True confession: I love my screens. I love my phone that allows me to stay in contact with friends and family, listen to all my favorite podcasts, and stream my Amazon Prime watchlist. I love my laptop, on which I complete most of my work and writing projects, both at home and away at the local library or coffee shop.
But for all their wonderful uses, screens can also easily take up the majority of our attention--to the point that their bright and noisy distraction numbs us to a sad reality: the slow replacement of intimacy in a relationship with self-absorbed technology.
It is a problem that can spring up especially in the initial transition from the single life into a married home. Bad technological habits that previously affected only yourself can suddenly have a very apparent and negative effect on your spouse, the person you now see everyday and share a bed with each night.
In fact, this is exactly what happened to my husband and I. Very soon after the wedding, I began to notice little, unexpected things in our marriage that felt “off” because of the presence of a phone, laptop, or TV screen:
When we would talk to each other, eye contact wasn’t always being made because one of us would be on our phone as we spoke. After a while, I began to feel painfully unheard and unseen simply because of the lack of “eyeball time” in our conversations (which is what I started to call it).
Later when we went to bed, we would bring our phones with us out of habit, scrolling and watching videos while laying next to each other, but not interacting. I began to experience an unrest in my heart, like the sacred space of our “marriage bed” was being invaded by our screens.
It didn’t take long for me to begin to resent the crowding presence of technology in my relationship with my husband, because I desired a deeper intimacy that seemed to be blocked by YouTube videos and my overuse of Facebook. Bad habits needed to be broken, but it wouldn’t be an overnight process.
Breaking screen habits can be very difficult, but for engaged couples or newlyweds, there are simple ways to prevent or reduce the overuse of technology in your new marriage before it becomes a problem. And it doesn’t necessarily require a total screen detox. By having an honest and vulnerable conversation with your fiance or spouse, I challenge you to safeguard your intimacy by trying one (or all) of these three tips to achieve a healthy “digital minimalism” in your vocation.
Go without a TV for the first 6 months
Be bold! If you are gifted a nice flat screen for your wedding or already have a TV, keep it safely packed away in storage. If you don’t have one, don’t worry about buying one. Not for the first six months, anyway.
Now imagine the unique foundation you could build in your new marriage without a working TV in your home or apartment. What fun, creative traditions could you begin? Instead of binge-watching your favorite shows together, find entertaining board games at a nearby store or friend’s house that you can play together. Go on a drive and explore the local area. Find a tasty new recipe and cook dinner together. Read a favorite book out loud to each other. Dedicate certain hours to prayer as a couple.
While a cozy movie night on the couch can be a wonderful date idea, I challenge you to discover a life without TV, and let yourself be surprised by all the memories you may not otherwise have made. Does six months sound too long? Try it for one month, or even a week after you settle into your new life together.
No phone zones
This is a very important boundary to set in your married life, and one that I forgot to seriously consider.
Ask yourself where the distracting presence of a phone screen could most hinder or infringe on intimacy in your marriage, whether it be spiritual, emotional, or physical intimacy.
Some crucial “no phone zones” could be the bed, the dinner table, or car rides.
In these special places, both you and your beloved agree to set down or turn off your phones and allow the focus to be on each other. In these places communication, eye contact, and self-giving love can thrive without distraction. If you are like me and use your phone every night as an alarm, consider placing it on a nightstand--or even better--on a dresser further away so you can’t reach for it in the middle of the night.
Download app timers
Most people are completely unaware of how much time they actually spend on different applications on their phone, laptop, or tablet. Utilizing apps that keep track of how long you spend on time-sucking platforms like Instagram or Facebook can be a shocking wake-up call to the reality of screen overuse.
There are also apps that lock you out of your phone for a specified time or shut down specific applications after a timer goes off. Some of these include OFFTIME, Forest, App Off Timer, and AppDetox, but there are dozens more options available.
Download a few and see which work best. If you notice your screen time decreasing and the quality of your marriage increasing, you’re doing something right!
So much about newlywed life sets the foundation and habits for the rest of your marriage, and your first year together is a special time that won’t come again. With this in mind, strive to start off strong with an intentional focus on your intimacy that builds confidence, trust, and respect.
So talk about boundaries now, not later. Be honest about your bad screen habits, make a realistic plan, and agree to hold each other accountable. This is just one way to practice sacrifice for the good of your spouse, an element of marriage that will come up again and again and again.
When I learned how to sacrifice my phone time out of love for my husband (even though it felt small), the bigger sacrifices that inevitably came in marriage didn’t seem as intimidating. And by the grace of God, we started practicing healthier habits: time limits, putting the desires of the other first, intentional intimacy-building activities, and persistent prayer.
Now I cherish every moment of precious eye contact so much more, and I feel more seen, heard, and known. When I see my husband put down his phone to come over and ask me about my day, my heart fills with joy and gratitude. Our marriage has been put first, and a little victory has been won.
God tells us that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” With each little victory over distraction, we become more and more “one flesh.” Don’t let a screen come between your marriage and this amazing sacramental mystery. Enter joyfully into it with your beloved, and watch how the Lord blesses your union.