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Staying Connected in a Digitally Disconnected World: Guidelines for the Healthy Couple

Social media is definitely a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, social media helps us connect to loved ones, expand our social and professional networks, share information, and discover new products, brands, and ideas that we may never have found otherwise. On the other hand, social media has been linked to destructive feelings like loneliness, narcissism, and low self-esteem.

For the romantic relationship, social media can be especially harmful. Couples who don’t use social media wisely often struggle with jealousy and unhealthy expectations. When we only see other people’s (or other couples’) carefully curated highlight reels, it’s easy to start playing the comparison game—a recipe for resentment and “the grass is greener” fallacy.

Undisciplined social media use can also drive a wedge between romantic partners and erode the all-important sense of connection and trust. According to 2019 survey data from the Pew Research Center, more than half of Americans reported that their partners were always or sometimes distracted by their phones during conversations. We all know what this looks like: one or both partners with their noses buried in their phones, offering half-hearted grunts instead of genuine and attentive responses. Just ask yourself: is that sustainable for a long-term, fulfilling relationship?

If you’d like to avoid watching your social media habits harm your marriage, here are some things you and your partner might try.


Before asking your partner to change their digital habits, it’s prudent to start with a self-inventory of your own habits. Some questions you might want to reflect on include:

  • How many hours per day do I spend on social media/on my phone?
  • Do I exhibit impulsive or unsafe behaviors surrounding digital tech use? (e.g., checking my phone while driving, impulsively reaching for my phone mere minutes after putting it down, etc.)
  • What triggers me to reach for my phone?
  • How often am I on my phone when I’m with my partner?
  • When was the last time I spent time with my partner (e.g., on a hike, watching a movie, eating dinner) withoutlooking at my phone?
  • Overall, does social media have a net positive or net negative impact on my mental health, productivity, and well-being? (You can ask this question in relation to social media in general or in relation to a specific platform)

Becoming more aware of how, when, and why you use social media can help orient you toward a more positive and disciplined routine—and can provide a useful example for your partner to model.


Phones are personal space—full stop. You don’t have the right to look at or use your partner’s phone without their explicit permission, and vice versa.

If you have the urge to snoop, consider that there may be deeper trust issues within yourself or your relationship that deserve to be addressed directly through honest conversations or counseling, not through subversive violations of your partner’s privacy.


Can you and your partner agree on certain tech-free times or locations? Think about areas of your home (bedroom, dinner table), specific activities or time-frames (such as while watching a movie together or while helping with the kids’ homework), or other situations in which going phone-free would be beneficial. You may also decide to establish certain boundaries surrounding the content of your digital use, such as your comfort level with things like pornography or contact with former partners.

Whatever boundaries you choose together, honor these boundaries and agree to remind each other respectfully yet promptly when one or both of you start to slip.


I think most of us would be very surprised to know just how much time we actually spend on our phone every week—which is why I highly recommend looking at your smartphone’s weekly “screen time” report if it has one, or otherwise monitoring your usage for a given period of time. This exercise isn’t meant to induce shame, especially when we consider how social media algorithms are explicitly designed to be highly rewarding and virtually addictive. On the contrary, I hope this exercise helps you and your partner feel excited and hopeful. You probably have a lot more time to connect with each other every day than you realize!


Social media isn’t going away any time soon—in fact, about three quarters of us use it regularly. But there’s no need to shield yourself from Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook in order to prevent your digital life from interfering with your romantic life. Instead, work together to build discipline and awareness surrounding your tech habits.

If you’d like help reconnecting with your spouse, contact Couples Thrive today to schedule an online or in-person consultation with marriage and family therapist April Eldemire.

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