Smartphones: The Ultimate Distraction

Unplug to Recharge Your Relationship

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Nothing kills a romantic night faster than your significant other constantly checking his or her phone. The typical American checks his or her smartphone once every six-and-a-half minutes, or roughly 150 times each day. Being this attached to your phone seems to sabotage your attachment with your loved ones. Recent research has dug into technology’s detrimental effects.

Duke University Professors James A. Roberts and Meredith Davis conducted a study in 2016 that explored just how detrimental smartphones can be to relationships. They focused on a phenomenon they called “phubbing,” a fusion of ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’ that accounts for how often your romantic partner is distracted by his or her smartphone in your presence. Phubbing occurs when your significant other is focused on you when their attention is then snatched by something on their phone. Surveying 175 adults in romantic relationships across the U.S., Roberts and Davis found that smartphones were real relationship downers (topping the list along with money, sex and kids). Participants who reported being phubbed expressed higher levels of conflict over smartphone use than those who did not experience the phenomenon. Higher levels of smartphone-related conflict reduced levels of relationship satisfaction. As their study also showed, when people were dissatisfied and less in love, they were also less likely to be less satisfied overall with life and more likely to be depressed.

Roberts and Davis posed two possible explanations for why smartphones can wreak havoc on relationships. The “Displacement Hypothesis” suggests that time spent on smartphones displaces (aka reduces) more meaningful interactions with your lover, weakening the relationship. The second was termed “Smartphone Conflict Theory.” It suggests that when you see your partner choosing their device over you, the tension causes arguments.

Relationship Uncertainty

A study conducted by Matthew A. Lapierre and Meleah N. Lewis published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture examined how smartphone use and smartphone dependency affect the health of relationships amongst college-aged adults. Recent research suggests that young people are particularly likely to find smartphones indispensable, even to the point of feeling that they can’t live without them. Therefore, the study chose to survey those most dependent group – college students. Participants were asked to report on their own smartphone use and dependency as well as the perceived use and dependency of their partner. The results showed a significant link between higher levels of dependency on smartphones and higher levels of relationship uncertainty. Additionally, partners’ perceived smartphone dependency correlates with less relationship satisfaction.

Quite surprisingly, Lapierre and Lewis found that “smartphone use, in general, does not affect relationship health.” Rather, it is the “psychological reliance on these devices, and one’s need to constantly be connected with his or her smartphone, that potentially affects relationships and not actual use.” In other words, it didn’t matter how much a person used his device, but how much he needed his device.

People get jealous of their partner’s smartphone. Lapierre explains: “ I’m more likely to think my relationship is doomed the more I believe my partner needs that thing. It’s not use; it’s the psychological relationship to that device.”

A study on ‘Technoference,’ the interference of technology in relationships, found that 70 percent of participants reported that smartphone interruptions negatively impacted their interactions with romantic partners, especially during the couple’s leisure, conversational, and meal times. Participants were 143 married/cohabiting women who completed an online questionnaire to examine how these everyday interruptions relate to women’s personal and relational well-being. Overall, participants who rated more technoference in their relationships also reported more conflict over technology use, lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms, and lower life satisfaction. The authors of the study explained that by allowing technology to interrupt time spent with romantic partners “individuals may be sending implicit messages about what they value most, leading to conflict and negative outcomes in personal life and relationships.” It’s probably not surprising that smartphones were found to be the source of annoyance and conflict for romantic partners, but this study was the first to report that a person’s engagement with technology can even make their partner depressed

Smartphone interference clearly is a common problem in today’s world. The distraction a phone provides doesn’t make partner’s feel good and interruptions dull real-life conversation. These seemingly harmless everyday ‘phubs’ can indeed have a profound impact on not only your relationships but well-being. Learn to put the phone down not just for the sake of your phone’s battery life, but for your love life, too.

Originally published at

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