• Betsy Fitzpatrick

DISCONNECT TO RECONNECT: when technology compromises relationships, how we can balance the two.

Technology devices, gadgets, and platforms are becoming more sophisticated and available at our fingertips 24/7. No sooner do you purchase or download the latest and greatest smartphone, app, or gadget, and a new one is released. While billions of people now have the ability to stay in touch with family, friends, and work nearly anywhere in the world, are we really more connected with each other?

Everywhere you look, people are staring at their phones instead of making meaningful eye contact and connections with the person sitting right next to them. Choosing to ignore someone while swiping through your mobile device even has its own name -- phubbing -- a phrase to describe the behaviour. It’s safe to say we’ve all either been “phubbed,” or have been guilty of “phubbing” while commenting on a Facebook post, double tapping an Instagram photo, or texting a friend while another is merely inches away from us IRL.

The irony of this syndrome is that we are usually communicating with someone digitally, either via text, social media, and workspace platforms. Yet, when we are preoccupied viewing, commenting, or sharing the highlights of someone else’s life, we are neglecting our own, including real life interactions and precious facetime (the original facetime!) with the people in our lives. One can’t help feel snubbed or even in competition with online friends and followers.

Because there is no tone, inflection, volume, body or facial expressions in a text message or online comment (with the exception of an ALL CAPS message which reads as “angry” or “yelling”), typing characters into a keyboard and hitting “send” lends itself to frequent misinterpretations, communication breakdown, and a general disconnect in the way that are words are being received. Nuance and intention is lost in cyberspace.

Numerous studies are now examining the effects of digital communication on face-to-face interactions. According to a 2015 study conducted by Brigham Young published in Psychology Today, “technoference” not only affects our relationships but compromises one’s psychological health:

“Even mini-rejections, such as a partner turning to the phone in the middle of a conversation, can elicit the common reactions rejections cause—hurt feelings, a drop in mood and self-esteem, and a surge of anger and resentment.….These small wounds can fester and increase conflict, lower relationship satisfaction, and lead to a drop in life satisfaction and an increase in symptoms of depression.”

While being connected to friends and family at the push of a button makes it easier for us to stay in touch with one another, these studies have proven that it also hurts relationships as well. So how do we strike a balance between connecting with one another via technology and being present while engaging in person on a daily basis?

Is there a need for technology-free zones or times in your relationship when the phone should be shut off? Not on vibrate, or silent, but actually clicking the “off” button or putting the device out of reach? These days, we have anxiety about not responding fast enough, but the effects of being so plugged in is so prevalent that restaurants, cafes, hotels, and getaways are now creating these tech-free spaces. And more experts are advocating making time for personal conversations over text messaging. Check out Sherry Turkle, the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self’s short video interview on how (and why) we can be “pro-conversation and technology in The Atlantic:


While we can’t avoid technology, we can certainly place reasonable boundaries on usage and recognize the value of in person interactions. What can couples do to disconnect for a while and reconnect with their partner?

Here are some suggestions that you may want to discuss with your partner to recharge your batteries and untangle crossed wires:

Agree to a time and place at home that is a tech-free zone.

For example, meaningful talk time typically occurs during family dinner, after the kids go to bed, and when you are in bed.

Think that there’s nothing to else to do or talk about? Here are some suggestions:

  • Dinnertime: What was the best part of your day today? The worst? What is one thing that you new thing that you learned?

  • After dinner/before bed: Work on a home project together, binge watch a new Netflix show or break out old classics, play a silly board game, or discuss and share your favorite hobbies and passions with each other.

Unplugged Date Nights.

Put your phones completely away. Really. This includes sneaking into the bathroom to check messages or looking at social media! All phones have an emergency bypass that you can set up for contacts such as the babysitter or a sick relative. No excuses!

Talk About Reasonable Expectations.

Work will call. So will mom. Discussing the need to take important calls or texts and how to do this if and when the need arises will mitigate the frustration of simply grabbing the phone and immediately responding.

In this tech-driven society, it is not easy to switch off the gadgets that we’ve grown so attached to. It will take some effort and getting used to, but in the end, the benefits tremendously outweigh our inclination to reach for the phone or iPad every time it dings, beeps, or tweets. Think of these sounds and vibrations as a third person in the room, and politely ask them to be silent for some much-deserved and necessary facetime with your partner.