I remember when I got my first cell phone. My parents gave it to me when I was a teenager. "It's for emergencies," they told me. It was big and bulky and so it stayed in my car's glove box most of the time where no one could call me. And I liked it that way.
Fast forward 5 years to when I was in college and everyone had cell phones. Texting was the new rave and some of the professors (the ones who were up the times) were beginning to put cell phone policies in their syllabi. I remember my first college girlfriend liked to text as much as she talked. We'd go out, and she'd be texting during dinner, at the lake and everywhere else. (She still wonders why we broke up).
Now, years later, there's more than just phones and text messaging to distract you and your relationship. There are cell phones, iPods, iPads, Kindles, Nooks, TiVo and gaming consoles, among other things. There's no end to the possibilities of staying connected. But, despite all the many possibilities to stay connected, one good old-fashioned rule still applies in order to stay connected to your spouse: Turn me off to turn me on.
1. Charge your devices downstairs
If you're like most couples, you take your cell phone to bed with you and charge it on the night stand next to your bed. But, before you put it on the charger, you have to check your Facebook page one last time to see if anybody posted anything new. And while you have it out, you may as well hurry and check your email, too.
Before you know it, you've spent a lot of time "just checking" on things and now it's time for bed. You've hardly talked to your spouse (who is probably doing the same thing on her phone).
A quick and simple solution to this is to charge your devices downstairs. Do all the checking you need to do before you go to bed. Night time in your bedroom is an important time for couples (for more reasons than you'd think.) It's the one private place in the house where parents don't have to worry about kids or chores. It's also a place with less distractions so you can talk with your partner about important things in your relationship, the kids and work. And if there's nothing else to do, there are always things you can do in the bedroom beyond just checking updates (wink, wink).
2. Use the silent option more often
It's true; your phone has a silent option. No, I don't mean vibrate. I mean silent. It has an absolutely silent option where it doesn't bother you for anything. So when you go out together, turn your phone to silent. That way, you won't get distracted by a buzzing during your date. And because you're not being alerted to emails and updates, you'll be more present during your date because you'll be thinking of what's going on around you instead of what notifications you're missing.
You can still check your phone in the bathroom in case the kids call. But, with your phone on silent, you won't be as tempted to check every notification. It's probably just a friend inviting you to play Candy Crush Saga anyway.
3. Remember, electronic games don't make up for board games
A lot of couples play electronic games together with their spouse. But one lesson I've learned from counseling with many couples is that these e-games just don't have the same effect with each other as good old-fashioned board games. They don't have the same effect because usually while you're waiting for your spouse to take her turn you're surfing the web, checking updates and more. The time you're supposed to be spending together gets diluted.
Playing board games together (or card games for that matter) allows you and your spouse to live in the moment with each other. You're more present with each other because there's nothing to distract you. And you'd be surprised how your conversations are different when you play a board game compared to when you play an e-game together.
Despite the many ways to stay connected in a wireless world, there's no replacement for good old-fashioned time together. Turning your devices off will help you spend real quality time with each other undistracted by things miles away. It will also help you to be present with your spouse in the moments that matter so that you can have moments that matter more.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and owner of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog RelationshipRx.net for expert information about your relationship without the psychobabble.