Put Down Your Phone: 3 Rules for a Happy Family Life

This article is from HomeLife magazine.

Before I married Jenny, I had a pretty clear expectation of what marriage was going to be like based on the romantic comedies I'd seen.

We'd be opposites at first, but somehow an unexpected event would bring us together. We'd go to the beach a lot and splash water on each other while a happy soundtrack played in the background. We'd probably get a double bike and maybe even try on crazy hats at a store together, finally returning to a home of marital bliss that smelled a little like a Fresh Cotton candle.

The end.

But, it turns out, marriage is not easy. It takes work. It takes effort. Bad marriages? Those are easy. Awesome marriages? Those take hustle and focus and occasionally Herculean effort that makes Magnus Ver Magnusson of World's Strongest Man fame look weak.

Fortunately, in the last 10 years of being married to Jenny, I've learned a few secrets. So, without further ado, here are three ways to improve your marriage and your home life.

1. Spend less time on the phone when you're with your spouse.

Brilliant, right? I know, I know. Deep.

But in all honesty, this has taken me years to figure out. I only recently discovered the following formula: The amount of time I'm on my iPhone is inversely proportional to the quality of communication in our marriage.

It's true. The more I check my iPhone while I'm hanging out with Jenny, the less important she feels. The less we talk. The less we actually connect.

That should have been obvious to me. I mean, my wife has never said to me, "I wish you

would spend more time on your iPhone when we're together."

She's never said to me, "Make sure you bring your iPhone out to dinner with us tonight so that you can check Facebook updates at the table."

And yet, that's what I've done. Even worse, I do that and act surprised that communication in our marriage doesn't seem to be vibrant and alive. I never saw the connection between the two things.

But it's hard to stay off an iPhone. It's so much fun. It's like having the entire world in your pocket! Knowing that, though, I had to make a smart decision when I'm with Jenny: I leave my iPhone at home.

When we go on a date, we only bring her phone. If the baby sitter needs us, she'll call Jenny. If our families need us, they'll call Jenny. If anyone needs us, they'll call Jenny.

You know what the craziest thing was? The first time I left my iPhone at home, the world didn't spin off its axis. No one called me to do emergency brain surgery and was unable to get ahold of me. No one died from missing my tweets. In fact, the world seemed to get along just fine without me and my iPhone for a few hours.

And Jenny? Well, she felt like it was just the two of us on a date. Not me, her, and the rest of the world.

Want to improve your marriage instantly? Spend less time on the phone when you're with your spouse.

2. Disappoint the right people.

Last fall I was supposed to run in an event called "The Warrior Dash." It's a 5K obstacle course that involves mud, fire, water, and Viking helmets. I'd signed up for it months before. But 24 hours before the event, I decided not to go.

Why? Because I'm trying to disappoint the right people in my life.

For years, I thought if I lived a perfect life, I could make everyone happy and never disappoint anyone. I know that's a foolish thought, but people-pleasers like me are constantly intoxicated with ideas like that.

But the day before the race, I realized something: I was going to be out of town for the following three weekends for work.

I had a choice to make.

I could either disappoint my wife and kids and tell them, "Hey, on the Saturday before I'm gone for three Saturdays in a row, I'm going to spend five hours running in a race instead of hanging out with you." Or I could disappoint my friends and tell them, "I've got to bail on the Warrior Dash."

I decided to disappoint my friends. And the funny thing is that three of them had already decided not to run the race for the same reason.

So instead of doing the race, I spent the entire Saturday with my wife and kids. It was an amazing day, and I knew instantly I had made the right decision.

In your life you're going to disappoint people who want your time or your input. And often you won't be able to give it to them. But it's OK to disappoint people, as long as you make sure you're disappointing the right people.

The biggest lesson for me was not to say "yes" to things I'm ultimately going to say "no" to. When my friends asked me to run in the race, I should have looked at my calendar, seen the travel I had scheduled for the fall, and said "no." But I didn't want to disappoint them, so I agreed to it, which only amplified the disappointment of me eventually backing out 24 hours before the race.

Don't believe the internal lie that you have to say "yes" to everything and should never disappoint anyone. You will disappoint people. That's going to happen. There's great freedom in realizing that.

3. Come home the right way.

A few years ago, I learned a parenting trick that changed my life and my marriage. It isn't complicated and you can master it in 4 seconds. What is it?

Simple: Hang up and arrive.

Or, in longer form, when you walk through the door after work, a trip, or an errand, don't be on the phone.

One of the greatest ways to destroy a little kid who's waiting for you is to come home and still be on your cell phone.

Nothing deflates a daughter who runs toward you like a hand that says, "Wait a second, I need to finish this call."

Nothing says to a spouse, "You're second place in my life," like walking through the door while still on the phone.

Nothing says, "My world is more important than yours," like refusing to end a call when your kids come sprinting down the stairs to see you.

But fortunately, nothing is easier to fix than this issue.

If you're on an important call that you can't end yet, then don't pull into the driveway until you're done. It's a small thing, I guess, but it makes a difference to your spouse and your kids. They want your attention when you get home as well.

Those are my three tips. I had a fourth one that might have changed your life and brightened your teeth, but I'm out of words. Stupid Fresh Cotton. Jasmine, always go with Jasmine.

Jon Acuff is the author of Stuff Christians Like (Zondervan) and Quitter (Lampo Press) and a member of the Dave Ramsey team. He lives with his wife, Jenny, and two daughters in Nashville, Tenn.

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