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Some Relationship Advice: Get Off Your Phone

FILE - An Apple employee, right, instructs a journalist on the use of an iPhone.
FILE - An Apple employee, right, instructs a journalist on the use of an iPhone.

Forget the chocolates, roses and jewelry. This Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14), perhaps the best gift we can give our significant other is our undivided attention. Unfortunately for many, it’s easier said than done. A recent international survey of more than 13,000 adults found that in the company of their partner, nearly 40 percent felt their partner paid more attention to their mobile device.

The survey was commissioned by Intel Security and analyzed how romantic relationships are affected by online behavior. New relationships were included in the analysis, with 33 percent of respondents indicating that they have had to compete against a mobile device for their partner’s attention on a first date.

Apparently, we have as much love for our digital devices as for our loved ones. Intel’s survey found that adults spend on average nearly equal amounts of time online at home, 38 percent, as compared to interacting with others in person.

Even the chief consumer security evangelist at Intel Security, Gary Davis, admits to being distracted by technology. He says awareness of our digital habits, no matter how seemingly minor, is important.

“If you have a pattern where you’re at dinner, you’re out on a date . . . and a device comes into play, it’s that awkward thing that I don’t think enough people think about,” said Davis, “And when they don’t think about it, they don’t understand the wear and tear it’s causing on the relationship.”

“We’re not thoughtfully progressing in terms of how we’re using technology,” adds licensed psychologist Edward Spector, who runs a private practice in Bethesda, Maryland that specializes in technology addiction.

“We’re often just sort of winging it - we’re trying stuff out and seeing how it goes, and that trial-and-error process means that there are errors happening," Spector told VOA. "So we have to be thoughtful about the consequences of connecting to a particular social network or allowing yourself to have the habit of the last hour and a half of your evening be checking your Facebook, or always responding to a text immediately."

Rules or time limits on device usage may be in order, but Intel’s survey found that 45 percent of respondents don’t set rules, despite another 45 percent claiming they have gotten into arguments with friends, family members or loved ones for spending too much time on their phone when together.

The lack of protocol governing digital etiquette is perhaps due to a lack of precedent.

“Often we don’t have a rubric because previous generations didn’t have these [technologies],” noted Spector. “In this situation, our elders know nothing. In fact, the knowledge and competence is moving towards the youngest generation that’s using the technology because they’re the ones bounding forward fearlessly, and finding out what ways you can get in trouble.” That trouble may include the sharing of sensitive information. Intel’s survey found that nearly 30 percent of couples share passwords to social media accounts, which could prove less than helpful if their relationship falls apart.

“Most consumers use that same password for their banking accounts, for their email . . . there’s all sorts of bad things that could happen if someone has enough malicious intent and fortitude to go do things,” noted Davis. He recommends stepping away from digital devices to truly connect.

“Understand the value of distancing yourself from your device and allow yourself to be engaged with that person that means the most to you,” said Davis.