Plenty of research has been done on how cell phones affect relationships. Some suggests that they’re a positive influence—that being in easy, intimate touch with a partner through calling and texting makes people happier and more secure in their relationships. Other research reveals the dark side of cell phones. Real-life interactions are dulled when a person feels the urge to check their phone, and the distraction a phone affords one partner doesn’t make the other person feel good.
TIME SPENT USING A SMARTPHONE
How often do you check your smartphone?
Smartphones are far more invasive and demanding of our time, connecting us to the world in vastly more ways than the flip phones of yore. A team of researchers thought that smartphones might be making relationships worse, so they wrangled 170 college students who were in committed relationships to see what role their phones were playing.
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In the study, published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, the college lovebirds were asked to report on their own smartphone use: how dependent they felt on their device, and how much it would bother them to go without it for a day. They then answered similar questions about their own partner’s smartphone dependency.
It didn’t matter much how much a person used their device, but how much a person needed their device did. People who were more dependent on their smartphones reported being less certain about their partnerships. People who felt that their partners were overly dependent on their devices said they were less satisfied in their relationship.
In other words, people get jealous of their partner’s smartphone. “I’m more likely to think my relationship is doomed the more I believe my partner needs that thing,” explains Matthew Lapierre, assistant professor in the department of communication at the University of Arizona, who authored the study with his former undergraduate student Meleah Lewis. “It’s not use; it’s the psychological relationship to that device.”
The researchers are now doing a follow-up experiment to try to understand the causal mechanisms behind their findings and to see whether or not smartphone dependency affects other areas of life, like academic performance, and whether factors like self-esteem predict a person’s smartphone obsession.
If you have to use your phone, it can be helpful to explain why so that your partner understands the reason for your redirected attention. Say, “I’m setting my morning alarm so I don’t forget” or “I’m responding to that text from my mother” or “I’m looking at my email just to make sure nothing major popped up after I left the office today.” If you have a job that forces you to be on the phone more often, talk about boundaries to figure out what works for you as a couple.
In my experience, when I’m feeling overly attached to my smartphone, that’s my cue to give it a “home” outside of my body, otherwise known as hiding it from myself. But really, find a place for devices in every setting, when possible — such as plugged into an upstairs bedroom or in your messenger bag under your desk — because the age-old “out of sight, out of mind” tactic actually works. After all, your device is a tool that you own, so don’t let it own you.
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