The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

My husband is addicted to his phone. Carolyn Hax readers give advice.

(The Washington Post)
5 min

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I have been together six years (married for three) and he was my first boyfriend. We both just turned 31. I was attracted to his kindness, honesty and the safety he provided me. We had a long-distance relationship for the first three years.

There are things about this marriage that are really troubling me right now. He spends hours a day on his phone (either berating people on Twitter or playing chess), relegating his work and home responsibilities to the back burner.

I have learned more about myself in these three years, and I realize I want someone who takes pride in their work and has ambition to succeed. His immaturity and laziness bother me. I don’t want to end this marriage, but the frustration really eats into my busy day, and I can’t help feeling like we are living two separate lives with different ambitions. I don’t know what to do. Divorce seems like a nuclear option. I have tried cajoling, explaining, cold wars, nothing sticks. It’s the same addiction in a few days.

— Frustrated

Frustrated: I noticed that there isn’t really a question here. If your question is: Are these feelings I’m having a big enough reason to separate from my husband? The answer is yes. If your question is: Is there anything I can do to change my husband into a different person? The answer is no. If your question is: Can I go to therapy and understand why this is so frustrating and see if this is really a dealbreaker or if it’s something I can process and come to a new place about it? The answer is that you can try, but there are no guarantees. But start with the fact that you cannot change him — this is not a reasonable thing to expect to achieve.

— Anonymous

Frustrated: Your husband deserves to know that divorce has entered the chat. Have the two of you tried couples (and individual) counseling? If not, that should be your first stop if you aren’t ready to end the marriage.

If you’ve already tried counseling (or he’s unwilling), it’s up to you to decide if his behavior is enough of a dealbreaker that you can’t stay married. If so, how much longer do you want to wait for him to change? What will you do if things remain the same at the end of that period? If it’s not a dealbreaker after all, how can you reframe your relationship so it’s a marriage you can be happy in? A therapist can help you answer these questions if your gut isn’t clear enough.

— Been There

Frustrated: I love the part where you say “you have learned more about yourself in these three years.” There is so much power in that. It’s not about your partner, it’s about you. What you want, need, how you want to live your life. The relationship worked better when it was mostly on the phone (long distance) where he prefers to spend time. It’s, at a minimum, a six-year pattern for him. It is not going to change unless he sees it as a problem he wants to resolve. Continue to grow, invest in yourself, keep your eyes and thoughts wide open. I think there is a big open door in your line of sight. You might want to walk through it and not look back, unless it is to further your enlightened reflections.

— Elisabeth

Frustrated: You say that you feel like you are living two separate lives but aren’t ready to divorce. Why don’t you try leaning into the parallel tracks, intentionally? Just for a while.

Live exactly the life you want, to the extent it applies to only your actions. An emotionally present avatar of your current husband isn’t going to happen. But if you want to focus on your work, become a gourmet chef, or go parasailing, do that without him. If you want company, call a friend. Basically, try (without violating any agreements of your union, such as being faithless or irresponsible with shared funds) to live the exact way you think is suitable without spending breath trying to convince your husband of anything.

After a couple of months, reassess. Does your husband, as-is, fit into your chosen life? Is he a neutral tax deduction? A source of comfort, even as a Twitter-logged body next to you on the couch? An emotional, financial, or intellectual drain? Divorce is far less nuclear than living a life you know doesn’t work for you.

— Don’t Cajole at Windmills

Frustrated: Is this an addiction or is it an avoidance strategy? My ex had a “phone addiction” that was a coping mechanism for extreme anxiety. He used technology as a crutch to help him get through social situations and to distract him from intrusive thoughts. It’s not the nuclear option to work on this (beginning separately in therapy).

One more quick note though, berating people on Twitter? It almost sounds like you asked the wrong question, because that behavior could be a bigger issue than the phone itself.

— Also Been There

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself, and they are edited for length and clarity.