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Smartphones and Smart Relationships: How tech can help or hurt loving connection

They were both sitting in the living room: her on the love seat, him on the couch. She looked longingly at him. But he didn’t notice. His eyes were glued to his phone. She didn’t know what he was doing, if he was surfing the web, playing a game, or planning. All she knew was she felt like the phone got more attention than she did.

This is a story all too familiar with many couples. And it is certainly not just the man with his eyes locked on a screen. Smart phones, tablets, laptops, smart TV’s, home computers, (and the list goes on) have all become such an integral part of our lives that it is often hard to notice just how distracted we have become.

The Double-Edged Sword

Now to be clear, I love technology. To be able to hold the collective knowledge of the world in my hands, to have a personal assistant in my pocket to remind me to take out the trash or buy groceries, a way for my parents to see and talk to their grandkids from the other side of the country, to watch a movie on a beautifully clear screen while on a layover in a busy airport, these things are amazing and make my inner geek rejoice. But just as with most things, too much of a good thing can be destructive.

As a marriage therapist, I see couples frequently struggling with lack of connection, and often their tech is part of the problem. While it enables us to stay in touch throughout the day in a variety of ways, even send each other and the world pictures of what we ate for lunch, it can fool us into thinking we are really connecting with the people we love. And to a certain extent, it does help us stay in touch and encourage connection. But lots of surface connection does not replace deeper, more intimate one-on-one connection. Eye contact, a caring hand on their knee, listening to the emotion in their voice- these things are hard to do through a screen.

Similarly, with the constant influx of news, social media updates, blog posts, vlogs, youtube channel updates, even presidential tweets, it is all too easy to get distracted and loose track of time and focus. This distraction is just one major contributing factor to one of the main problems I see couples face today. I call it, unintentional drift. A couple gets comfortable with each other, and busy, be it work, school, kids, outside commitments, etc., and the focus shifts to other, often legitimately important, things. Weeks, months, even years go by and at some point one person looks up from what they have focused on to see that they and their partner have drifted far apart. Your partner has new likes and dislikes, they have continued to grow, change, and progress, but you didn’t notice, because you were distracted by other things. And often this comes about by simply living and doing life. Just not together.

A use for tech

As a therapist, I help couples reconnect, and pull back together, and try to minimize future drift. And often, heal from the things that happened during the drifting that hurt the other person. And as a nerd, I like to use technology to do this. Not just by encouraging less screen time and more focus on each other, but by using these magical light boxes we call phones to help remind us of what works. I encourage them to set reminders to do the things we work on in therapy. If they are an iPhone user, they may say, “Hey Siri, remind me to ask Jane how her meeting went this Wednesday at 7:00 pm.” Simple as that. And then on Wednesday, probably while playing Clash of Clans, the reminder pops up, he puts down his phone and asks Jane about the meeting. It’s nice to have a second brain remind you of what’s important!

There’s an app for that

This technological intervention got my brain going, and I had the wild idea of coming up with an app that would make our phones even more relationship friendly. Something that would help with reminders, but from a more customized place. And it would have a place for notes on the relationship, a questionnaire to help guide what the couple focused on, educational material to help couples learn about relationship skills, and would integrate into the existing reminder system of the phone. Sound’s simple enough, right?

Well, eight months later, it is here. It is called Closer2U and is free on the app store (only for iPhone currently- I had to choose one – Android to come). I made it free to enable as many couples as possible to be able to use it. It does have some educational material that is for purchase in-app, but it is fully functional without any of these purchases. I encourage every couple out there that has an iPhone to download and use this app, because it is the only thing of its type out there to help you use your phone to focus more on your partner. And please, give me feedback and ideas for what to add. I want it to be as helpful as it can be for everyone. And as soon as I have the resources, I will put it on Android, too.


Now, this app will not magically make you stop your social media surfing, turn off your phone and be a great partner. And you don’t have to download the app to make important changes in your time and connection with your partner. No matter what, start by noticing how much time you spend on your phone. Most phones will actually have a way you can go into the settings and look at how much time you have spent on different apps. Then compare how much time you have spent connecting with your partner. I guarantee that you will be surprised. Then ask yourself, when it comes down to it, what is more important? What do you want to look back on your life and say you devoted your time to? A small glowing screen, or the love of your life? You can see by how much time is devoted to your apps, social media, news, etc. that we have the time. How are you using it?

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