How far are you from your cell phone right now? Assuming you’re not reading this article on your phone’s screen, the answer is probably less than a foot. Let me guess — it’s in your pocket, in your purse, or maybe in your hand at this very moment? According to research from data giants like Nielsen, SmartInsights, Pew Research Center and others, the average adult spent more than four hours a day on their mobile device. Nearly half of that time is spent on social media.
Smartphones are part of our daily life, giving us the ability to take everything we need — from email and calendars to social media, cameras and other tools — with us. Even my phone isn’t more than a foot from me while I’m writing this, but there’s a dark side to this technology. It’s addictive. In my household, my husband is addicted to his cell phone, and it’s destroying our marriage.
Why are cell phones so dangerous and what can we do to keep our interpersonal relationships from falling apart?
A Hit of Dopamine
Every time you light up your smartphone or hear a notification from your pocket, your brain releases a hit of dopamine, the ‘happy drug’ that controls the pleasure centers of your brain. When you do something that you enjoy, whether that’s food, sex, drugs, exercise or checking your cell phone, your brain releases dopamine to encourage you to continue that behavior.
The problem with cell phone usage and dopamine is that these devices are designed to support instant gratification. You want something, you click a few links and it’s yours. This instant gratification makes it easy to get into what is known as a dopamine loop. Once you start seeking, you get instant gratification and a hit of dopamine that encourages you to continue to cycle. Once you get into one of those loops, it’s nearly impossible to stop looking at your phone, even when it’s necessary.
Well Above Average
Remember that statistic I mentioned above, how the average person is on their phone or another smart device upwards of four hours a day? My husband’s usage would be considered well above average. If they included him in a study, they might even worry his numbers would skew the results.
He was on his phone from the moment his alarm went off to the moment he closed his eyes at night. He was always sending tweets, posting pictures of whatever caught his eye, replying to emails, playing video games or updating social media.
Quite frankly, it was destroying our marriage. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but it honestly felt like he and I hadn’t had a face-to-face conversation in months. We’d text each other while in the same house. If he had to move away from his phone charger, he didn’t do anything. Plus, we were always spending money upgrading his phone to the newest and fastest model.
We’d been married for half a decade and while it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, it was the first time that I’d considered giving up. I even started meeting with a therapist to work through the possibility of divorce.
I was surprised to learn that social media plays a massive role in divorce court these days, from proving someone’s infidelity to simply finding them when they can’t be bothered to show up for court. 80% of divorce attorneys in the U.S. have seen a rise in the number of divorces linked to social media.
Now, I didn’t really want to go through with a divorce, but when I couldn’t even have a conversation with my husband, something had to give.
On the advice of my therapist, I had a deep conversation with my husband and we did a household-wide smartphone detox. We switched down to basic flip phones so we could still stay in touch — because in today’s world, it’s impossible to function without a cell phone. We both powered down our smartphones and didn’t turn them back on for two months.
The difference was remarkable. It sucked at first because hubby was an absolute grump without his smartphone in hand at all times, but it didn’t take long for us to adapt. We cooked at home instead of eating out, read more, actually watched our shows together and talked more than we had in months.
Once I was able to pry the phone out of my husband’s hands, it was easier to explain my perspective and help him see that his addiction to the device was driving me away.
I learned a lot too during that two-month detox. It dawned on me that my phone usage was playing a role in my relationship woes, too. I didn’t realize how much I relied on that little device, or how much of my work I was bringing home with me every night until I had to physically break out a laptop to check work emails once I’d clocked out.
Not Giving Up Yet
A single smartphone detox isn’t enough to fix all of our problems, but it helped move us in the right direction. We’re not giving up yet, but we both need to be more mindful of our cell phone use.