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Smartphone stupidity

Bridging the Chasm: Healing the wounds of digital disconnection in a world that's constantly vying for your attention.

At the Reconnection Institute, we recognize the growing concern of digital distancing in relationships. This issue is becoming increasingly prevalent, and we understand the profound emotional toll it can take on couples. As advocates for relational living, we are committed to addressing this problem and helping couples reconnect by providing guidance and support in navigating the complexities of the digital age.

A personal message from Michael Myerscough

Founder of The Reconnection Institute

Imagine this: You sit across from your partner, yet as is so often the case now, they're not truly present.

Their gaze is fixated on their smartphone screen, their attention seized by the constant stream of notifications and updates. Though they agreed to spend quality time with you watching a film, they're soon absorbed in their phone again. Physically close, yet emotionally distant–it's a painful reminder of the growing disconnect in your relationship. Most of the couples I work with now are grappling with digital distancing, I empathise with the anguish of feeling so disconnected, like a mere backdrop to your partner's digital world.

On a bad day, every flicker of their screen feels like a dagger to the heart, a silent betrayal of the intimacy you once shared. You're now embroiled in a battle you may not be fully aware of—the 'attention economy,' as coined by experts like Tristan Harris, former Google design ethicist. This new reality pits our time and focus, the very things your relationship needs in order to thrive, against tech giants vying for the ultimate prize: our undivided attention.

The focus that should be on you has been stolen by a supercomputer nestled in our pockets, weaponised to absorb our attention. As others profit from this digital diversion, your relationship becomes increasingly impoverished. It truly hits home when you realise your partner is pitted against meticulously designed algorithms that captivate endlessly, leaving your relationship starved for attention and affection. The pain is tangible, and the ache of loneliness reverberates through the widening chasm between you.

Alarms are ringing among experts worldwide, particularly concerning intimate relationships. Undoubtedly, you've witnessed genuine human connection eclipsed by the irresistible allure of screens. You likely yearn for the warmth of the bond you once shared, the intimacy of moments spent together undisturbed by the digital haze. Esther Perel, author of ‘Mating in Captivity’ makes a poignant appeal to revive bedtime rituals which should resonate deeply: "Is it healthy that the last touch before sleep is a screen, and the first reach in the morning the same?" The ache becomes more profound as you realise the vast expanse of the chasm that has grown between you.

Navigating the Abyss:

In ‘Stolen Focus,’ Johann Hari delves into the 'compulsion trap,' shedding light on the addictive nature of screen time, which leaves you grappling with the emptiness of missed connections. Our screens have evolved into a significant catalyst for compulsive behaviour, eroding attention spans, and diminishing the quality of our relationships. It's not merely about squandering time; the content we consume is undeniably captivating and valuable. However, we are unwittingly trading attention, focus, and the vibrancy of relational life experiences in the process.

More concerningly, in his earlier book 'Lost Connections,' Hari argues that depression and anxiety often stem from a lack of meaningful connections with others and one's sense of purpose or meaningful work. He proposes that addressing these underlying disconnections may reduce the need for medication in some instances. If you don't have a meaningful connection with your spouse, you could end up facing significant mental health challenges. I understand this may sound disheartening, so let me share one of Hari’s suggestions for better mental health.

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We must establish device-free zones and times

Set boundaries around technology use, such as making the bedroom a device-free zone or establishing tech-free hours during mealtimes or before bed. By doing so, you can create a space for undivided attention and meaningful connection.

Keep in mind that when bringing up these concerns and suggestions it's easy to fall into the trap of pointing fingers and shifting responsibility when discussing phone usage. We're all susceptible to the lure of 'digital heroin,' and it's essential for both partners to work together in the pursuit of a healthier relationship. Instead of engaging in a cycle of accusation and justification, let's acknowledge our shared vulnerability to technology's pull and make a commitment to support one another as we embark on the journey to reconnection. After all, it takes two to tango, and two to disconnect from the dance of digital addiction.

Continuous partial attention

Linda Stone is another very well-informed expert whose work merits attention in this context. As a writer, consultant, and former executive in the technology industry, her experience with Apple, Microsoft, and research in social computing and online social life lend weight to her insights. Her concept of 'continuous partial attention' describes how constant device usage prevents us from fully engaging with our environment or the people around us, potentially smashing relationship satisfaction. Experts concur that striving for full attention during interactions is a healthy goal, as it promotes intimacy and trust. In light of these warnings, it becomes increasingly evident that taking action to mitigate the negative effects of digital distraction on relationships is crucial for maintaining healthy, meaningful connections.

Dr. Sue Johnson, the pioneer of Emotion Focused Therapy, highlights that deep connection serves as a vital lifeline in the darkness, a glimmer of hope amidst the digital storm. Nevertheless, the path forward may appear uncertain, with the pain of disconnection looming large. Sherry Turkle, in her book ‘Alone Together,’ contends that our devices offer a facade of companionship, devoid of the demands and rewards of true intimacy. In your relationship, this can result in a widening gap between the ease of digital communication and the profound depth of face-to-face, soul-to-soul encounters.

Turkle cautions against the illusory intimacy provided by our gadgets, emphasising the importance of engaging in meaningful face-to-face conversations daily—an experience that fosters genuine listening, sharing, and connection, unhindered by screens. Disturbingly, companies are currently developing AI companions designed to consume even more of your attention, customisable to your preferences in appearance and voice. As a hetro-sexual male I’ll trade you my Scarlett Johansson for your Hugh Jackman, we might be safer in the long term.

If you find your partner's use of technology painful, it's because it genuinely is. It's a very real threat to your happy home, and you're not crazy or overly dramatic for feeling this way.

The cost of comparison

As our awareness grows surrounding the adverse effects of social media, we become more cognizant of the painful consequences of constant comparison. Despite recognising that social media showcases an edited highlight reel of others' lives, we often find ourselves trapped in a cycle of damaging comparisons.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula, an esteemed American clinical psychologist and author specialising in narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse, has shed light on the role of social media in intensifying narcissistic tendencies. She emphasises its potential to foster toxic relationships and perpetuate narcissistic abuse. In an increasingly digital world, Dr. Durvasula addresses the challenges of managing relationships with narcissists and underscores the significance of safeguarding oneself from their influence. This discourse further emphasises the need for mindful engagement with social media platforms to protect mental health and maintain healthy relationships.

This continuous exposure can sow seeds of dissatisfaction within our own relationships as we involuntarily contrast the everyday mundanity with meticulously curated online personas. This pattern resonates with Drs. John and Julie Gottman's research-based insights on the damaging effects of negative comparisons in their concept of the ‘glacial slide’ towards marital dissolution. Widely regarded as one of the three most influential voices in marriage therapy, the Gottmans' empirical findings highlight the importance of evaluating your relationship based on its inherent strengths and qualities rather than the deceptive benchmarks established by social media. By actively nurturing gratitude for the authentic moments shared with your partner and concentrating on the distinctive aspects of your connection, you can cultivate a healthier, more resilient relationship amidst the digital noise.

Reclaiming Intimacy

Dr. Sue Johnson underscores the importance of emotionally focusing on each other. Dedicate time for uninterrupted conversations, providing a space to explore your day and feelings without the background hum of technology. Pause for a moment and ask yourself, when was the last time you truly engaged in an undisturbed, meaningful conversation with your partner?

Regarding 'Us time,' Terry Real, the third of the most respected couple’s therapists and author, highlights strategies for relationship success in his book 'Us.' Renowned for his work in establishing healthy boundaries and fortifying relationships, Real's advice stands in stark contrast to the digital distractions that permeate our lives. The distance technology creates in relationships moves us in the opposite direction of the intimacy we genuinely need. In fact, he goes so far as to refer to digital distancing as a ‘misery stabiliser’ right up there with other drugs. The obvious problem is that misery isn’t stable for long.

Similarly, esteemed relationship experts like Dr. Brené Brown and Dr. Dan Siegel have also explored the effects of technology and social media on relationships, stressing the importance of face-to-face interaction and embracing vulnerability to build strong, lasting connections.

Cal Newport's wrote ‘Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.’ His philosophy of digital minimalism offers a path forward, a roadmap to reclaiming the essential intimacy that screens have stolen. It's a journey fraught with challenges, but one worth embarking on for the sake of your relationship and mental health.

Similarly, esteemed relationship experts like Dr. Brené Brown and Dr. Dan Siegel have also explored the effects of technology and social media on relationships, stressing the importance of face-to-face interaction and embracing vulnerability to build strong, lasting connections.

Cal Newport's wrote ‘Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.’ His philosophy of digital minimalism offers a path forward, a roadmap to reclaiming the essential intimacy that screens have stolen. It's a journey fraught with challenges, but one worth embarking on for the sake of your relationship and mental health.

Key questions answered

How do I know if I’m on my phone too long?

To begin, consider implementing Newport’s ‘digital declutter’ exercise: were you and your partner could agree to set aside a period of time (30 days is recommended) during which you take a break from all non-essential digital activities. If 30 days seems daunting, remember that it’s a suggestion, and any step toward digital minimalism is a step in the right direction. This exercise will allow you to re-evaluate your relationship with technology and identify the activities that truly serve your values and goals. Together, let’s navigate this treacherous terrain, weaving a tapestry of connection amidst the digital detritus. For in the darkness of your disconnection lies the potential for profound healing and renewal.

Is it even worse for my children?

When your phone is your constant companion, your human relationships can suffer. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras is an Ivy League-educated psychologist, author, and speaker who specialises in mental health, addiction, and the impacts of the digital age. He’s known for his work on screen addiction, especially among children, and has coined the term ‘digital heroin.’ He points out, that the allure of our screens can eclipse the warmth of human contact. We all need to make it a point to prioritise people over pixels. Start with having tech-free zones in your home, especially the bedroom and dining area, to reinforce the presence of each other. If you can’t do it for yourselves then at least do it for your darn, kids because what they are getting from their screen addictions isn’t far off brain damage. Kardaras calls them ‘Glow Kids’ and their future isn’t bright.

My phone gives me important ‘me time'.

There’s no doubt me time is important, but not at the expense of conversation and shared feelings. Pause for a moment and ask yourself, when was the last time you savoured an undisturbed conversation with your partner? Dr. Johnson emphasises that emotional availability and responsiveness are essential components of a secure attachment. If screens continue to intrude upon your ‘us time,’ they’ll gradually erode vital opportunities for emotional connection, leaving you both feeling distant and disconnected.

What does this all mean?

I couldn't make this any clearer: we have the insights of world-renowned relationship experts like Terry Real, The Gottmans, Sue Johnson, and Esther Perel—each with vast experience and credibility—warning us of the impending disaster technology poses to our relationships. Yet, many still refuse to wake up. An ever-growing number of doctors and psychologists echo the same concerns. It's an area of distress that's becoming increasingly crucial in my work with The Reconnection Institute.

The pain of digital disconnection runs deep, a gaping wound in the fabric of your relationship. But within this agony lies the potential for growth, renewal, and reconnection. By acknowledging the depth of your pain and embracing actionable strategies for healing, you can bridge the chasm that separates you from your partner.
Remember, you're not alone in this journey. At The Reconnected Institute, we're here to guide you every step of the way, offering a beacon of hope amidst the darkness of digital disconnection.

Numerous experts, including Cal Newport, author of 'Digital Minimalism,' and Tristan Harris, founder of the Center for Humane Technology, present programs for a digital detox. If you're serious about reconnecting with your loved one, there's a program tailored just for you. Remember, in the dance of digital addiction, it takes two to tango—and two to gracefully disconnect, hand in hand, stepping into a brighter, more connected future together.

If you’d like to know more about the couples counselling I offer, specifically in relation to smart phone addiction, please take a look at our counselling services or my FAQ page for more information. My practice is based in St Ives on Sydney’s North Shore.

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