, maybe four or five hours before bed so you have time to unwind and catch up sans screens. The fact that you're putting your phone to bed as well means your partner doesn't have to go through the phone deprivation alone.
Set some ground rules.
If you and your partner think a more structured approach could work for combatting the problem, set a few rules (that you come up with together) and abide by them on a daily basis. Holmes has a few suggestions for easy rules you can implement into your routine without totally taking away a partner's phone time.
- No phones are allowed at any meal. You can look up whatever you need after the meal and you can call or text almost anyone back later.
- Keep phones out of the bedroom. “Phones in bed are relationship killers unless you have a space on a dresser out of reach," Holmes says.
- Is the phone your primary way of telling time? Invest in an alarm clock instead. It works the same exact way as your digital-powered clock.
- If one of you is trying to directly speak to the other person, put your phone down and totally participate in the conversation. “If you do need to do something on your phone, explain the situation," she says.
- Set a limit for how long you can be on the phone at any one time, like 5 to 10 minutes.
“We shouldn't expect perfect results or a complete and immediate change, but anything that's really important to you in a relationship, any important request you make or limit that you set, should come with some meaningful consequences in order not to be ignored," Wheeler says. If you voice your concern and your partner doesn't seem to care or constantly falls back on their promise to work on the phone addiction, it could mean it's time for couple's therapy or moving on and ending the relationship.
“If they fight every time you bring it up, you should seriously think about this person's priorities in life," Holmes says. “Physical contact, eye-contact, conversation and compromise are essential to successful relationships, so if they aren't willing to put in the effort, take that as a big red flag."
At the same time, it's important you evaluate whether it's worth the trouble or if the problem is really that severe. “If you find yourself annoyed every single time your partner take out the phone, you're probably over reacting," Holmes says. We do live in the 21st century and people need their phones to check the weather, directions, the newspaper, and pretty much everything else.
For more guidance on communicating with your partner, try Lasting, a science-based app backed by The Nest dedicated to improving the health of your marriage or relationship.