Are you suffering from your partner’s smartphone addiction?

A new study found that one third of respondents would rather give up sex for a week than their smartphone. Putting aside the fact that most people have sex less than once a week anyway, the debate about smartphone addiction rages on.

The best course of action suffering spouses can take is learning how to complain effectively about the issue so they can discuss it productively and resolve it once and for all.

Are smartphones addictive?

Almost half the respondents in a 2010 Stanford study reported being addicted to their iPhones, and a 2006 study out of Rutgers University in New Jersey claimed the Blackberry was increasing email and internet addiction in their users. Even President Obama was said to be addicted to his Blackberry. Indeed, support sites for iPhone and Blackberry ‘addicts’ are sprouting up online like digital mushrooms after a smartphone storm.

However, it is important to keep in mind that similar cries of addiction were sounded about television, video-games, the internet, iPods and practically every other technology that explodes in popularity and establishes itself as part of our lives. Whether we are witnessing mass smartphone addiction or the evolution of social interaction in the digital age (or both) remains a matter of much debate.

These questions, while fascinating to many, are of little comfort to someone whose partner’s smartphone addiction is causing them frustration and hurt. Whether a smartphone is used for work purposes, to email or text friends, check sports results, play games, or use Facebook, Twitter and other social media, the result is the same. The user’s attention is diverted away from their partner who ends up feeling ignored and marginalized.

How to complain effectively about your partner’s smartphone addiction

“It’s work!” “I’m just checking the score!” “It only takes a second!” and “But you were talking to the waiter!” are familiar responses to anyone who has tried complaining about their partner’s smartphone use. More often than not such complaints are not voiced directly, but rather through eye rolling, grunts of dismay and statements such as “I hate that phone!” “That damn Crackberry!” or “I wish I could smash that thing into little pieces!”

A.L. had a similar problem which he submitted to my website’s Complaint Makeover Corner. Following, is his complaint and an edited version of my response (the full text is here).

My wife is addicted to her iPhone. She’s on it all the time, checks messages from work during dinner, plays games on it when we’re watching a show together on TV. Takes it with her from room to room in the house. I’ve told her I think she’s addicted to it but she says she needs it for work (real estate). I’ve told her it’s like she’s married to the phone and not to me! We argue about it all the time. Whenever I bring it up she gets very defensive and we argue but nothing changes. Last night she took it out during a movie and someone seated nearby told her it was disruptive. She put it away but she was angry I didn’t say something to stand up for her. No kidding. It bothered me too! Please help!

Dear A.L.

Finding yourself in a threesome with your spouse and their phone or blackberry is an extremely common problem these days. Your wife might need to check her phone for work but you should still be able to enjoy some phone-free periods where the phone is set aside or turned off. Although I understand your frustration, your irritation led you to commit a number of important complaining errors that rendered your complaint ineffective.

First, instead of discussing the specific incident at hand, you generalized your complaint into a criticism. Accusing your wife of being married to her iPhone is a sweeping generalization that would make most people defensive. Complaining about a specific incident would make the exact same point and it would also make your complaint easier for her to hear and absorb.

Second, accusing your wife of iPhone addiction made your complaint sound too angry and harsh. Angry complaints always make the complaint recipient defensive and cause them to tune out the actual content of our complaint.

Third, you did not use the Complaint Sandwich (placing your complaint between two positive statements). You can find a brief Complaint Sandwich tutorial here.

Following is your complaint made over to be more effective. Feel free to substitute your own words as long as the elements and spirit of the complaint remain the same.

“Honey, you have a demanding job with difficult hours and I really appreciate the effort you put into it. I know I get frustrated when you have to take a call or respond to an urgent message from work but it’s because I really look forward to spending time with you. If we could designate times when we both turned off our phones, perhaps during dinner or when we’re at the movies, I would feel much less frustrated and I could be more supportive. I really want us to enjoy our free time together and focus on each other and I know we could figure out something that works for both of us.”

Try using a similar version with your partner and do let us know if you were successful.

Copyright 2011 Guy Winch

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© Copyright 2014 Guy Winch, Ph.D., All rights Reserved.
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Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, keynote speaker, and author whose books have already been translated into thirteen languages. His most recent book is Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (Hudson Street Press, 2013). The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem (Walker & Company) was published in January 2011. Dr. Winch received his doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University in 1991 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in family and couples therapy at NYU Medical Center. He has been working with individuals, couples and families in his private practice in Manhattan, since 1992. He is a member of the American Psychological Association. In addition to the Blog on this site, Dr. Winch also writes the popular Squeaky Wheel Blog on Psychology, and blogs for Huffington Post.