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Could A Digital Detox Help Your Relationship?


Most of us enjoy doing things with our partners: going out to our favourite restaurants, binging on box sets on the sofa, embarking on exotic getaways together.

But how often do we allow ourselves to just be with our partners - without distractions, noise, or tech gadgets to play around with to avoid any kind of lull or silence?

"Naturally, in a world where our phones, tablets and laptops are an extension of ourselves it can be hard to put them away and not have the instantaneousness that technology affords; however, for the sake of relationship health it is vital that we do," explains Joanna Coker, psychosexual therapist and professional standards manager at COSRT (the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists).

She describes a dinner scene she witnessed with her husband while out at a Michelin-starred restaurant the other week surrounded by couples on either side (who presumably had made the time to focus on their partners since they were out at dinner but spent the evening completely distracted by technology): one couple barely spoke to one another and texted on their phones through the meal, while the other couple ignored each another as soon as a new text or email loudly "pinged" on their phones.

"My husband and I too disengaged as we watched in horror and fascination, it seemed that everyone was more important to these couples than their partners!" says Coker.

We're so used to our lives of busyness, constant distractions and over-stimulation that the thought of turning off technology and eliminating noises can feel overwhelming.

However, focusing on your partner and enjoying your time together is essential for helping you connect with one another, and ensures that you communicate well and learn to really listen to and hear your partner, according to Coker.

"We also need to be consciously in the same space as our partners and you cannot do that with one eye on the phone! In today's world, one of the problems is that you are always available to your contact list, including work.

"Many people find it hard not to answer instantly when they see a flashing light or hear a ping, even if it is not necessary or breaking the work-life boundary. In some ways we are becoming conditioned to respond," she explains.

According to behavioural psychologist and relationship coach Jo Hemmings, couples should also aim to spend some time together in silence - scary as that may seem - since constant distractions (phone, book/Kindle, newspaper, laptop) can cause us to forget or even lose the ability to fully unwind.

"And yet complete silence, especially with your partner, can be a strong connective process. The tranquility of simply being with someone you love, in silence, is both peaceful and bonding, even though some couples may find it a little odd at first," Hemmings says.

The first step? Banish all technological devices and put phones and tablets out of reach in another room.

Hemmings emphasises that holding back on conversation - from everyday banter to more significant topics - is also essential but can feel peculiar if you're not used to it. She recommends enhancing the quiet with something visual or sensory to help you feel more comfortable.

"Getting the lighting right or using scented tea candles is the perfect way to ease yourself into this tranquility," she explains.

Spending quiet time with your partner can help you enjoy the calm and the quiet - to "be" rather than to "do" - and can make you more aware of your partner and yourself. It can bring you back to the enjoyment of what brought you together in the first place: the pleasure of each other's company, and provides some respite from the daily stresses and niggles that can overwhelm a relationship.

Allowing yourself to enjoy the silence gives your relationship room to breathe and also room to notice your partner: how the shade of blue they're wearing that day brings out their eyes, how they smell like they did on your first date, all those years ago, how staring at them can make you smile like nothing else. Moments of tranquility may even lead to thoughts of intimacy and other exciting things...

If you feel unsure about how to unwind and allow quietness into your relationship, there are techniques to help.

Below are Coker's simple rules to break the patterns of feeling conditioned to respond to emails and phone calls so that you can enjoy spending some one-on-one time reconnecting with the person you love.

• Set aside times when you will put your phone "away" (say while you eat and talk about the day). Put the phone totally out of the room and leave it there. Ask each other questions and listen to the responses. This sort of check-in is so important to being in each other's lives and needs to be done daily.

• Do not sit in separate rooms on laptops, computers etc. Sit together, ideally close to each other. Use some mindfulness techniques to just "be."

Sit quietly and notice your partner - what they look like, feel like, smell like and sound like. How do they breathe? Do they seem happy or sad? How do they respond to your touch? Mindfulness helps us live in the present and notice what is happening. It also helps us slow down our thoughts and responses.

• Consider doing an activity together that does not involve technology (e.g. dancing, sport or board games).

• Always make eye contact: really look at your partner when they talk. To do this, you need to put down the phone!

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