Have you experienced a situation where you are having a conversation with your partner and their phone rings or pings and they abruptly respond to the phone? Has that experience left you feeling disrupted, annoyed, or even rejected because your partner chose their phone instead of you? Have you felt triggered and stronger feelings of irritation, resentment, or jealousy began to swell within you?
It’s not uncommon for couples to call and seek therapy because emotional or physical infidelity has taken place. The relationship is devastated by the news that cheating has occurred. In many instances the infidelity was kept a secret and the other partner was taken by surprise. The partner who did not cheat often shares that “I didn’t see it coming.”
A common myth is that Infidelity is a key marker that ends a relationship. While infidelity doesn’t make it easier on a relationship it is not always the catalyst that terminates a relationship. Research from John Gottman and his studies has demonstrated that emotional distancing and emotional isolation is a stronger indicator that a relationship is not going to last.
So what if you “did see it coming” and have chosen to avoid it?
More recently, I have worked with several couples who have expressed a similar experience of infidelity with their partner. One or both partners have shared statements that they feel replaced by their partner’s cell phone. For example, I have heard “that’s his new girlfriend” or “her phone makes her feel better than I can.” In many of these instances couples share that they feel alone, ignored, and rejected. Instead of having a “girl crush” they have a “candy crush.”
While technology can be a blessing to our lives it can also become a curse to relationships if it is not managed in a healthy way. The insights into what is driving one or both partners detachment from the relationship is unique. Furthermore, the specific reliance and relationship with their cell phone is also unique to each partner and each relationship.
What is important to recognize is the loss of connection, intimacy, and overall relationship satisfaction. In a successful relationship, more often than not, each partner is present, attune, and intentional with one another. This constant stream of being seen, being present, and demonstrating you matter with each other fuels the relationship.
Whereas, in a relationship that is challenged all the little things that don’t happen become intensified and creates even more distance in the relationship. By choosing to respond to the ring of a text message or the ping of a new email we are tremendously impacting the person we are with. These micro-rejections can build up and develop a deeper sense of hurt, rejection, and loneliness. Something subtle as placing your phone on the table during dinner can trigger your partner significantly and further impact the relationship divide. The little things we do matter!
Uncovering all the drivers behind emotional distancing in a relationship is usually a longer process that unfolds over time. With that said, we can implement some short-term strategies that can help couples begin to turn towards one another rather than away.
First and foremost, it is imperative that one or both partners communicates their concerns and what they need from the other. Remember, soft startups such as “I feel” statements go much further than “You” statements.
Secondly, set boundaries. It is healthy for partners to set boundaries in relationships. Sharing with your partner that you feel ignored during dinner when they are checking email and you’d like them to focus on the relationship is OKAY!
Finally, a very effective strategy for both partners to agree upon is to PUT THE CELL PHONE AWAY. Designate a location in the house, maybe during specific times of the day, or even during shared experiences when both of you agree to PUT THE CELL PHONE AWAY and…..focus on simply being present and with one another.