Does Your Relationship Need a Digital Detox?

Picture this: A beautiful Sunday morning at a beachfront café. After a stressful work week, you and your man are sitting down for a relaxed brunch & some quality couple time. You’re discussing the idea of summer vacation, dreaming up ideas of where you might enjoy more quality time together. Before you can say, “French West Indies,” his cell phone starts buzzing, a call is coming in. Without meeting your eyes, he reaches for the phone. Excitedly, he says “Hey Man, whaz up?” He and his buddy grunt out a quick conversation about a pickup ball game later that day, which, of course, seems completely meaningless to you. He disconnects, and you are now disconnected from him. Your “Boy-are-you-in-trouble” expression solidifies as your honey looks up and says, “What?”

What ensues is not pretty. What’s the real issue here? It is not the cell phone or its use in our society. As a therapist, the beef I have with digital distraction, is that when cell phones are allowed to interrupt a conversation or replace the conversation that is going on, their use is often a cop-out for intimacy and also demonstrates an inability to set boundaries in a fast-paced, ever-connected world.

Put simply: Excessive cell phone use allows us to hide away from our primary relationships…if we don’t really want to engage face to face for whatever reason. If we are squirming in our seats during a conversation that is not going the way we like, we may check the screen to see if anything, something, could please possibly call our attention away.

As we head toward becoming a nation of hyper-stimulated phone junkies, not only do we hide from others but from ourselves, and our deepest thoughts and feelings.

So, how do you know if your relationship is in jeopardy due to Digital Attraction? A couple of key questions:

Have you or your spouse ever spent a day being entertained by your phones, without making contact with another human being? Be honest here. And when was the last time you spent an entire day with your spouse and never checked your phone? Be honest here too.

What is the fallout/toll on the future of couples’ happiness if real face time is so difficult to achieve, in part, because of our digital devices? If we can’t learn to manage our addiction to constant stimulus where are we headed? Imagine a relationship that survives by texting. Without body language, intonation, nuance and emotion we are relegated to interpreting symbols. Nothing will ever replace the human touch. Think about how many times words you have texted were taken the wrong way. (Remember digging out from that mess??)

Cell phones are great for remembering things and reminding us of appointments (like birthdays and anniversaries, even what your partner’s favorite gift is), but they can not feel. We have to leave the feelings, thoughts, and meaning to the humans.

If we want to fully understand the effect of cell phones on our relationships, I am suggesting that you try the following experiment. For three days, do these things and see what you think at the end of it.

Before you start this short period detox from digital devices, think connection to your partner as the overriding goal–and during the steps, continue to think about connection (just not the kind AT&T provides). All of the suggestions below are about maintaining the bond between you and your mate. These steps will reveal to you what you are missing and hopefully will build respect for the real intimacy your relationship needs.

Write down how close you feel on a 1-10 scale at the beginning of the experiment and then at the end.

Digital Detox Steps for Your Relationship

1. Turn off your cell phone during contact with humans, especially during meals, or at times when you are actually having a conversation.
2. Use your phone for phone calls only.
3. Take a half hour a day for quiet reflection. (No TV on.)
4. During that reflection time, write down your thoughts and feelings.
5. Take a daily walk with your partner and leave your cell phone at home.
6. Make a list of activities that you engaged in instead of being on the phone or on the computer. How many included your partner?

Interestingly, folks, the iPhone has an “accept” or “ignore” button.  I recommend the latter when you are with your partner. No exceptions unless a family member is hanging from a ledge and they need you to talk them down.

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran7 years ago


Eternal Gardener
Eternal G7 years ago

Luckily it doesn't, it's shocking to see/witness so many couples who don't even talk with each other any more!

Will Rogers
Will Rogers7 years ago

Only use my phone to make calls? Are you crazy? One of the last things I do with my phone is make a call! Some people can't help running away from technology, they are scared of the modern world, it's too fast for them, they want to go back to black and white phones, and frankly if a phone gets in the way of a relationship, then anything could be a distraction. My girlfriend is on her phone right now, I'll talk to her when she's finished, it's great to see her loving her phone, the light shining on her face like Christmas tree lights as she learns more, and we both become more clever. I have been waiting for this tech since I was a young child reading comics, and we were allowed to read while eating, multitasking being encouraged, we also had the TV on and even music, and we constantly spoke to each other. We all have phones now and when we get together still talk and eat and watch tv, music and now we google and take calls, we know how to start and finish and resume our conversations, because if it's not the phone distracting us it's something else (such as an elderly relative) in that way we've always been more 21st century than 20th century.
This article is written by a technophobe. People! embrace change.. Please! Don't be stuck in the past, and get away from clingy partners who want you to leave your phone at home, when you miss important calls and you're in trouble, they won't have anything sensible to say. Phone envy is a horrible thing.

William K.
William K7 years ago

Interesting how technology alters our lives in unexpected ways. It may simply enhance the strength and weaknesses already present in relationships.

Fennie Y.
Fennie Yap7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Jill D.
Jill D.7 years ago

I love what Dr. Bill Cloke brings up here...if there are problems in a relationship, cell phones are are a way to hide away from our partner...all distractions are barriers to intimacy with our partners but cell phones are an easy reach.

Michael Maday
Michael Maday7 years ago

I'm glad for this article if for only pointing us to our dangerous addiction to electronic media, especially our cellphones. Hey, we are supposed to use them, not them use us! Unless someone is expecting an important call, or the call might be an emergency, no one should ever interrupt a conversation just to answer the phone. That is what the recording device is for, isn't it? We have become a nation of bores!

Brian Schrader
Brian Schrader7 years ago

I was recently talking to a friend that informed me that her family uses their devices at dinner time. I was shocked when she told me this. I told her that I have now made it a point not to even answer the phone when we are having dinner, and we eat at the table with no television in view or even on. Sometimes I have some low music playing while we eat, but that is it. This way we talk about our events of the day and has caused our family to be closer. She asked me, what if it was an important phone call?. I responded with, we have an answering machine.

David C.
David C7 years ago

Enjoyed the article - thanks.

Kisha B.
Kisha B7 years ago

You don't need to detox from tech - if technology is getting in the way of your relationship, you don't have a very good one to begin with. It's not a good idea to turn off your cell anytime you're with people, what if there is an emergency? What if the kids get rushed to the ER and you can't be reached? No, no. Cell phones have their place and if you cannot keep them there, then that is your own personal issue. When you're out with people, answer to see if it's an emergency, if not say "I'll call you back later, I am with so-and-so". If you let a friend call you about nothing while out with your SO then one walking by would be just as much a distraction, so it doesn't solve anything to ditch the phone - the real issue is still that you don't care as much about the person and what they are talking about as you should.