Relationship column: Cell phone addiction ruining relationship
Dear Neil: My wife is beyond obsessed with her iPhone. It is 24/7 with Facebook, video games and messaging apps, and she clearly prefers her phone to spending time with me and the kids. I assume she is downstairs with the kids, but when I go downstairs the kids are getting into all sorts of things. She is there but not there, immersed in her social media fantasy world. It’s ruining our marriage. Even late at night, she would rather play with her phone than be with me. If we didn’t have kids, I would have called it quits already.
— Fed Up With Wife’s Cell Phone Addiction
Dear Fed Up: Money, sex, trust, children and poor communication/conflict resolution are still top issues that couple’s fight about. But rapidly rising into the mix is the subject you address: feeling ignored or rejected because you do not feel as if you are your spouses/lovers/partner’s top priority. And modern electronic devices have become one of the two most common reasons people feel ignored by their intimate partners. (The other reason is work.)
Think for a moment what it would feel like if you’re out as a couple sitting in some romantic restaurant, or having a serious conversation, or the two of you are flirting with each other — and your partner gets a text message that s/he feels compelled to respond to right then and there — and this happened over and over again. Most of the time you would feel like the text message took higher priority than you did, and you would feel rejected. Certainly it would kill the mood, but over time it would lead to greater levels of anger, resentment and feelings of disconnection, because it would feel like casual “friends” are more important to her than you and the kids are.
This may or may not be intentional behavior on your wife’s part. That is, she may not be aware of how all of this feels to you. Or on the other hand, she may be avoiding you and intentionally giving you the cold shoulder.
This is where I would recommend you start. Tell your wife you need a half hour with her without interruptions after the kids are put down, with her phone off. Then ask her if she’s upset or angry with you, or if she feels offended by something you’ve said or done. If she says yes, then ask her to talk about it, and be a very good listener. This is no time to explain or defend yourself, but to understand her point of view and her feelings. When she is done, ask her what she would need in order for her to fully come back to you.
If she says that nothing is wrong between the two of you, and that she is not upset or angry with you, then tell her you feel ignored and rejected by her. You can then point out her inattention to you and the kids, and her rapt attention to her cell phone and social media connections.
Recent research on this subject strongly suggests that smartphone/device addiction is associated with depression, anxiety, moodiness, loneliness, stress disorders and poor engagement at home and work. This may indicate that your wife has a problem that needs to be fixed, and that she may not be intentionally ignoring you.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 24th year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777 or email him through his website: http://www.heartrelationships.com. He is the author of the new book: “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Keeping the Flame Alive.”
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