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screentime in relationships

What is 'bluelighting'?

Dr. Katherine Hertlein coined the term to describe how screentime can disrupt our emotional intimacy, damage our interpersonal connections, and decrease our sex drive when we use technology in maladaptive ways. Many partners struggle to find the right place for their devices in their relationship, and the issue has been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

What are the impacts of bluelighting?

If either you or your partner spends too much time on digital devices, prioritizing screen time over connection regulalry, some or all of these issues may occur: 

  • being distracted regularly
  • poor eye contact in conversation
  • failing to acknowledge that someone has spoken
  • ignoring a partner’s presence in the room
  • inability to stay present 
  • poor libido and mood
  • negative health impacts 
  • declining sexual desire and social interest

Hertlein says: ‘Partners’ libido levels or sexual expectations can dramatically differ and become misaligned when bluelighting becomes a problem, which can create distance between couples, affecting their levels of connection and sexual satisfaction.’ When this happens, the partner with more desire may experience the folliwng:

  • feeling ignored or underappreciated by your partner
  • feelings of resentment towards the device/partner

discrepancies in desire between partners with a pursue-withdraw sex pattern

  • feeling dismissed and lonely
  • general relationship dissatisfaction

What to do about it...

'Clear boundaries on when it’s acceptable to be on a digital device around your partner, allowing both of you to keep maintaining a strong connection’ is critical for repairing the intimacy in relationship, says Hertlein. Here are some suggestions for where to start: 

  • Having ‘no phone zone’ dinners/walks regularly 
  • Track your phone usage and limit screen time
  • Take a “digital detox” periodically, ask your partner to join
  • Be thoughtful about listening undistracted to each other
  • Keep digital devices out of the bed

Look for and accept "bids for connection" from each other

Ultimately, a digital device is just an object and it is up to you to determine the role it plays in your life, but research can help you better understand the impact of these devices on our experience. Some suggestions for using your phone to enhance, rather than interfere with your relationships are:

  • play games with your partner on your phone
  • follow and comment on each other's social media, 
  • make web content together

Discuss your web activity as a part of your weekly catchups

  • share memes and videos with each other
  • texts each other throughout the day

Just like most partnership issues, how you process the issues is more important than the issue itself, so keep that in mind as you work on bluelighting to keep your relationship healthy and connected. 


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