- Problematic cell phone use is bad for intimate relationships.
- A behavioral approach is the most effective way to reduce excessive screen time.
- Reclaiming one’s attention allows for focus on more important things.
It’s a bummer when your partner is on their phone all the time. Even when you’re trying to tell them something important or you’re out to dinner, they can’t resist sneaking a peek at their screen.
There’s very little you can do if your partner has no desire to change their phone behavior. But read on if they want to change but haven’t found a plan that works.
Make It Easy
The number one principle of behavior change is to make it easy. That way you don’t have to rely on promises and willpower, which are bound to fail. Instead, you commit to a single decision that will safeguard your future actions.
For your partner’s cell phone problem, making it easy means getting rid of the apps that draw them in. You probably know what their go-to apps are—common ones are social media, news, and email. Once the apps are gone, there’s little reason to babysit one’s phone.
This approach is the same one that helps curb other unwanted behaviors, such as eating lots of cookies. The only reliable solution is to avoid bringing them in the house; having them in your cupboard will definitely not work. You might resist them the first 25 times you want one, but eventually in a moment of weakness, you’ll cave and eat the cookies.
It’s easier to resist the pull of temptations once by refraining from buying the cookies (Gillihan, 2022). That single decision in the grocery store protects you from future undesired behavior, because you won't feel like going to the trouble of driving to the store when you're craving a food you're trying not to eat.
The same goes for your partner’s smartphone use. Taking an app off their phone is a one-time decision. That single action frees them from having to choose how to use their phone again and again.
Won’t They Miss Their Favorite Apps?
Your partner will definitely miss the deleted apps at times! They’ll wonder if they made the right decision as they long for the days when they could use their phone more freely.
But they’ll probably find another kind of freedom they weren’t expecting: the freedom of reclaiming their attention. In the digital world, attention is currency, and everyone wants you to “spend” it on their apps, sites, and products. When your partner has cut the cord tying them to compulsive phone use, they’ll start to notice things they value more—including you.
So the better question is, What is the net effect of taming one’s phone use? Even if there are costs, it will still feel like a win.
Gillihan, S. J. (2022). Mindful cognitive behavioral therapy: A simple path to healing, hope, and peace. HarperOne.