My wife and I have been together for four years now and I love her to bits.
But she has a big problem. She is hopelessly addicted to her smartphone and can’t put it down for literally five minutes.
This is my advice for anyone who’s dealing with a similar challenge with their spouse (husbands can get addicted to their phones too!)
1) Do a realistic assessment of the addiction
How addicted is your spouse?
The average smartphone user interacts with their phone 2,617 times per day.
That’s the average user. Imagine how much a hardcore addict touches their phone. Even more!
This is an incredibly large amount of time and attention spent swiping and scrolling around your screen every day.
My wife definitely is in the upper range.
The middle of dinner? She’s swiping and texting like a maniac.
The middle of driving? You guessed it… (Yes, I know texting and driving is illegal, and believe me I’ve told her).
So…If you want to address this addiction you need to assess how serious it is.
Here’s a checklist:
- Can your spouse spend more than 10 minutes away from their phone?
- Does your spouse endanger themselves or others through using their phone?
- Does your spouse prefer to use their phone than to talk to you or other loved ones?
- Does your spouse experience serious anxiety when away from their phone for more than a few minutes?
2) Identify what triggers the addiction
Next up we need to look at what triggers the addiction.
For example, my wife’s phone use gets the most intense before bed and after waking up.
She uses her phone constantly throughout the day, of course, but it’s at these times of day that she spends literally hours scrolling social media and texting.
She wakes up some days around 7:30 a.m., but her day doesn’t get started til around 9:45 or 10 a.m.
Why? You guessed it: her iPhone.
A feeling of obligation to answer texts and messages and social media notifications as soon as they come in, rather than waiting.
She feels like making people wait is “rude” plus her curiosity gets to her about what somebody is sending and she can’t resist checking right away.
3) Switch off (most) notifications
This brings us right to this step of curbing smartphone addiction:
Turn off most notifications.
I wouldn’t recommend turning off all of them, especially if some relate to work, but turn off most of the unnecessary ones.
Leave the ringer on and get rid of the social media notifications, the Whatsapp, the Instagram, the Daily Horoscope Update and so on.
Your spouse doesn’t need to be flooded with these twenty four hours a day!
Turning off the notifications can induce a new mentality:
The mentality of somebody choosing for themselves when to check out their phone instead of constantly being spurred to check.
Notifications can become immensely Pavlovian: which is to say that they trigger an immediate reward-response reaction.
Ding! Check texts…
Ping! Look at new story…
Zing! Omg, look what she posted!
4) Change up your other settings
In addition to shutting down most notifications there are some other things I recommend having your spouse change in their settings.
Here’s a list of some basic settings that can be changed to curb phone addiction and lessen its grip:
- Put the screen to black and white (yes, this is possible on most smartphones)
- Put a more complicated user access password on the entry screen (even one that requires being checked each time to input for doing anything other than answering phone calls)
- Set airplane mode for certain hours of the day, with an emergency call exception
- Turn on the “do not disturb” setting on the phone to allow for uninterrupted phone-free hours (with an emergency exception of course).
This brings us to the next point in terms of helpful tips to help your wife (or husband) break the smartphone addiction…
5) Scrap unnecessary apps
How many apps do you have on your phone? I think I have about 20.
My wife has literally over 150. I can’t even count or understand how she downloaded that many apps and it blows my mind to think she can differentiate between all of them.
Leaving aside that my wife may be some kind of technology genius, this amount of apps is incredibly distracting and is a huge time vacuum.
Delete, delete, delete.
If your wife or husband really needs 150 apps to function in their daily life, then I don’t know what to tell you other than the fact that you might be app #151!
Delete those unnecessary apps. Just do it.
My wife’s down to 45 or so. She swears I’m ruining her life (and calls me a “phone N*zi”), but I told her I’m probably saving it.
Sometimes you just have to make those hard choices!
6) Use apps to moderate your usage
Some apps that you shouldn’t scrap are apps to help with calming and reducing phone use.
You can also try setting limits on the amount of screentime your phone permits or make it shut off sooner as a reminder that you’ve had enough phone time for today! (Or at least enough for this hour!)
7) Designate a ‘phone room’
Now we’re going to get serious: setting up a phone room.
It could be your foyer, a den, the living room or a specific side room.
This is where phone use is allowed. When not in this room, the house is a phone free zone!
Sound extreme? Phone addiction is extreme, so sometimes you have to take commensurate steps to combat it.
My wife and I have not yet implemented this step and she swears she’ll divorce me if I go that far.
I’m pretty sure she’s just testing me, but regardless, sometimes this is absolutely necessary.
You have a room where you use the phone and you leave it at that.
In addition to reducing phone use and many other tips I’ll get to here, it’s an excellent option.
8) Set rules around smartphone use
So, let’s go there…
Rules need to be set sometimes, even rules we don’t like.
This can include physically distancing yourself from your phone or setting up a specific room for smartphone use like I recommended in the previous point.
It can also mean parceling out specific times when smartphone use is allowed and other times when it is not.
If your spouse resists this, remind them how many other addictions involve people going cold turkey and quitting completely.
Unless they want that, moderation and self-control is the least they can try to do.
The advice from columnist Annie Sneed is very good regarding this, when she writes that breaking phone addiction can mean finding “ways to distance yourself from your phone each day.”
“That might mean allotting times of the day or days of the week when you don’t use your phone at all, such as before and after work.
“It may also mean leaving your phone in the other room, keeping it out of your bedroom or putting everyone’s phone in a box outside of the kitchen during dinnertime.”
9) Take a digital sabbatical
If the above steps aren’t working out, sometimes it can be a great idea to take a digital sabbatical.
This is where you take at least one day a week off from using your smartphone.
Do it together with your spouse in solidarity, but try to choose different days of the week so that any emergency or urgent matter will come through to at least one of you.
Keep each other’s phones for that one day a week and guard them from the addict.
Don’t let them sneak even one peek, short of a genuine emergency.
Have your spouse let friends and colleagues know that they won’t be around every Sunday, or every Saturday, for example so that their contacts are forewarned.
10) Let’s go deep
It’s easy to dismiss smartphone addiction as just one unfortunate symptom of modern life…
We increasingly need our phones for work and they are part of our business and personal life in so many ways.
Getting a bit hooked is just one side effect…
But if you think about it more deeply, getting hooked on our phones is very related to losing our personal power.
Our phones can be enormously useful to us, but why should we be slaves to them or always at the beck and call of someone who wants our attention.
Think of your attention as money: why throw it around just anywhere, even for strangers on social media or texting people you barely want to talk to?
Instead, you should work on empowering yourself and choosing the spiritual and personal path that will improve your life and make it more meaningful.
One thing I strongly recommend checking out to help with this is the free masterclass on how to free your mind from the shaman Rudá Iandê.
He gets into how society has conditioned us to be passive and impulsive instead of choosing what we truly want and what truly makes us alive and shows us how to free ourselves of limiting and self-sabotaging beliefs and patterns we have bought into without realizing it.
SOS: treatment options for severe addiction
There are some situations where the above steps aren’t strict enough or aren’t able to be implemented without a lot of fighting and conflict.
In these extreme cases I recommend the following options. In my wife’s case we have implemented the second method.
Get a feature phone
Feature phones are basic and don’t have all the apps and features of smartphones, including social media.
They focus you and limit you to the basics.
If your spouse is dealing with a very serious smartphone addiction this can be a very helpful suggestion to make, although it can definitely be a hard transition for somebody who’s used to fully indulging their addiction.
The hairband method
As I said, my wife is now using this method.
You put a hairband around the phone so that it’s hard to do anything else but take calls on it.
Swiping around and social media, as well as texting, becomes difficult if not impossible.
This way you have to consciously remove the hairband to do those things, reminding the person of how much they are using (or overusing) their phone, and hopefully motivating them to start limiting their usage more.
A smartphone intervention
Last and not least is to have a smartphone intervention.
Friends and family meet and let your spouse know that they care about them and feel they would do well to start getting involved in more things in life.
It doesn’t need to be corny or all physically together in a room.
The best way is for friends and family to just start reaching out one on one and inviting and including your spouse in more things that are active and not phone-centered.
Get them out of the house and living life instead of existing in a room with a small screen!
How serious is smartphone addiction?
I don’t want to alarm you, but it’s actually pretty serious and can cause and contribute to various mental health problems, including ADHD, anxiety and depression.
Smartphone overuse also causes headaches, eye tension and pain, irritability, exhaustion and elevated stress.
Being hooked on your smartphone is often something many people aren’t aware of, partly because when something becomes a habit or addiction we often don’t become aware of it until months or years later…
…Or until somebody else makes us aware and conscious of it.
It gets people hooked on immediate results and dopamine hits without any effort, which can also lessen motivation and drive in many other areas of life, including in relationships.
Smartphones are amazing tools with lots of potential.
But if you’re like me and have a spouse who’s struggling with being overly attached to his or her phone, I recommend trying out the tips I’ve suggested above.