Your phone is probably never far from you. It keeps you connected to the office, to your kids, to what’s going on in the world. If you’re stressed, it’s there with a relaxing game or some cute puppy photos in your Instagram feed. It’s your partner in daily life — and that’s a problem.
As helpful as our phones are, technology can also be a source of tension in a relationship. According to one study, couples with high technology use reported more conflict and lower relationship satisfaction. The study even indicated that when one partner spends a lot of time using the phone, the other partner can feel more depressed. Another study echoes those findings. It concluded that people who describe their partners as dependent on their cell phones are less satisfied with their relationships.
Why do mobile phones have such a powerful effect? We can find the answer to this question in past research about what makes relationships succeed or fail.
It’s All About ‘Bids’
I’ve written many times in this blog about the work of John Gottman, who has extensively studied the behavior of married couples. One thing Dr. Gottman observed is that we all make “bids” for connection in our relationships. A bid is “any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection or any other positive connection.” When spouses respond to each other’s bids, they make deposits in the emotional bank account of their marriage. This is important, Gottman says, because successful couples have 20 positive deposits for every “withdrawal,” or negative interaction, in their relationship. If you and your husband regularly respond to each other’s bids for connection, you’re 88 percent more likely to stay married.
So where do our phones come in? As you’re probably all too aware, phones are powerful distractions. You don’t even have to be using your phone for it to steal your attention. When your focus is on your phone screen, you’re less aware of the world around you — and the people around you. That means you’re less likely to even notice your spouse’s bids, let alone respond to them. As a result, he may feel rejected, even if you didn’t intend to hurt his feelings.
How to Reclaim Your Relationship
If you’re worried that your phones are coming between you and your husband, what’s the solution? Admittedly, this isn’t an easy question. In just a couple of decades since they first became widely used, cell phones are now an inescapable part of life. But while you can’t get rid of your cell phone (and probably don’t even want to), you can change the way you relate to it so that it doesn’t detract from your marriage and other important relationships.
Above all, make it a priority to spend more time being truly present with each other. Now this doesn’t mean you have to book a two-week vacation at a remote beach resort without cell phone service. I’m talking about steps that are much more realistic. For example, put away phones when you and your husband reconnect with each other after work. Share a meal together while your phones are in the other room. Or when you are using your phone, take a moment to send a sweet note, rather than the grocery list. These may seem like little steps, but they can make a big difference in your marriage.
Finally, I want to leave you with an article from Thrive Global that really stayed with me. In it, psychotherapist Katherine Schafler cites the four questions that Maya Angelou believed we are unconsciously asking each other all the time:
Do you see me?
Do you care that I’m here?
Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
Can I tell that I’m special to you by the way that you look at me?
Angelou’s questions poignantly articulate an essential truth: We all need to be seen, to be affirmed, to be valued. We all need attention, reassurance and connection with each other. When you half-listen to your husband while you scroll through your Facebook feed, how are you answering these questions? And what are the answers you’re receiving from him if he’s checking headlines or email while you’re talking?
Don’t let the technology that keeps you plugged into the world rob you of true human connection. Always make connection a priority to keep your marriage strong. For more practical advice about maintaining your marriage amid our hectic, busy lives, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Today I just want you to find a way to lighten things up.
The weight of all our daily tasks and worries can wear us down — even when we think that they’re no big deal. Have you ever read the “How heavy is your glass of water?” story. The point of it is that we all have to put down our burdens sometimes.
Now that we’re in the heart of summer, maybe there’s some extra space for you to do this. If the pace of your work life and family life is a little slower right now, don’t rush to fill that freed-up time with things from your to-do list. Your world won’t fall apart if you take a break from being responsible and mature. Really.
What does lightening up look like? Go on an impromptu vacation or staycation. The next time the kids want to have an adventure or just hang out, put down your phone and join in. Goof around with your husband. Remember how fun it was to be silly together? (If not, the video with this post is a good refresher course.)
Giving yourself a break from the routine stress we are all under will help keep your marriage healthy. You’ll also reconnect with a side of yourself you may have forgotten.
You — and your marriage, and your family — need joy. Don’t put it off.
It might not sound romantic, but Helen Fisher has love down to a science.
Fisher is a biological anthropologist and a scientific advisor to Match.com. She and her fellow researchers have spent a lot of time using MRI scanners to look at the brains of people in love.
While all of Fisher’s work is fascinating, her findings about people in long-term relationships who report that they’re still in love are especially intriguing. We usually think of new love as the most exciting and swoon-worthy. But the brains of Fisher’s subjects — mostly n their 50’s and married an average of 21 years— clearly showed their passion still burning.
“Psychologists maintain that the dizzying feeling of intense romantic love lasts only about 18 months to—at best—three years. Yet the brains of these middle-aged men and women showed much the same activity as those of young lovers, individuals who had been intensely in love an average of only seven months,” Fisher writes in O Magazine.
What’s keeping their love alive? And what can the rest of us learn from Fisher’s findings?
Does Your Brain Wear Rose-Colored Glasses?
Because our brains are wired to keep us alive, we naturally tend to look for the negative in order to quickly spot anything potentially risky or dangerous. Unfortunately, this thinking bias can cause problems in our relationships if we’re not careful.
Fisher found that longtime lovers have reduced activity in the part of the brain that skews negative, which suggests that they’ve honed their ability to see the positives in their partner.
“Men and women who continue to maintain that their partner is attractive, funny, kind and ideal for them in just about every way remain content with each other,” Fisher writes. “Perhaps this form of self-deception is a gift from nature, enabling us to triumph over the rough spots and the changes in our relationships.”
Does your brain need some training to accentuate the positive? Make an extra effort to notice the good things that your husband does and to remind yourself of all the reasons you fell in love with him in the first place.
(A quick note here: In no way is Fisher suggesting that you overlook serious issues, like abuse.)
How Active Are Your Mirror Neurons?
Another interesting thing about the brains of Fisher’s subjects was the higher activity of the mirror neurons which are nerve cells linked with empathy. That’s not surprising. We all long to feel heard and understood in our relationships.
Unfortunately, life gets so busy and draining sometimes that it depletes our ability to be empathic with others. To improve your ability to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, there are a couple of exercises you can try. First, there’s the “marriage hack” that takes only 21 minutes per year. You can also work through the 36 questions that build closeness (which you may have seen featured in The New York Times).
Are You Caring For Yourself?
Finally, Fisher’s subjects showed notable activity in the brain regions associated with controlling emotions. Again, this makes a lot of sense. As I’ve written before, respect is the often-overlooked ingredient in lasting love. And it’s a lot easier to be respectful with your partner when your emotions don’t feel out of control.
If you do lash out at your husband frequently, take a look at the rest of your life. I’m betting that you’re pushing yourself hard and may not even realize the pressures you face. To get a better handle on your emotions, look at the factors that put you at risk for “flipping your lid” and engage in more self-care. As women, we’re often taught that tending to our own needs is selfish. But the truth is we can’t be there for others with love and respect if we don’t care for ourselves.
Be sure to take a few minutes to watch Fisher’s full TED Talk. I think you’ll come away with a fresh appreciation of the power and wonder of love. And for a guide to writing your own lasting love story, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love
For around 30 years, researchers have studied how having children affects a marriage, and the results are conclusive: the relationship between spouses suffers once kids come along. Comparing couples with and without children, researchers found that the rate of the decline in relationship satisfaction is nearly twice as steep for couples who have children than for childless couples. In the event that a pregnancy is unplanned, the parents experience even greater negative impacts on their relationship.
For most people, marital discontent after having kids occurs because of the loss of their intimate friendship with their spouse. This friendship is naturally taken for granted when it’s just the two of you. Maintaining this bond is harder amid all the demands of parenthood. But it’s not impossible. Here are a few strategies for keeping your marriage strong after you become parents.
Moms Are Overburdened
Research shows that the primary childcare responsibilities still fall on women, who also do considerably more housework and spend more hours multitasking than their husbands do. It’s hard to feel romantic and connected to your husband when you’re exhausted or resentful all the time!
Talk openly about household responsibilities and how the two of you and can keep everything from falling on your shoulders. This may mean that your husband takes on additional tasks or that you rework your budget so that you can afford to hire a housekeeping service.
You Need Couple Time
In many families, life revolves around the kids’ schedules, needs and desires. This happens because of parents’ desire to do what’s best for their kids, but this isn’t best for anyone. Children do not want to be — and should not be — the center of the universe. More than additional time, most children need parents who are more relaxed, emotionally attuned to them and involved in a loving, respectful marriage.
As a couple, you need time together to keep your relationship vibrant, but may feel guilty taking away from “family time.” Just remember that if you never prioritize your marriage, it is at greater risk for deteriorating, and that is not good either for you or your children. Children benefit from any effort you put into your marriage. For kids, seeing their parents happy with each other is an extremely stabilizing experience. That steadiness gives them a solid foundation from which to flourish.
Spending time as a couple does not have to break your budget. If you can’t afford a babysitter right now, make sure the kids are in bed early and spend some quality time with your husband in the evening. Have lunch together or take a little time here and there when the kids are in school. If you have friends in the same boat, trade babysitting every few weeks. Give yourself permission to put your needs first at times and bring some fun back into your marriage.
Families Are Overextended
Another way to free up time for your marriage, and to change the whole atmosphere of your family, is to simplify life. As parents, we’re under tremendous pressure to do everything “right” for our kids. There’s an underlying message that you must give them every opportunity to develop their talents and interests and that you must fill their lives with memorable experiences. So we spend hours carting kids all over town to various activities, and we spend money on lessons, tutoring, elaborate birthday parties and over-the-top vacations.
Let me take some of the pressure off: Pushing children to develop every talent and excel at everything is not good for them, especially if you are forcing them well beyond their personal limits. You will not damage, deprive or prevent your child from thriving if you do not provide the “perfect” childhood as portrayed in magazines, parenting blogs and your friends’ social media feeds. Take back control of your parenting so that you and your husband are not frantically attempting to meet the latest fabricated need. Scale back activities to the ones that are truly meaningful for your family.
Despite its challenges, parenting is an experience that is truly life changing. The depth of love you can feel for a child can be absolutely breathtaking, and sharing that bond with your husband can be another source of intimacy. Children have a way of helping us become aware of our place in the life cycle and can bring tremendous joy and meaning to life. Balancing your own needs with those of the vulnerable little humans for whom you are responsible requires tremendous maturity, planning and commitment, but is entirely doable if you stay focused and simplify. Need a guide to caring for your marriage as you nurture your family? Pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Whatever you’re doing right now, take a quick break to watch this video of older women looking back on their lives and reflecting on what’s really important. It’ll take just a couple of minutes.
One thing that’s especially poignant and fascinating about this video is that the women point out that standards are different now than when they were younger and that there’s an expectation of “perfection” in the culture that they didn’t have to contend with.
Take parenting. Did you know that even though more women are in the workforce now, we spend more time with our children than women did in the past? We also deal daily with what seems like an ever-longer list of things we are supposed to do to parent the “right” way.
And then there’s social media, which can make it seem like you’re the only mom without exciting vacations, overachieving children, a blissful marriage, the ideal job, magazine-worthy meals and flawless holiday decorations.
When we constantly chase perfection, we miss the flawed but, in many ways, lovely lives we already have. That isn’t to say, of course, that you shouldn’t pursue what’s important to you in life, whether that’s career fulfillment or a strong marriage. But as you do, remember to get out of your head and come into the present moment with the people you love and life you’ve created.
Amid all the doing, take time for simply being. Right here. Right now.
As the women in the video remind us, the years will pass quickly. And you don’t get a second chance to recapture the moments you lost.