Dear Dr. Weisbord,
I always thought that when the children got married and left home, my husband and I would have more time together. Well, that is our situation now, but we are both still very busy – with work, grandchildren, and life in general – so we decided we would go out together once a month, just the two of us.
On our first date night, we went to a quiet restaurant. Everything was going well, and then I noticed that my husband was checking his phone. I was shocked. I didn’t react the first time, but when it happened again, I said, “Is the phone more interesting than I am?” He explained that no, of course I am more interesting than the people who are emailing him, but he feels that if someone is trying to reach him, he has to be there for them.
I said, “Maybe let’s just put it away for these couple of hours we are out.” He promised not to respond while we were out, but he can’t seem to stop checking. Despite my husband’s statement that I am important to him, isn’t it obvious that checking the phone, answering calls, and texting show the person you are with that he or she is not important? These actions are truly insulting, and I find it hard to fathom how some people don’t see that. If someone is a doctor, or waiting for a kidney donation, I could understand, but in normal circumstances, everyone can take a break. What did we do before we had all this instant connectivity?
When my grown up children take out their phone while I am talking to them, I have no problem saying, “Okay, I see you’re busy,” and I leave the room. But when it comes to my husband, I can’t seem to do that. Whether because I feel I can’t change him, or because I see that it is very hard for him to stop this habit, or simply to avoid an argument, I play second fiddle to the telephone.
Is it too much to ask that my husband keep his eyes off the phone and look into mine, instead? What is more painful is that I think he really knows better. He wouldn’t do this while conferring with an important client whom he wants to impress. Well, I want my husband to impress me, to show me that I’m the most important one to him. Why else did we go out! After all, we have food at home.
My question was, is this worth fighting about or should I just accept it? But as I finish this letter, I realize that, no, I don’t want to accept it! Please advise.
Never Too Old
Dear Never Too Old,
It’s quite fascinating to see that, while the basic issues of marriage have been the same for thousands of years, each generation has its own obstacles to overcome. There have always been outside distractions that keep a husband and wife from focusing on each other: Children, household issues, extended family – the list is endless. There’s no question, though, that cell phones have complicated the challenges of keeping our marriage fresh, staying emotionally connected to each other, and finding time for each other. The good news about smart phones is they keep us truly connected to the world. The bad news about smart phones is they keep us truly connected to the world – and disconnected from each other!
For many people, maybe even most, “unplugging” is actually anxiety producing. Research shows that over 60 percent of people who use smart phones don’t – or can’t – go more than an hour without checking their phone. For some, this has become an addiction, where the “fix” is checking the phone, and genuine withdrawal symptoms appear when the individual can’t get to the phone. Without a doubt, technology addiction is harmful to marriages.
In your situation, we don’t know if your husband has become a true technology addict. Does he get edgy on Shabbos, rather like the old-time smoker who missed his habit? Can he attend a shiur without checking his phone? How about when he davens? A very solid habit is not the same as an addiction, so let’s discuss your question with the assumption that your husband is, indeed, very attached to his cell phone but not necessarily addicted. In any event, we have to deal with the presence of smart phones in our lives.
There are a number of steps you can take to make your date nights more enjoyable for both of you:
1) Demonstrate the importance of your time out together. You can do this by surprising your husband with a plan that’s a bit different from your usual, such as going to a different place to eat or even choosing a different activity altogether. Dress up for the occasion, as you would if you were going to visit another couple or attend a low-key dinner.
2) Make sure to focus on your husband and on the issues that matter to him. Is he into news from Eretz Yisrael? Then ask him about what he’s read or heard recently. Look at him when he speaks and show your interest. Avoid talking about the list of chores you want to take care of this week, about worries you may have, or about the children and their issues. Make it clear that you view this as couple’s time and that you’re putting other matters on hold to make the evening especially pleasant and enjoyable.
3) After trying this two or three times, see if your husband is checking his cell phone less frequently. If he is, keep up the good work. If not, then before your next time out, clearly and calmly state what you would like from him. Rather than ask if you’re “as interesting as his phone,” let him know that this time together is important to you and you are asking him to leave his phone in his pocket or even in the car. You can share with him a cartoon I just saw: A husband and wife are about to turn off the light, and each one, with cell phone in hand, sends a text to the other, saying, “Good night, Dear. Sleep well.”
Pulling the plug, even for an hour, means you can connect to each other. We may never be able to eliminate cell phones, any more than we eliminated the landline phone in its time. We can, however, decide to control these technological apparatuses at least a bit more than they control us.
I applaud your determination to keep the spark in your marriage and to think about enhancing your relationship as you enter this new stage in your lives. I bentch you that Hashem should “smile” upon your efforts and reward them with much success.