My husband had a black Star Tac flip phone when we met. It was the summer of 2004, and flip phones were starting to gain momentum. Our love was blooming under the Hawaiian sun, but in those days, we only had a few disposable cameras to capture the memories before I flew back to California. Information and entertainment were not as instant back then, so we sent each other emails and cards across the ocean for two years before we got married. We only saw each other for a total of two months before we tied the knot. I never realized that the technology and marriage dynamic would change so much in the coming years.
This is our technology story. It sits at a particular place in history and yours may sit in another. My kids may meet their spouses over text or FaceTime, or maybe even eHarmony, and that will be their story. In generations past, our parents and grandparents made due with the technology of their day, and they probably spent much more time talking and writing than we do now.
I’m grateful that my husband and I shared a long distance relationship before marriage – it forced us to communicate. But as our phones have gotten “smarter,” we both spend more time looking down at our devices than into each others eyes like we used to. Connection has to be more intentional than ever before.
The way our phones integrate into family life seems to evolve every few years. The tech movement has become a fast-paced game, and it’s easy to become dependent on instant information. We have to make an active choice to put our phones away when we’re making conversation and choose not to answer when it’s a designated family time like meals or game night. What has not changed is how God wired us to connect person to person, heart to heart.
Choose to Connect
Connection takes both intentionality and initiative. It’s the communicative process. One person has a plan, that plan is put into action, and the other reciprocates. Information is sent back and forth until a message is understood. On a very basic level, effective communication takes two persons willing to cooperate as a means to an end.
But marriage is more than just trading information: it’s about emotional connectedness. Simply put, intimacy. Intimate relationships require the understanding that our actions affect another person in a significant way, and we build trust by keeping each other’s attention.
I can’t build trust with my husband if my attention is elsewhere. I confess, I find myself looking at the phone instead of him when we’re talking, or he is scrolling through the sports or news reels before bed. Both of us wind down after the kids go to bed by catching up on shows while we tidy up the house. Unfortunately, we rarely find shows we both enjoy so even this time we spend in different rooms binge-watching different things. It’s our personal choice and freedom to relax like grown adults, but a choice nonetheless for ourselves and not each other.
Honestly, this is not what either of us anticipated married life to be. The technology is there, convenient, and ready to satisfy our whims. The tools of our day to live efficiently. In fact, I tried to sync our digital calendars together and got upset when he didn’t check it to see what was happening in our lives. What? I was pretty much saying, “Let’s sync our calendars so we don’t have to talk to each other.” I was essentially trading efficiency for genuine connection.
I think most of us are still trying to figure out how to coexist with our cool tech tools, and I don’t have a solid solution by any means, but I would like to pose some options to consider. As much as my husband and I engage with our devices, when we’re aware of the barriers that tech behavior causes, we can start to make more intentional choices to connect.
Why do I need to be on the phone right now?
Is my spouse within my proximity?
Have I acknowledged him lately?
The answer is usually in favor of the person, not the device. Here are four guidelines to put in place to foster better connection with your spouse:
1. People First, Phones Second
Acknowledge, greet, kiss, hug your people before you reach for your phone in the morning. Put it away when loved ones are in front of you. If you have to look up something, remind the person that you see them and why you’re answering or looking something up. It keeps you accountable to your words and intentions and helps your spouse feel welcome into your space. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10
2. Commit Not to “Wander”
Get on, find what you need, and get off. Focus on the task at hand and purpose to honor your spouse and lay distractions aside. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16
3. Declutter Apps
There will be less temptation to wander after you find what you’re looking for. Turn off notification buttons, or better yet, delete the app altogether if it’s something you can access on a laptop later. Keep your attention on the people that matter most. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33
4. Practice Self-Control
Getting lost in tech culture can develop a sense of entitlement to instant-gratification. If you struggle to controlling impulses to check the device, consider deleting apps, and use only what you need. Discern what is better for your relationship and don’t let technology become your master. “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:12
I cannot allow tech to be a barrier to quality connection with my husband, nor can I treat time with him like a project or an email in my inbox. Intimacy does not replace consistency.
It’s like brushing my teeth: I could brush intensely for an hour, once a month. My gums would bleed, but they would be super clean! Or I could brush twice a day for a few minutes over a longer period of time, and my dentist would be happy (for once). In marriage, it’s often not about the few intense moments we have with our spouse, but the regular effort we put in to give attention to the special nuances of every day.
Use the Tech to Connect
While practicing putting the phone down is good, using it to our advantage in marriage can also be effective for building intimacy. Sometimes when my husband has a busy day but wants to make sure I know he’s thinking about me, he texts me “LMW.” Love my wife. This helps to build intimacy for us, and to use our devices not just for information, but to connect in meaningful ways when we’re apart. It makes the togetherness sweeter, and the anticipation of knowing that our time together will be better.
Our devices are simply tools in our hands, and do not have the power to lead our attention elsewhere unless we allow it. Take time this week to simply enjoy the presence of your spouse: turn off the devices, back away from the computers and televisions. Let them sleep so you can get in some sweet moments with your special person. He is worth more than a thousand apps.