Review on Harm from a Handheld
I recently found myself reading an article by Guy Winch, Harm From a Handheld; Your Partner’s Smartphone May Actually Make You Depressed. Wow, could I relate! How many times has my wife asked me to put away my Smartphone right before we go to bed? I mean, I was in the middle of a Clash of Clans battle and I couldn’t just shut it down! But I could hear the rejection in my wife’s voice when I chose this mobile game over her.
And rejection hurts! Winch said rejection activates the same area in the brain where we feel physical pain! (p. 38). I can relate to those moments of rejection, it feels like someone just cut me! And if those feelings of pain aren’t treated, just like with cuts an infection can grow. And when the infection grows its much harder to treat than the original cut. When treating the cut the physical danger is right before our eyes, whereas the moments of rejection are below the surface. But rejection can fester and quickly grow into bitterness and resentment. Those feelings are dangerous infections to the relationship.
Lastly, Winch provides 5 ways to address the issue; including assess the extent of technoference, acknowledge use that is valid, agree on fair expectations, create technology-free zones, and address exceptions and problem-solve future possible hurdles (p. 38). All of these I see as helpful and relevant, especially adding technology-free zones. For me, late at night is the most dangerous time for rejection, and it would be very helpful to limit my Smartphone activity. If I reject my wife late at night, is there time for resolve? Are we just too tired to explain why we felt rejected? Or does that rejection start the process of a relational infection? The bitterness and resentment grow and turn into a harmful pattern of communication.
Hypothetically, its like the time when you knock over a glass of water at dinner. The reaction from your spouse comes out “why do you always mess up!” You might say “its just some spilled water, why are you so mad”, with some resentment of your own. It occurs to me if I could separate myself from their statement and recognize the outburst as something odd, maybe I could see there’s something else going on. Maybe the reaction is an indicator of previous rejection that has festered into bitterness or resentment.
So what do we do? How can we treat this infection? First, you have to recognize the outburst as odd. An outburst could present itself differently to each couple so I suggest you and your partner reflect over the last argument to see how it escalated so quickly. Second, once you recognize the escalation, than deescalate during the argument. You can deescalate by pausing the conversation. Take 1-5 minutes to “take a break” and revisit what was going on. If that doesn’t work, give each other space! Walking away from the conversation can help to avoid future resentful infections from growing. Remember if you are walking away, make sure it’s with an understanding you will come back together at a later time. Lastly, commit to practicing. It will take time to recognize the odd outbursts and even more time to practice pausing in the heat of the moment.
Winch brings up some very helpful ways to help avoid unnecessary rejection over our Smartphones. Its much easier to change a problem if we can see it, and that’s what this article helps us to do. Our Smartphones are not going anywhere, just make sure it does not assist in growing anymore relational infections.
Jonathan Steele, MA