How to Keep Your Smartphone from Ruining Relationships

     I've had this post idea in the queue for a while. It's not being released in light of the latest game people are obsessed with. (I can't even bring myself to type the name of it...you know who you are. :P)

     Everyone walks around with their heads down these days. They're ignoring their surroundings and even the humans at their sides. And it's not because they're jumping the gaps between sidewalk squares like the three-year-old whose hand they're holding.

     Look, ladies and gents. I'm preaching to myself more than anyone. We can all improve in at least one of these areas. We've got to take control of our phones before they take control of us. And especially before they ruin our relationships with real-life human beings!

     Let's dive in and begin breaking bad habits!

1. Put it down.

     When others start talking to you, physically wrench your eyes from the screen and tilt your phone so that you cannot see whatever you were just looking at. This practice is simple and helps you focus on the people around you more. And make eye contact! See the conversation through to completion before returning to your phone.

2. Take an analog weekend.

     You see, children, analog means non-digital. In the olden days, everything was analog because there was no digital. But once they made digital, they had to call everything else "analog."

     Here is the full tutorial on how to make your analog weekend a success. Try it once; it might be hard. Keep doing it until it becomes easier. You may even find yourself looking forward to it! The most important part of this is that you use the time away from devices to connect with those people whose relationships you're worried about ruining.

3. Set a goal, and get a buddy.

     Nothing is more helpful than accountability. Find a friend or sibling or someone who will be around you enough to remind you about your goals a few times a day. This helps your relationship and encourages you to not spend too much time in virtual worlds.

4. Maintain real relationships with real individuals.

     There are so many communication options these days! Too often we forget about talking in person. This tip has two parts.

     Part A: Always discuss important things in person. Not over email. Not over a phone call even. If it's truly important (like a special story, testimony, advice, heart-to-heart, confrontation, etc.), you absolutely must tell it in person. If you share it over electronics, it won't be the same.

     Part B: Find your ideal in-person/over-electronics communication ratio. For example, I try to keep at least 50% of all my communication with each of my friends in-person. And that's pretty low when you think about how everything used to be 100% in-person!

     This isn't a perfect world, so it isn't a perfect system.

     But it may look like this: I spend three hours in a coffee shop talking in-person with them, and then I text them about twice a day for the next week until we meet again. If I spent an entire 24 hours with you, I will feel free to call you and chat for an hour the next day. With my family, I allow myself complete electronic communication because I am with them in-person basically 24/7 (and, I mean, they're family.)

5. Set boundaries regarding place and time.

     Place: There are some places your phone should never be. Set the rules for yourself now to keep yourself from stumbling. For me, it looks like this:

  • No touching the phone while I am in the driver's seat of any car.
  • No phone in my room or bathroom. (I can hear music just as well when it's right outside the door anyway.)
  • No phone at the kitchen table.
  • No phone in class. (I ALWAYS put it on silent and zip it up in my backpack.)
  • No phone in the library. (I now have an impulse to put my phone on silent every time I walk into a library or even a bookstore.)
  • No phone in any kind of theater! (As an actress, this one is very meaningful to me.)
  • No phone on retreats or sleepovers. (Often, I just leave it at home, so I don't even have to think about silencing it.)
     All of these protect me, protect the people around me, and protect the books around me, which apparently are very sensitive to sound. ;)

     Time: Don't ruin a relationship by texting too early in the morning or too late at night. Anything between the hours of 9 am and 9 pm should be safe, but be sure to respect your friends' schedules. If you know she's sleeping until noon today, don't text or call before 1 pm, just to be safe. :)

6. Redeem the time while you wait.

     Waiting is often a time we will pull out our phones. Even if we hadn't been on our phones while talking with our friends, we whip them out the moment they walk away. (It's so tempting, I know!)

     But we need to allow ourselves to be bored in this fast-paced, always-entertained-never-contemplating culture. Take a minute to resist this urge to pull out your phone. Scrolling through Twitter for two minutes isn't as valuable as reading a page of your book, looking at God's creation, or just being quiet with your thoughts.

     Often when I want to pull out my phone, I am actually in a good position to people-watch. School, stores, restaurants, the doctor's office, etc. are all public places of waiting that are also ideal people-watching spots.

     Allow your brain to rest, to reflect on the conversation you had. Allow your brain to soak in green leaves rather than the bright, overstimulating colors of social media. Allow your brain to read words on paper rather than words on a screen.

     This one helps you become a better person, which I guarantee will help all your relationships. Just try it, and you'll thank me later. :)

The Bottom Line

     Do you have the strength to prioritize the people in your life over the people on your phone? You only have one life to live. Don't while it away on the latest game or social media.

     As Jim Elliot said, "Wherever you are, be all there."

     If you follow these tips, you can "be all there" and keep your smartphone from ruining your relationships.

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