By Rod Louden
Marriage and Family Therapist
Recently, in my private practice, I’ve noticed an interesting trend occurring—couples are driving each other crazy with constant cell phone communication throughout the day. A recent study released in the Journal of Marriage and Family confirms what I’ve been seeing. Researchers found that an increase in the use of cell phones was directly linked to a decrease in family satisfaction and increased stress.
Back in the good old days of the 1990’s, eons ago in terms of technological advancement, significant others went off to work and contact between partners was limited. I remember my wife telling me not to call her at work, as the receptionist was told to notify the boss when an employee received personal telephone calls. Looking back, this was a nice boundary between work and home. Today, we find that this boundary has been obliterated. Here are a few ideas to consider in order to rebuild this boundary and decrease stress in your life.
Think before you press send. Ask yourself why you are calling your partner. Can it wait until that evening, or is it a pressing issue? While it may be a convenient time for you to call, your partner may be buried in work. The phone rings, a quick check is made to see who is calling, and you hear the “What?” of frustration as your greeting (while caller ID is a very cool thing, it has led to the decay of the polite “hello” of the past when answering a call). Avoid creating hurt feelings and increasing the level of stress in your relationship by denying your impulse to call your partner all day long.
Get to the point. Have you experienced this? Your cell rings. You see that it is your partner. You answer with “hello.” You get a response of “hi” and then there is long silence. So now you say, “What’s up?” “Nothing.” Now, there is nothing taxing with this if the two of you are kicking back and, as Steve Martin would say, “Have your feet up on a burning log,” But, if you’re stressed at work trying to meet a deadline or make some headway on the overabundance of debris that you once called your desk, this can be really annoying. Thus, make your point, “Hi, don’t forget that you need to . . .” Say goodbye and let your spouse focus on their work.
Get off the Information Super Highway. It’s easy for one to feel that they have been run over while standing in the middle of the information super highway. While the advances in technology have led to quick access of a lot of cool things, there is such a thing as information overload. Directly tied to this concept is the little discussed fact that too much communication can be a bad thing. Often in my work, I spend a lot of time working with couples to improve their communication. Sometimes this means helping one or both of them to learn how to say more with less. Spend less time connecting with your spouse during working hours. Wait until you can be face to face to share your thoughts. As I write this, I am reminded of a Seinfeld episode where Kramer is telling Jerry that he shouldn’t get married because it’s like a prison. He tells Jerry that at the end of the day, you come home and ask, “How was your day?” “Fine.” “How was your day?” “Fine.” Of course, Michael Richards is augmenting this with his classic body gyrations and poignant verbiage. Spending all day on the Information Super Highway leaves little to talk about when you actually have the time and the proximity to have meaningful and intimate communication. Resist the impulse to call and save your communiqué for non-work hours.
Don’t take your stress out on your spouse. Remember the, “What!” greeting? Take a breath before answering the call. Your partner is not trying to add stress to your life (if he or she is trying to do this, you need to reevaluate your relationship!). Answer the phone pleasantly and let him or her know that you’re very busy. Politely ask your partner what you can do for them. Or, let your voice mail pick up. If your partner has a hard time breaking the habit of calling all day long, let them know that you’re trying to spend less time talking to her/him on the cell phone and more time talking to her/him in person.
By implementing these concepts into your daily life, you’ll find that you’ll be less stressed and, contrary to Kramer’s pontification, happy to answer your partner’s questions about your day.
Rod Louden is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Woodland Hills, California and the author of Monster Relationships: Taming the Beasts that are Killing Your Relationships. To sign up for Rod’s free monthly relationship advice newsletter, please visit www.monsterrelationships.com