Tune Out Technology and Tune Into Love

February 2, 2015

As technology and culture evolve, environmental distractions abound.  Individuals are becoming connected to the digital world at a mind-blowing pace with innumerable opportunities for entertainment and social connection through one’s cell phone or other digital device.  This is often seen gazing out across a busy restaurant, bar, or other social arena where both sole individuals as well as those in couples or groups are often seen staring at their phone over dinner or drinks.  As a therapist working with these individuals and couples, I am left to wonder what, if any, effect this increase in digital connections may have on their relationships.

Recent studies have suggested that cell phone use does indeed distract one’s attention from the present moment.  More specifically, a 2012 study from the University of Essex indicated that a cell phone’s mere presence made individuals less likely to develop a sense of intimacy and emphatic understanding during meaningful conversations.

Additionally, another study suggested that simply having a cell phone visible during an interpersonal interaction made individuals more likely to miss subtle cues, facial expressions, and changes in their partner’s voices as well as to be less likely to maintain eye contact.  Essentially, our phones are taking us away from both our partner and the present moment just by us owning them.  Since this technology is something we are unlikely to give up anytime soon, mindfulness in our relationship has become more important than ever.

Awareness of the present moment is a main tenet of the practice of mindfulness.  Mindfulness is a practice developed to enhance individuals’ moment-to-moment awareness as well as to increase awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a way that suspends judgments thus freeing individuals to act more mindfully as opposed to impulsively.

Mindfulness has been researched in many contexts with a variety of positive results such as enhanced feelings of well-being and problem solving abilities.  More recently, it has been adapted to couples work and has been found to have positive impacts on interpersonal relationships such as increased levels of overall happiness, healthier levels of relationship stress, enhanced coping efficacy, and decreased overall stress.

With that said, it is clear that mindfulness is a valuable tool for facing daily challenges of staying close to one’s partner.  In a world where distractions increase, mindfulness skills can be used to help individuals to stay connected to the present moment with their partner.  In doing so, individuals will be less likely to focus on past hurts or future worries.  Through mindfulness practices, individuals will also learn to put attention where they want to, resulting in increased power and control over one’s thoughts, feelings, and even actions.  This translates to increased satisfaction for both partners and promotes healthy relationships.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, what better a time to start to tune out technology and tune into the person we love.  Don’t let your relationship become entangled with outside distractions when you can demonstrate the ultimate display of love: presence.