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Do screens harm married life?


Tero Vesalainen I Shutterstock

Mathilde De Robien - published on 12/14/21

Screen addiction can be both a cause and a symptom of marital struggles.

“It’s for work!” “It relaxes me!” “I absolutely have to answer this email!” There are countless excuses for tapping on our phone even while our spouse is right in front of us or next to us. While screens are indeed very useful, it nevertheless seems necessary to ensure that their (omni)presence doesn’t damage our marital relationship.

This vigilance is all the more important because screen addiction is a gradual and silent process. Spouses can end up living in two different universes, and forget how much dialogue, sharing and communication are essential elements for their relationship to remain alive.

It’s a trap that Camillia fell into a few years ago. Her testimony reveals a habit that became an addiction, which has been the cause of many tensions in her young marriage.

Camillia, 24, and her husband, 28, first used their screens as a way to rest and breathe after hectic days with two small children. “At first it wasn’t bad: just a little Netflix series before bed, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,” Camillia says. “But little by little, I became addicted to my phone. I was looking at it all the time. My husband started to complain because even when we were in front of a movie, I wouldn’t stop; I was on social networks.”

Every night before going to bed, Camillia — then a stay-at-home mom — spent an hour or more on her phone. Eventually, her husband also turned to his own screens. “We watched less and less TV together. He was playing video games and I was scrolling through my news feeds.” 

Arguments broke out; her husband reproached her for spending too much time on her phone, but Camillia defended herself with the unstoppable argument: “You play your video games, so I really don’t see why it bothers you that I’m on my phone.” They each stuck to their guns, until one day Camillia discovered on her screen the amount of time she was spending on her smartphone every day: “Seven hours and 54 minutes! It was a blow to me. Since then, I’ve learned to limit myself and especially to let go of my phone when my husband and children come home.”

The danger of screens for married couples lies in this incitement for each spouse to live in their own world. When each is totally consumed by devices, it can alter the marital relationship by distancing the spouses from each other.

“The risk is that the spouses, absorbed by their screen, no longer speak to each other, don’t share any more, and don’t maintain their relationship any more,” underlines Marie Binet, a marital counselor and sexologist in Toulouse. “By taking the place of the spouses’ daily time together, screens prevent emotional communication, put a veil on conflicts and hinder intimacy which no longer has the space or the time needed to live.”

This trend has also been observed by Karine Triot, a marriage and family counselor at the Plus Belle Ma Vie association in Angers: “Today, each of us uses our devices on our own so as not to impose our desires on the other, but in doing so, we share less and less,” she explains to Aleteia. The counselor almost misses television, “which was once considered a barrier to communication, but at least was still a shared activity!”

3 steps to protect your marriage from screen addiction

First of all, Marie Binet recommends we become aware of our own relationship with screens. This is done first by observing the time we spend on our phone (Settings > Screen time), then by self-analysis: What am I doing on my phone? Who am I communicating with? What good does it do me? Does it alter my time management? My sleep? My diet? My relationship with others?

Secondly, it’s good to measure the impact that screens have on our marriage. At what point do they become intrusive in our life as a couple? When do they alter the quality of our relationship? Marie Binet invites us to examine three essential moments in our relationship: What is my first action when I get up in the morning: looking at my phone, or kissing my spouse? Are our cell phones present during meals? In the evening, do we take the time to talk to each other, or do we rush to use our screens?

Becoming aware of our screen use and its effects allows us to change our behavior. For Marie Binet, it’s a matter of will. Some couples have decided to ban screens from their bedroom, for example. In addition to hindering communication, excessive use of screens can be perceived as disrespectful or even humiliating by a person who feels sidelined. It sends the message: “My phone is more interesting than you are.”

But when safeguards are put in place, the addiction quickly fades. Mary bears witness to this; she’s married and was an iPhone addict, who realized that her marriage was okay but that she was slowly undermining it because of her addiction to “Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and the news.” Her husband, by dint of seeing his wife “behind a blue screen,” also got into it. Up until not long ago, they’d go to bed with their phones in hand and check them during their dinners out together. However, they recently set rules for disconnecting when they’re together. “It feels really good! The rules are new, but I find that my addiction is fading as quickly as it arrived.”

Screen addiction, both a cause and a symptom of a couple’s malaise

Screen addiction isn’t necessarily the cause of marital difficulties; it can also be a symptom of a relationship that’s already going badly. Karine Triot observes that for many couples in crisis, screens are an escape from marital or personal dissatisfaction. Some people will take refuge behind screens to escape their relationship. The screens then appear as a way to stay at a distance—from the other and from the problem.

Beyond the issue of time spent on the phone, there’s also the question of the content being viewed. While a lot of content is harmless, some can deeply affect the relationship. Such is the case of pornography, which alters the emotional and sexual relationship, insofar as it distances the other person or pushes them to become an object of pleasure.

Instant messaging and social networks, can also be sources of infidelity. “Chats create a different space, and make people believe that this other space is better,” warns Marie Binet. “A cell phone, each person’s private property, is inaccessible without authorization. This facilitates lies and mistrust.” Karien Triot agrees: “The telephone is an opening to other people perceived as more gratifying than the spouse, which can lead to infidelity—first virtual, then real.”

The abundance of pitfalls justifies careful vigilance. Take heed of your screen time and make choices to change your behavior to build up your marriage.

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