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Has Siri Stolen Your Husband?

How to have a healthy relationship with your partner—and your phone.


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Illustration by Jon ReinfurtIt’s 10:30 p.m., and you’ve been anticipating this moment all day. The dishes are done, the dog has been fed, and the kids are asleep. Finally alone, you and your honey crawl under the sheets and get ready to snuggle up—with your iPads. For the next hour, you catch up on e-mails, headlines, and your Facebook news feed before drifting off to sleep.

With mobile devices that are small and powerful, and almost everybody connected 24/7, using these tools during time together has become routine for many couples. And it’s wreaking havoc on our love connections.

This issue is especially common in our East Bay suburbs, where the demographics include the heaviest smartphone users—people who are wealthy, educated, and plugged in. For most couples, the struggles include miscommunication and feeling distracted. But smartphones also cause more serious relationship woes, including low libido, feelings of neglect, and even cheating.

Don’t worry if your teenager is texting too much. Worry whether Siri is stealing your significant other—and what she is doing to your relationship.
 

“He was on his phone all night.”

The complaint therapists hear most is that one partner spends too much time on his or her personal device. Some are hooked on texting with friends or incessantly browsing social networks like Facebook and Pinterest. Others bring their work home and answer e-mails and calls into the night.

“I end up with people in my office who are wanting more sex, but they’re in bed with their iPhones and iPads,” says Sandra Lindholm, a relationship and sex therapist in Walnut Creek. “It creates a disconnect.”

In some couples, both partners are guilty of this kind of emotional neglect, says Robbin Rasbury, an assistant professor who specializes in marriage and family therapy at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill. “Technology has made it so that you can ignore each other when you’re right next to each other,” she says.

There may be some biochemical reasons it’s so hard to put our devices down. Studies show that checking our phones stimulates dopamine in the brain, which makes us feel good. One study even found that some people are so hooked they experience phantom smartphone twitches, the perception that their phone is going off even when it’s not.

Unfortunately, the high that comes with looking at our Instagram feed or responding to a tweet drops off, leaving us wanting more—making it even harder to power down.

“What we’re finding is that all this connectedness can diminish desire,” Sandra Lindholm says.

 

Download: Digital Seduction
Here are a few ways to use your smartphones, um, smarter.

Download an app for couples.
→ Dozens of apps are designed to bring your connection alive. An app called Couple lets partners send private voice clips, videos, and doodles. Icebreak for Couples is good for new relationships. (Both available in the iTunes store.)

Send a lusty text.
→ Fuel the fire by sending a
sweet or sexy text message. You can also send a favorite memory, love quote, or racy picture. Having trouble? Start with a genuine compliment.

Watch a sexy movie together.
→ Stream a movie on your iPad, and suggest new things to try. Feeling shy? Write it down, and exchange your lists via text.

Start an e-mail fantasy thread.
→ Take turns with your partner writing an erotic story, and weave in details about your wildest fantasies. Then, read it while you’re apart. (Tip: Don’t use your work e-mail account.)

Add sex to your iCalendar.
→ Make sure you and your honey will connect. By setting a date, you up the anticipation factor, a major aphrodisiac.

“She’s always too tired.”

Many couples who end up in sex therapy complain that one partner is never in the mood for sex or romance because he or she is too tired.

And our phones and tablets could be to blame. Studies indicate that the glow and electromagnetic field from screens can impair sleep when used too close to bedtime.

Screens also put us in a foglike trance that, when broken, makes us feel sleepy. “When that happens, chances of sex become unlikely,” Lindholm says. She has also noticed that mental overstimulation and exhaustion caused by these devices are making it difficult for some people to get in the mood.

Removing distractions will not only help a couple get more restful sleep, it can also help a couple clear their heads. “Smart devices condition the mind so people cannot allow themselves to be free and present in their bodies,” she says.
 

“We text too much.”

Even when apart, partners can keep track of one another with phone-tracking and geotagging apps, and social networks like Foursquare that involve “checking in” to places. Plus, they can communicate constantly through text messages and e-mails.

But so much back-and-forth can be too much of a good thing. A recent study by Brigham Young University found that too much texting is associated with lower relationship satisfaction, especially among men.

Nonstop communication can also kill the longing for one another that would otherwise brew during time apart. “What we’re finding is that all of this connectedness can diminish desire,” Lindholm says. “Distance helps create erotic desire.”

Couples can find a balance by reserving texts for quick questions and reminders, or to show affection. Partners who need their space should allow each other a certain level of autonomy throughout the day, which makes them appear as individuals in each other’s eyes and increases sexual attraction, Lindholm says.

If you’re able to put your phones down, taking up individual hobbies like a sport can also boost a connection. “One couple I was working with did this, and the woman was so turned on watching her husband enjoy himself out on the field,” Lindholm says. “It really helps you see that other person as an individual who is separate from you.”

“One partner might say, ‘I saw pictures of you at this party in a hot tub with somebody, and you told me you weren’t cheating,’ ” says Jason Brand.

 

Smartphone Detox: An East Bay company plays tour guide on tech-free retreats.

Digital Detox has built a business in response to the technology overload that has put many in a disconnected-from-humanity funk. The Oakland-based company offers gadget-free getaways in Anderson Valley, Big Sur, and Ukiah. Just leave your iPad at home, or have it confiscated when you check in.

Last summer, the company’s Camp Grounded retreat in the Anderson Valley was a big hit, selling out and earning rave reviews in the New York Times and the New Yorker. Grown-ups flew in from across the country to spend the weekend at a former Boy Scout camp, doing crafts and singing campfire songs—in an Instagram-free environment.

Walnut Creek resident Tina Amonn signed up for the camp with two girlfriends. The three couldn’t find time to spend together due to kids and work. “The camp is set up in a way so you can really connect with people and food and the natural world,” says Amonn, 34. “To do that, you have to give up this device that distracts you constantly.”

Amonn, who works for Liberty Mutual Insurance, says the camp gave her the space for profound connections with her girlfriends.

Amonn missed her phone the first night, when she would have liked to check in with her dog-sitter. By the end of the weekend, she found that logging back on to her e-mail and social networks was anticlimactic.

“I had told all my friends and family that I would not have my phone. So when I turned my phone back on, I did not have any texts waiting,” she says, laughing. “I have to admit, I was a little bummed.”

For information about Digital Detox retreats, go to thedigitaldetox.org. Information about Camp Grounded can be found at campgrounded.org.

—Peter Crooks

“She doesn’t trust me.”

In the worst case, having all this information about your S.O. can cause trust issues. Usually, a partner’s concerns originate from a text or e-mail taken out of context, or a social networking post that is misleading.

“One partner might say, ‘I saw pictures of you at this party in a hot tub with somebody, and you told me you weren’t cheating,’ ” says Jason Brand, a Berkeley therapist with expertise in new media. “In that sense, technology can send us into really thinking, ‘Oh, my God, she’s having an extramarital affair.’ ”

Sometimes, that is the case. A recent study by a dating site for married people found that of its 6,000 members, two-thirds said they would not have pursued someone else if the Internet didn’t make it so easy. Facebook, for example, makes it easy to reconnect with exes or reach out to a crush, or “cheat” while sitting next to your spouse.

Smartphones and tablets also enable people to watch porn anytime, anywhere, which can drive a wedge between partners. Many therapists report a trend involving partners who watch porn on their devices in secret, in lieu of engaging in intimacy with one another.

“There are some men who are finding that it is easier to turn to solo sex and use visual images from a smart device,” Lindholm says. “And that can start a whole cascade of reactions, where a woman feels less than, compared to, or empty, and couples can start to pull away.”

To keep the trust strong, Lindholm suggests agreeing on total transparency with your partner, and not being secretive about when and how you use devices. “If your partner knows they are welcome to look at anything anytime, they don’t feel the need to do so,” she says. “But if something feels as if it’s being kept in secret and they have no access to it, that can create feelings of distrust.”
 

“We don’t have enough time.”

Smartphones are supposed to make us more efficient, but therapists still hear couples say they don’t have enough hours in the day to make time for one another in the bedroom. Many of these people spend hours each day on personal electronics.

To keep the love connection alive, couples can program dates into their smartphone calendars and schedule tech-free time, when devices are put away in a separate room—or at least set some rules for when to put them on mute. Those who can’t go completely off the grid can come up with an agreement about how and when devices are used, whether during dinner or in the bedroom.

“I haven’t found a couple who, if they tried, couldn’t find time for sex,” she says. “It comes down to making time with your partner a priority.”

With all this antiphone stuff, isn’t it time you make your phone work for you?

Brand thinks so: “We plan our whole lives, and we all talk about how busy we are,” he says, “but I think we can use these tools to let our partners know that we care about them and to really set aside time for the relationship.”

 

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