The smart phone affair (DW#360)

As we have been discussing, it is important to set intentional boundaries in the technological age simply because it is so easy to wander outside the marital relationship to meet our emotional and physical needs. By enabling continuous and private connection, the smart phone, for example, has vastly expanded the opportunities for marital infidelity.

Lori Cluff Schade, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist and faculty member at Brigham Young University, writes that emotional affairs facilitated by the cell phone are among the most difficult to deal with because they are fragments of a relationship which never need to face the challenges of real face to face relationships. This keeps them fresh, alluring and difficult to break off. 

She outlines 7 ways that smartphones encourage and exacerbate marital infidelity that are really worth understanding: 

1.    Immediate and ongoing connection: Since your phone is always with you, you can continuously communicate with someone which keeps you potentially connected all the time. Getting a response from someone generates a real physiological reaction, gives you a hit of feel good chemicals which keeps you hooked and coming back for more.

2.    Relationship fragmentation. A phone relationship is a fragment of a relationship. It does not require much of you. You only need to show up and chat. No need to do the dishes, make the bed or discuss finances. A very comforting arrangement!

3.    Lack of reality testing. "Smartphones do not have bad breath in the morning"! They do not annoy you, make a mess or burb after eating. "You have a partner who responds but doesn’t have body odor".

4.    You get to control what the other sees. People in digital relationships can present the best side of themselves. They can hide their stubbornness or anger issues or other unattractive things about themselves because not much is being demanded of them.

5.    They are very easy to hide. There are many companies with big budgets making sure that you can have conversations in private without being discovered. Even if discovered once, people get very good at hiding future detection. These relationships can be hidden for long periods of time, making them more attractive.

6.    It is easier to be vulnerable and disclose emotions. "People disclose emotional vulnerabilities more quickly in digital relationships, developing deeper relationships with real emotions faster than in face-to-face interaction". This is because you don’t have to deal with the awkwardness that can follow deepening emotional bonds in person.

7.    Unlimited potential ways to engage with others. Almost daily, there are new apps and platforms being released to make communication easier. Any app such as email, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger where you can connect with others privately is potentially dangerous without adequate boundaries

Because the phone is such a powerful and potentially dangerous tool, it is very important to be mindful in how we use it. In order to gauge if the phone is a threat to our relationship, we need to ask ourselves: 

"How comfortable would I be if my spouse looked through my phone and was able to see everything?"

Some boundaries around cellphone use that work for couples today are:
1)    Keeping the location app turned on on the phone so that spouses are accountable to their families of whereabouts 
2)    Keeping phones unlocked and face-up when home
3)    Not having any private messaging apps or email accounts which the family is unaware of
4)    Discussing online friendships with spouses rather than keeping them hidden
5)    Letting your spouse have access to your phone

Once again, given a person’s need for personal space, some of these might appear extreme. But they are the gold standard for accountability in your marriage. 

AND they are non-negotiable if you are trying to rebuild trust after straying or after a close close. 

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