Your Phone Might Be Ruining Your Attachment Relationships
If there is one thing I could suggest to couples who are experiencing disconnection in their relationships, it’s this:
Put your phones down and look at each other.
I want to preface this post by acknowledging that I am just as guilty of using my phone as the next person. As a small business owner, I use social media platforms to get my message out to my community. As a busy human, I am texting with friends regularly to stay connected when we can’t find time to meet face to face. I am also not immune to baby goat videos or anything on @thedodo. For many reasons, I use my phone more often that I would like to.
Relationships are changing as a result of technology. You can see this very clearly when you walk into a restaurant and entire families are sitting on their phones in silence. If you are a fan of late 80’s and early 90’s movies like I am, it’s amazing to witness people in restaurant scenes having entire conversations without googling something or checking on their fantasy football team. We used to manage without our phones, but times have changed—and that’s okay, as long as we recognize that our brains still need face to face connection and eye contact.
The particular dynamic I see in relationships related to technology is reminiscent of the anxious-avoidant trap. One partner’s attention is focused on their phone or computer, and the other partner feels shut out or ignored. When someone is looking down at their phone, they are sending a message that they are emotionally unavailable and maybe even shut down. Attachment theory reminds us that this dynamic can quickly lead to a blow-out argument if both partners have been primed to feel sensitive to this dynamic and have experienced it before.
This happens in my own relationship sometimes. I can see my avoidant side come forward in the late afternoon and evening. After a long day of talking with clients, meeting with other therapists, attending trainings, or working on projects, sometimes all I want to do is curl up on the couch and scroll mindlessly through Instagram. It’s an easy way to check out and “appear busy” to my partner and loved ones. But it’s really sending them a message that what I’m doing is more important than them, and that the people who are across the internet from me who I have never spoken to are doing more interesting things than the people sitting next to me on the couch. Not only that, but it’s not actually helping me wind down at all. I am receiving input to my brain in a rapid-fire way with each post I scroll past. What would be more helpful when I’m tapped out is to do something that is actually restful rather than retreating to the internet.
My partner isn’t a huge fan of technology. If it were up to him, we would have a landline and no cell phones. He rarely checks his email, goes on Facebook a couple of times a year and uses Instagram occasionally. He is less of a technology person than most. However, when my partner is on his phone, it sometimes triggers my anxious attachment side. Even though logically I recognize that he really doesn’t care more about what he’s seeing on his phone than he does about me, I notice the anxious feeling creeping in.
I start asking questions to see if he will pay attention to me and if he will look up from what he is doing. If he doesn’t, sometimes I up the ante and ask him something important (that really should wait until we are both feeling calm, settled, and attuned to each other). I’m not proud of that side of me when it shows up, but I also know it’s happening for a reason: I feel like I’m losing him to whatever it is he’s doing on his phone. My logical brain knows that’s ridiculous, but my emotional brain is picking up cues that I’m not a priority. We aren’t making eye contact, his answers are short and sometimes don’t make sense because his mind is otherwise occupied, and even when I try harder to get his attention, it doesn’t work. Sometimes I can be clear and ask him to put his phone down, but sometimes my anxious attachment style hijacks the moment and I get upset. This isn’t something that happens often, but when it does, I am able to acutely notice my anxious side feeling triggered and afraid.
I am sharing this with you because technology issues are pervasive in our relationships. It’s important that we recognize the ways technology could be disruptive to our connections and work to resist the distractions. Our relationships deserve focus and attention. Our phones don’t provide the real warmth and comfort we receive from our attachment relationships; they provide a temporary distraction that can leave us feeling more empty than before we checked Facebook for the 10th time today.
Here are some suggestions that might be helpful for managing technology issues in your family:
Have designated times where you check your phone. I also recommend setting a timer because we all know how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole of social media and suddenly 30 minutes have passed.
Have a designated time where you put your phone away for the evening. This applies to every family member, and you can support each other in making sure it happens.
Keep cell phones out of your bedroom. If you need an alarm clock, you can find inexpensive ones in most stores. This simple step allows you to go to bed without looking at your phone and wake up in the morning without spending those first precious moments of the day scrolling.
How are you managing technology in your relationships? How do you prioritize face-to-face connection in your life? Do you talk about this with your partner or family members?
Here’s to more connection.