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dear fifi

Dear Fifi: My other half is obsessed with her phone and it's ruining our relationship



What’s your favourite reference to advice in pop culture? Mine is this, from The Thick Of It’s brilliantly-written character Malcolm Tucker: ”When I want your advice, I’ll give you the special signal. Which is me being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.”

The special signal to receive my advice? Just message me. I read every single problem.


Dear Fifi,

A girl I’m seeing is constantly on her phone, and I stress constantly – dinner, cinema, sitting at home, watching telly, going to a park. She is just fully engrossed in her phone, looking up crap on Twitter, Instagram etc. I admit I do look at my phone too, but not to the same extent.

It just seems non-stop, from her waking up to going to sleep. It’s like it’s taped to her hand. I just wish sometimes she would put it down, as she is a wonderful person. I would love to continue the relationship but not with her poxy phone.

Man, I have to hold my hands up for this one and start off with a confession. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this before, because it’s something I am guilty of in relationships and life in general, or at least have been in the past.

Phones breed compulsive and addictive behaviour. They’ve become always-on sources of validation and alleviate boredom in a way that trains us to lean on them. Breaking this cycle can be liberating, but it’s hard to suddenly reduce your dependency on it as a crutch. Be aware that she may be oblivious about how bad her habit is, and how badly it affects you. Never put down to malice what can be explained by ignorance, first of all.

You don’t mention whether or not you’ve told this woman that her over-indulgence in checking her notifications bothers you to this extent. If you haven’t, you must do this as the first port of call. The thing is, she may get on the defensive about it. She likely doesn’t realise how interruptive this behaviour is, how often she is doing it, or she simply enjoys it too much to address it properly, and so this chat will probably get her back up a little.

Pre-empt this by bringing it up in the right way. Don’t use accusatory language that will put her on the back foot – don’t say “you do this”, “you have this problem”, “you’re like this”. Instead say how you are feeling – “I feel a bit ignored”, “I don’t like this”, “this bothers me“. Reframe it so you’re not having a go at her, and instead are trying to explain how you feel and where you stand.

There are practical things you can do too – for example, suggest that for dinners and similar excursions, both of you commit to putting your phones in your pocket for an hour cap to concentrate more on one another. Comparably idle times like watching telly and sitting at home can be tackled once the more intimate moments are phoneless, as they may be more challenging to change. Start with the easy wins.

She’s not a mind-reader. She won’t know how much this bugs you unless you articulate it. And ask yourself why it does bother you, so that you can communicate it to her. Does it make you feel boring to her or bored by her? Offended? Fed-up? Impatient? Second-best? She may not realise the true impact of her habit. Tell her.

If you’ve done all this, and she isn’t making any demonstrable effort to address her phone usage, then that’s the true beginning of this problem. That means she understands her obsession bothers you, but doesn’t care enough to do anything about it.

You don’t want to be turned into a nag, but equally you need to give her a chance to change before giving up on her. Chances, unfortunately, are rarely infinite. Let’s hope she doesn’t find that out the hard way by losing you over this. And for God’s sake tell her to knock it off in the cinema. We’re not animals.


Want to talk?

Confess a story, ask for help or just shout into the void for a bit and see if that helps. All welcome. Anonymity totally guaranteed always. 

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