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Husband is on tech-free crusade

DEAR CAROLYN: For years, my husband has had an issue with cellphones and computers, and makes life very difficult for our family. For example, he will not let me or our college-age kids use our phones in the dining room; he refuses to look at anything we want to show him on a phone; he immediately responds with, "How did you hear that?" when I tell him something like an old friend passed away (instead of "oh my that is sad"); he makes me turn my alert volume down so he doesn't "have to listen to your phone beeping all the time"; he avoids our bedroom when I am in there on the computer; and so on. When we are out with others, he has no problem looking at something on their phones. When we call him out on his hypocrisy, he says he doesn't live with these people. None of us are "addicted" to our phones and clearly I feel the problem lies within him. He feels his issues are understandable and that society has the problem, not him. I am so tired of living this way.

To Phone or Not to Phone

TO PHONE OR NOT TO PHONE: Take it from someone who bans phones in the dining room and rose up against the aural tyranny of alerts: The problem is not "clearly" all within him.

And society does have a problem.

Even if we agree you aren't (ahem) "addicted," it can still be utterly lonely to inhabit a home with people all bent to their screens. So go easy on "hypocrisy" charges, too.

While your husband has apparently escalated from objections to campaign to unhinge-y crusade, and his doing so is anathema to home as refuge for all, your most effective first move is to grant him fair points where he's made them. OK, no phones in the dining room. OK, I'll disable all alerts except for work or emergencies, and use custom tones where possible.

OK? OK.

As for his refusal to look at anyone's screens, that's a barrier to sharing and bonding, yes — but so is the attention to phones that produces the awareness of things you want to show him. So let's call this a draw and drop it. Don't try to show him stuff or re-litigate his refusal to look.

The bedroom thing seems more a matter of degree, and so is likely the linchpin here. If it's a matter of your being wiped out one evening and just wanting to stream movies in bed, then I'd share your frustration completely at being treated as a hostile force for this simple indulgence. But if your habits amount to his being ignored routinely in the one place on earth he most wants your attention, then he has the better claim on being "tired of living this way."

The one certainty is that you've stopped listening to each other and now communicate through your entrenchment in your views.

So start there: Commit yourself to listening, defenses down — and/or surrender your entrenchment and agree: no dining room, no alerts, no screen-showing, no laptop habit in bed.

These minor steps — they really are — create tech-free spaces at home without appreciably limiting tech use. And they allow you this response to him: "Please stand down. I've met you two-thirds of the way."

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