Do you ever feel like you’re competing for your spouse’s attention? And your competition is… their phone?
This is such a tricky subject to broach— mostly, I think, because we’ve all become rather attached to these little screens. They entertain, soothe, delight, and engage us with little-to-no pushback.
People, on the other hand, generally require a bit more from us.
I want to tell you a story about how things came to a head in our house— over a cycling podcast, of all things— and how we navigated the tension.
Bath time, a podcast, and washing the dishes
My husband and I have been married for nearly 15 years. We have three kiddos— ages 7, 5, and almost 2. As in most households with small children, the time from dinner to bedtime can become a slog. Getting little people fed, bathed, brushed, storied, and in their beds is not for the faint of heart.
Our post-dinner duties get decided with a coin flip: one person bathes the kids; one person cleans up the kitchen.
On one particular night, I drew bath duty. Running water seems to soothe and calm most children, but mine see the shower and tub and think they’re at Wild Waves. And the littlest one is still quite needy in the tub because, well, she’s two. So bath time is a fully engaged, parenting opportunity.
Dishes duty, on the other hand, allows for a few moments of solitude. Just silence and dishes.
Maybe it was jealousy over his opportunity for silence, maybe I was tired from a long day, maybe there was a tiny nugget of truth trying to get out; but when I ran downstairs to grab a diaper for the babe and found my husband happily washing dishes while listening to his cycling podcast, I sort of jokingly yelled at him, “You love that podcast more than you love me!” as I ran back up the stairs.
Competing for attention
“What? That’s not true. Of course I don’t.”
And for the next few days, like the mature adults we are, he wondered why I thought he loved a podcast more than me— and I continued to make jokes about how much time he spends with his favorite podcasters.
But he kept ruminating, and I kept deflecting, until I realized something: while he doesn’t actually love a podcast or his phone more than me, he does invest a lot of his free time and thought and energy into it.
And I want that energy to be going toward me.
The simmering romantic in me wants to be thought of, pursued, planned for. I want my doting husband to think about me and plan for me and be excited about me. (And for anyone who is quickly jumping to my side, I do want to assure you—he is very thoughtful and romantic. He kills it at my birthday and Christmas and Valentine’s Day and even May Day.)
When I joked that he loved his podcast more than me, what I was really trying to say was this: in this space of household monotony, I don’t feel seen.
When I finally stopped deflecting and was able to articulate why it bothered me so much that he was listening to his favorite podcast while I bathed the kids, I realized that I felt like I had to compete for his attention.
And I think this is the problem for a lot of us.
Sending the signal “I’m busy”
It’s not that cycling or his podcast or the app are bad. They’re not! These are all great sources of media (and hardly media, at that). I’m happy he’s excited about something that results in physical and mental health.
What struck me as frustrating in that particular moment of nighttime duties was that while we might be busy doing separate chores, I want to know that we’re still in it together. But when one of us reaches for an app or podcast or whatever during our “down” moments, we’re making ourselves busy. This sends the signal that if someone wants to talk or joke or even help, we’re busy.
Trading in opportunities for connection
Instead of just doing the dishes or giving the bath, we’ve chosen to fully be occupied. Now when my spouse or child enters the room, they’re an interruption.
And this was the rub for me.
When we allow our personal apps and podcasts and shows to creep into this time of being home together (even if we’re doing nothing in particular), we’re trading in opportunities for connection over the littlest things: to lend a helping hand that task, to laugh at what this kid said, to reach for each other instead of reaching to satisfy our individual whims and desires.
But how do we navigate this conversation?
Take time to think
Perhaps you and your spouse are mature enough to broach this subject without three days of joking about it first. Well done. But sometimes, joking about things really does reveal a root for us. Having these conversations about tech often feels like a personal attack— we’d all like to think we are masters of our phones, when really, very few of us are above reproach in this area. Jokes (in love) soften the blow.
Humility and love always
Calling out one another takes humility on both parts. I remember Jesus saying something about removing the plank from your own eye before the speck from your brother’s. As we try to navigate these conversations, let’s remember: First, we are all sinners in need of so much grace. And second, this person we are gently trying to nudge away from his or her phone (or who is perhaps asking us to put our phone down) is not just our spouse, but our brother or sister in Christ.
Implement a family tech policy
Establishing norms of tech use can help diffuse some of these conversations. Establish a baseline of tech use: When will we use it? How often will we use it? What kind of content are we comfortable consuming? What does our individual tech use look like—and is our spouse on board? Talking these things through ahead of time (and when everyone is well rested and well fed), allows for some guardrails to be set. It doesn’t mean there won’t be times one person jumps the rail, but when they do, you’ve established what to do.
So let’s bring honest criticism in humility and love, and receive it the same way, knowing that this person likely just wants to spend more time with his or her best friend.
Have you heard of the The 31-Day Pursuit Challenge?
Every marriage begins with passion, purpose, and pursuit, but few stay that way. That’s why we wrote Husband in Pursuit and Wife in Pursuit Together, they make what we’re calling the 31-Day Pursuit Challenge. Couples are encouraged take the challenge together. We’re already starting to hear stories of transformed marriages! Are you up for the challenge?