Screen time and relationships don’t always mix. Create meaningful connections with these tips for powering down.
Parents are tired. We get it. The last two years have tested our limits and much still remains uncertain. Screens have provided an escape during those brief moments of solitude from our partners and our kids. But gazing at our phones or the TV, especially at mealtimes and bedtime, isn’t exactly healthy for our relationships. “Learning to manage media can save your relationship,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Relationship.
“While it’s very tempting to get caught up in engrossing games or work online, it also prevents you from connecting with other people, such as your partner, friends or your kids.”
Here are five tips for creating meaningful connections with the ones you love.
Give the gift of time and attention. Reconnecting with your partner doesn’t have to be a big and grandiose gesture like flowers and chocolates (although those are nice once in a while) but instead can be as simple as a glance. “If you are in each other’s presence, try looking away from screens, readers, the TV, etc. and looking at each other,” says Dr. Tessina. “Hold hands. Ask how each other’s day is going. A connection is just that: connecting to each other’s eyes, hands, and minds through conversation. Cuddling helps, too.”
Silence devices in the bedroom. “Pillow talk can be a great opportunity to share your concerns, to update each other on the daily events, to laugh at things that happened during the day, and to feel seen and heard by each other,” says Dr. Tessina. “Don’t default into easy cyber-connecting when richer and more rewarding personal connecting is available.” This can be a hard habit to break so start out by dedicating at least part of your pre-bedtime routine to each other. (Download a free guide on how to disconnect at bedtime and get better sleep.)
Make a daily device-free “date” at home. Most of us are on screens all day so schedule a regular break in the day to be device-free and connect with each other if you’re both still working from home, or even after work. (Learn how Circle’s Focus Time feature makes this easy to schedule every day). “Have a cup of coffee with each other. If you move around while you’re doing this you get the extra benefit of renewing and recharging through exercise while you’re checking in with each other,” says Dr. Tessina. Use it as an excuse to get outside for a walk. “Do this for 10 or 15 minutes several times a day (just as you’d take coffee breaks in an office job) and your mutual connection will improve,” adds Dr. Tessina.
Be a role model for your kids. Make it an intention to keep devices away during meal times too to recharge your family relationships. “Focus the topic on feelings, friends, events and what each of you would like to do. If you make this a habit that happens regularly, the conversation becomes normalized and feels natural,” says Dr. Tessina. “Parents need to take the lead on this, and kids (especially younger children) will catch on fast.”
Make a pact together. “Negotiate guidelines for when answering phones and texts is OK and when it's not,” says Dr. Tessina. “For example, on your special night together, perhaps phoning and texting can be off-limits, unless it's a babysitter or you're on call at work. Make those agreements in advance.” To avoid the angry hand wave (we’ve been there!) while you’re on a call, come up with a gentle signal you can use while on the phone to let your spouse know that you can’t be interrupted at the moment.
“It's critical that you learn how to prevent apps from overtaking your time and your life, to keep posting to a manageable minimum, and to learn how to keep your significant other and dear friends connected,” adds Dr. Tessina.
Dr. Romance’s Dos and Don’ts for Reconnecting:
DO: Invite your partner to spend time with you.
DON'T: Nag, cajole, lecture or whine.
DO: Get involved with each other’s online pursuits when possible.
DON'T: Panic, stay calm. Getting upset will just push your partner further away.
DO: Clearly and calmly state what's not working for you with screen time, and invite your partner to tell you what's not working for them.
DON'T: Beg for attention: invite your partner to join you in something pleasant instead.
Want to learn more about how Circle can help create boundaries in your relationship? Check out our Focus Time and Time Limits features.