Are you spending more time with your smartphone than with your partner -- even during romantic dates?
Technology allows us to be constantly connected to the world, but it can also make us even more disconnected from each other.
In fact, two recent studies show that cell phones can have a negative impact on close relationships.
Researchers from the University of Essex found that people who engaged in personal discussions when a cell phone was nearby -- even if neither was actually using it -- reported lower relationship quality and less trust for their partner. They also felt their partner was less empathetic to their concerns.
Other studies suggest that cell phones can distract our attention from the present moment. And that's a problem, considering the results of the Mobile Mindset Study, a recent survey that found three out of five U.S. smartphone users don't go more than hour without checking their gadgets.
Taken a few steps further, smartphones, tablets, and laptops -- and the social media they often support -- have the potential to tear couples apart.
I've talked before in this column about the capability of Facebook and other social media to threaten relationships: They provide a sense of instant gratification that stimulates our brain's reward centers, offering quick hits of novelty that can be downright addictive.
Plus, they allow us to connect with friends, co-workers, and even former flames, fostering an immediate and intense sense of intimacy that can lead us to romanticize these connections. At best, you're giving your energy to these digital distractions, not your partner. At worst, you could be setting the stage for emotional infidelity.
Of course, it's unrealistic to ditch your smartphone altogether, especially if you also need it for work. But there are things you can do to use it wisely -- and even help improve your relationship. Here are three tips for making technology work for you and your partner:
Set it aside. It should go without saying that cell phones are best kept out of sight and out of mind when you're on a date. Turn it off and place it in your bag or pocket for the duration -- the world won't end if you can't check your e-mail for an hour or two.
I also recommend shutting down phones, tablets and laptops at night, or at least charging them in a room other than your bedroom. Not only can they interfere with your ability to relax and unwind, but their distracting presence can also put a real crimp in intimacy.
Rethink social media. We've talked about the possible perils of connecting with your exes online. But I typically advise that you don't "friend" your partner, either. As Facebook friends, you have access to the most mundane parts of your significant other's day, from what he ate for lunch, to what new movies she wants to see. Talk about removing any sense of mystery!
If you do want to connect online as well as off, consider joining a digital service that helps foster togetherness. Best described as intimate online spaces for just you and your partner, programs like Between or TwoCup offer a place to share private memories, messages, and photos -- away from the prying eyes of others.
Make a sexy connection. Technology isn't all bad: It can actually bring you closer together -- and even add some spice to foreplay.
Use your smartphone to send your partner a sexy e-mail, voicemail message, or "sext" describing a fantasy or your plans with him or her for the evening. Engage in a little Skype or FaceTime flirtation, especially if one of you is out of town. Just a word of caution: Be sure to use personal, not company accounts.
Smartphones and other gadgets can clearly have a negative impact on your relationship -- but they don't have to. By learning to use them wisely, you can start to feel more connected to your partner than ever.