Are you in a three way? (you, your partner and your phone)

Is your phone affecting your relationship?

If you’re feeling like intimacy is lacking in your relationship, it may be because you’re unknowingly in a three-way relationship with your phone. On the WellBeings podcast we talk to Catherine Price whoe explains why mobile phone addictions drive a wedge between couples, and how to break up with this toxic third party.

Feel like you’re in a three-way relationship with you, your partner… and your phone? We recently spoke to Catherine Price, author of How To Break Up With Your Phone, in a quest to find out just how detrimental your relationship with your phone can be, and how to take back control. 

If you’re thinking you’re spending too much time on your phone, it’s probably because you are. And, you’re not alone. Most people have started to look at their phones as a default state whenever there is a moment of silence; in the car, in the elevator, while you’re waiting in line, our brains have started to crave the constant stimulation that comes from looking at a screen. For some, this may not seem like a big deal, but studies have shown that as a result, we’ve become less productive and less engaged with the people and environment around us.

Technology undoubtedly enriches our lives in many ways, but at what cost? In the relationship scenario, it might be that your sex-life is at a standstill because you spend your evenings scrolling social media, or a breakup… via text. According to the Pew Research Centre, 25% of adult internet users report that the internet has had a negative impact on their relationship in one way or another. 

Enter; Catherine Price, science journalist, self-identified tech addict and celebrated author of the best-selling book How To Break Up With Your Phone. Basically, when it comes to the detrimental effects of spending too much time on your phone, she knows her onions. She attributes her ‘aha moment’ to when she had “recently had a baby and was feeding her in a darkened room as she cuddled on my lap. It was an intimate, tender moment — except for one detail. She was gazing at me … and I was on eBay, scrolling through listings for Victorian-era door knobs.” We’ve all likely experienced similar scenarios, when you think – did I really just miss this special moment to do something entirely unremarkable on my device? If the answer is yes, you may need to invest in her book.

The first half focuses on the damage that this addiction causes, these can range from increased stress levels to preventing us from getting a good night’s sleep. The second half is Price’s easily-implemented 30 day guide on how to end this toxic relationship you have with your phone, and rather, incorporate it into our lives in a healthy way.

Here are 7 practical excerpts to get you started:

Learn to ride out the cravings

Price adopts a technique often used by those who wish to quit smoking: riding out the cravings. If we acknowledge the discomfort we feel when we’re away from our phones, but learn to ride the wave – the cravings will begin to fade over time. She recommends taking a deep breath and noticing the cravings when you go to reach for your phone, rather than punishing yourself. Don’t surrender to it, try to do something to distract yourself and then see these diminish over time.

Include others

Chances are, if you vocalise the fact that you’re making a conscious effort to spend less time on your phone, those around you will respond with “me too”. ‘Safety in numbers’ may be a cliche, but it doesn’t make it any less true – invite your peers to try it with you, just like having a workout buddy, it’ll help to keep you accountable.

Assess your current relationship

The only way you’ll know the true gravity of the issue is if you wrap your arms around it, and measure how much time you’re actually spending looking at your phone. Most smartphones have a feature which will track your overall usage, which apps you spend most time on, and give you valuable digestible data. Once you have it, set specific goals for you and your phone’s relationship. This might range from only using your phone when you absolutely need to, to using it less during work hours. Set incremental, achievable goals to reduce your phone usage each week until you reach a level that you’re comfortable with. Having no direction will lead to failure.

Set boundaries

Price recommends turning off all notifications, including emails. If you’re worried about missing special alerts – you can put them on a special VIP list so you’ll receive notifications from these people, but nobody else. Price also recommends carving out ‘no phone time’, this can be while you’re eating, or when you go to bed, or could even be no phone whatsoever after 6pm. If you can’t delete time-wasting apps such as social media for work reasons, try downloading an app blocker. Write rules and set boundaries that dictate the sort of relationship you want with your phone – use them as a tool to set you up for success.

Stop ‘phubbing’

Phubbing is the hybrid of ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’. If you’ve ever looked at your phone while eating a meal with friends and family (we’re all guilty of it) then you’re phubbing. It’s actually become so common and so universally accepted that most people won’t even notice it. But, it doesn’t change the fact that it effects those around us, and it’s actually… quite rude. A good rule is to try to put, and keep, your phone away when you’re out for dinner or at a social gathering. Only get it out if it enhances the conversation, like showing pictures or double checking a date for your next meeting.

Try a trial separation

The steps of Price’s 30 day guide lead to a 24 hour trial separation on days 20-21. This exercise is designed to test your discipline, and the boundaries that you’ve begun to set up until this point, but most of all it’s meant to “allow serendipity to reenter your life.” She encourages you to instead spend this 24 hour period going on walks, dining out at local restaurants, or reading a paper book. This period will likely reinforce the fact that there are so many interesting things to do that don’t involve being on your phone.

Find other things to do

Price writes that if you re-invested the hours spent mindlessly scrolling through social media toward taking up a new hobby, or reading a book, you’d be shocked at how much you can achieve. All of these types of activities are healthy, substantive and productive uses of time that will ultimately make you a healthier, happier person.

And when its relationship goals here are the some simplified Dos and Don’ts for couples trying to mitigate the impact in their relationship. 


Handle conflict online

Conflicts will naturally arise in any relationship, and in order to overcome them, couples must learn to manage them face to face. It’s undoubtedly harder, but it’s also undoubtedly better in the long run. The main reason being that it allows for each person to interpret nonverbal cues, leaving less room for misinterpretation. If you’re starting to feel as though your online conversations with your partner are becoming tense – try to continue the conversion offline. 

Mistake ease for empathy 

Empathy is an essential skill for human interaction, particularly in a relationship. The issue arises when the ease of joy, enthusiasm and sorrow are all boiled-down to a simple ‘like’ button, or crying emoji. These simple fixes do not, and will not be able to match up to actually celebrating or grieving with your partner. Make sure you’re both still practicing the art of empathy with consistency over time, and make sure it’s face-to-face. 


Use technology to feel closer.

It’s not all doom and gloom, 21% of the couples in the Pew Research study reported that they actually felt closer to their partners due to online conversations. In these cases, they have learned to use their devices to turn toward each other, rather than turn away. This is an important skill to master in any successful relationship, it’s a way to bridge separation caused by the work day or long-distance. This might be in the form of a simple text message during a key moment, or sharing funny content in a way that provokes a shared laugh. 

Partner against the device, together. 

In this day and age, there are a million things all clamouring for our attention. Your phone, your laptop, your TV,  are all designed to isolate you from your surroundings – and your partner. In this regard, these devices stack up to being the enemy in your relationship. There’s a tonne of research to suggest that relationships thrive and prosper when you’re surrounded by friends and family, and it also shows the same when they identify a common enemy. In this context, consider the phone the enemy, and recognising that they are a barrier to intimacy is half the battle. Together, decide on times when the phone needs to be left out of the equation, maybe at bedtime, or during meals together – and then gently signal when these rules are being violated.

These may seem like small things, but when couples learn to put technology aside and partner against the common enemy together, they’ll reclaim the kind of relationship where communication and intimacy come first. 

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