My wife and I have been married for 10 years and for the past couple of years she seems to be on her phone all the time. It’s irritating anyway, but what I find hurtful is that she reaches for her phone immediately after sex. What should I do?
Human beings have always turned to some form of neutral distraction after sex. Traditionally it was the post-coital cigarette. In 1988, when the American tobacco company Philip Morris surveyed 400,000 smokers about their smoking habits, more than half admitted that they regularly lit up after sex. More recently it has been the remote control.
Now, the thing that lights up after sex is a mobile phone screen. Is it the search for calm after the neural storm? Or a way of creating psychological separation after such an intense physical connection? I don’t know the science, but I do know that your wife’s behaviour is not unusual.
Some people can’t even wait that long. A 2018 SureCall survey of 1,137 people in the US found that one in 10 even checked their phone during the act. Smartphones in general, and social media in particular, are designed to be addictive. They influence the reward centres in the brain, so every time your wife gets a ‘retweet’ or a ‘like’, the reward centres in her brain release a tiny dose of dopamine.
There is a downside, though. In 2016 Kostadin Kushlev, at the time a psychology research scientist at the University of Virginia, found that people who kept ringtones and alerts switched on experienced much higher levels of inattention and hyperactivity, and he believes that compulsive overuse of digital technology may cause ADHD-like symptoms.
Access feeds addiction. Hardly surprising, then, that according to a 2015 Bank of America report, 71% of Americans sleep near their phones and 13% sleep with their devices in their beds. Because sex often takes place in the bedroom, they are generally present during intimacy, and although that shouldn’t matter, 2014 research by Shalini Misra at Virginia State University has shown that even when a phone is not in use, its presence can degrade the quality of face-to-face interactions.
Being connected is great, but not if it puts a barrier between you and the people right in front of you. Although your wife may think you are making a fuss over nothing, checking a phone immediately after sex is a bit like starting another conversation when you’re midway through one. It’s not a crime, but the person who is abandoned mid-sentence can’t help feeling snubbed. In this scenario it could leave you wondering whether she might have a competing love interest; I’d be more worried if you noted obsessive guarding, compulsive checking and always placing her phone facedown, though.
I very much doubt that your wife is having an affair, but she does have an unhealthy relationship with her device. Fortunately, there is a simple solution. Because push notifications are designed to interrupt, they are also designed to be turned off. If your wife is not getting the alerts, she won’t look at the apps so frequently. Similarly, if your wife’s phone isn’t by the bed, she won’t be able to reach for it after sex.
You need to insist that neither of you has your phone in the room when you are having sex, and ideally you should charge your phones in a different room overnight too. She may struggle with that initially, but once she gets used to it, she is likely to feel a lot happier. The 2018 SureCall research also found that people who routinely slept with a phone by their bed were more likely to say they were somewhat dissatisfied with their lives and more inclined to say they were sad. There are lots of stressors that we can’t control. Mobile phone use is not one of them.
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