Annoying Habit

April 28, 2020

As I am writing this, we are at the end of April 2020. We are weeks into the Coronavirus pandemic and staring hard at another month of social distancing, slow reopens, shelter in place, etc.  One of the things I have been battling is the time spent on the smart phone. I am tempted to be on it way more than is healthy. I check out the news, Facebook and battle my beloved family and friends with unweildly vengence on Words with Friends.  When you are under a stay at home order, it is easy to see the phone as a constant go to.

I tend to jump on my kids when I see their daily screen time totals rising, but I quickly look at my totals and try to change the subject.  But I recently confirmed that smart phone usage is way up all around the world. published an interesting survey acknowledging the totals have gone way up world-wide.

For the past few years, I have been using a tool called SYMBIS. It stands for Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. It is by far my favorite counseling tool. It analyzes everything: Personality, Communication, Money, Family of Origin, Context, Attitudes towards marriage...all of it. It generates a 17-page report. While it usually enlightens on large issues, it also sometimes points out funny and interesting idiosyncrasies. In one of the first few pages, it has a section called “Flags.”  A flag is an issue or talking point specifically for the couple. They can be large issues pointing to things that happened in the past, things the couple or the individual could be struggling with today, or hot button topics that the couple needs to address soon.

But there is one that always creates an interesting discussion. It is called “Annoying Habit.” Someone can simply indicate that their partner has an annoying habit.  The Assessment does not detail what it is, it just comes out on the report as annoying habit.  So, when we get to this section of the assessment, I am left with the question, “What is the annoying habit? And is it something you want to share with the other person?”  

Admittedly, there have been some humorous ones. One time a wife explained that her husband would leave his underwear on the sink. The husband sheepishly confessed and owned his transgression. “I know, I know, I just forget.” While the wife was forgiving and loving, I was stuck. The physics of the situation boggled my mind, and while I knew I needed to plow on in the session, I could not figure it out in my head. I can understand underwear on the bathroom floor, the bedroom floor, the closet, even in the bed. But how did underwear get on the sink? And how does this happen so frequently?

But more often than not, the annoying habit will be about the guy and the habit is the smart phone. By far this one hits more than any other habit.  What is interesting is that in conversations with the couple, it does not usually appear that the guy used the phone any more or less than the girl.  The usual description is something like this: The guy does not care how much she is on the phone, but the girl cares how much he is on the phone. That is probably accurate as to how men and women process situations and contexts differently.

I read recently that on average, we glance at our phones about 110 times a day. For many of us, it has just become habit, like opening the refrigerator throughout the day. It’s just a habit.  But, once I started seeing this over and over, I also started seeing it in my own life. My wife is a social media person. She stays connected to her friends and family on Facebook. She posts events and livestreams from our church. She comments on what people and saying. In general, she keeps me in the know.  If she is on her phone and we are talking, it does not bother me. But if I am on it, she notices right away.  

Now, the goal is not to look for equity, but rather look for meaning.  What does it mean to him? To her?  Overall, I think each of us are looking for good news. The last time I checked the phone it didn’t offer much, but maybe if I glance at it again.... 

Excessive Phone Usage Decreases Marital Satisfaction.

In a recent article from the Gottman institute, researchers discover how the phone distraction destroys relationships. In another article, entitled "My life has Become a Major Distraction from My Cell Phone," Meredith Davis and James Roberts suggest “that the overuse of cell phones can lead to greater dissatisfaction within our most important relationships.” According to their study, which included 145 adults, excessive device usage decreased marital satisfaction.

The technical term they use is called “Phubbing.” Partner phubbing can be best understood as the extent to which an individual uses or is distracted by his/her cell phone while in the company of his/her relationship partner.

So, if you did not know what to call it besides annoying, now you have a new term…Phubbing.

So how can we avoid being a Phubber?

1.     Have set “No-Device” time. We have a rule, no phones at the table. So, whether we are home or out, the rules for a meal are simple, no phones.

2.    Some couples choose to leave the phone out of the bed. So, no phones at bedtime. If you are in bed together, it should just be the two of you.

3.    Say good morning to the right person. Start the day with good morning to your spouse, not Apple.

4.    A-B Conversation. When I was in school, there was a sarcastic way to tell people to stay out of the conversation. They would say this is an “A-B conversation, so C you later.”  When it comes to conversing with your partner, do not let the phone butt in.

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