Phones can hurt your relationship, but everyone is very attached to their phones. Whether checking work emails, scrolling through social media, texting a friend, or playing a game, phones have made it difficult to put them down and spend even a moment without our eyes trained on them. This connectivity doesn’t seem so bad on the surface, but it can significantly harm your life and your relationship.
Has your partner ever gotten angry with you for spending too much time on your phone, even when you think you’re fully present with them? Or have you felt the disappointed disconnection as you watch your partner focus entirely on their digital devices instead of on the current moment? If so, you likely already know that phones can damage relationships, causing conflict and other issues.
But why does this happen, and how? What’s the science behind how our phones interfere with human-to-human, real-world connections? Here’s how psychology explains three ways your phone can hurt your relationship.
1 – The Device Gets In The Way Of Paying Genuine Attention To Your Relationship
Has your partner ever been on their phone while you were trying to talk to them? Even when they swore they were listening, you likely felt they weren’t truly or fully present with you. Their physical presence seemed almost inconsequential because, no matter how much they nodded, their eyes remained partially or fully glued to their phone screen.
This is a common problem that experts have a term for it: “phubbing” or “phone snubbing.” Unfortunately, plenty of research proves that this significantly interferes with your ability to connect with the people around you. Here’s why and how phubbing affects your relationship:
Your Phone Decreases The Quality Of Your Interactions
Studies show that when using your phone around someone, the quality of your interactions with that person at that moment steadily decreases. Worse, the decrease continues to nosedive the longer you spend on your phone. It’s easy to see why this can harm a relationship – if you spend a lot of time together and are always on your phone.
It Decreases The Chance For Meaningful Or Deep Conversations About Your Relationship
It’s already tricky to want to be open and vulnerable about sensitive, complex, or emotional subjects in our lives. In a relationship, vulnerability is incredibly important, as it fosters closeness, openness, trust, and honesty. However, the desire to be vulnerable decreases when you have a phone in your hand. The lack of attention means people don’t feel as comfortable being so open.
It Decreases Relationship Satisfaction
Research showed that repeated phubbing could decrease marriage satisfaction, increasing divorce rates. Sadly, that same study showed that phubbing could even lead to depression for as long as one remains in that relationship while phubbing is a regular occurrence.
You Cannot Multitask Attention
Lots of people who use their phones while people are talking to them believe that they’re perfectly capable of multitasking. They claim to be paying attention, but the truth is that no matter how much they insist on this, it’s not true. And other people can tell. Research shows people on the phone always appear less attentive and less polite to others, and your relationship is not an exception to this dynamic. In addition, studies show smartphone users can tell they’re less engaged and more distracted when using their phones at mealtimes and in other social situations.
It Removes Eye Contact
Eye contact is one of the most central parts of in-person, human-to-human interaction. Unless you don’t enjoy eye contact for any reason, you almost definitely feel closer to someone when looking into their eyes. Unfortunately, when you’re on your phone, you’re unable to make this eye contact with your partner, causing you to lose out on essential connections.
2 – A Relationship Maintained Primarily By Phones Aren’t Ideal
Phones have given us the immense ability to connect, and that has helped us maintain closer relationships with various people. But unfortunately, that convenience can also be used as a crutch. Some people may prioritize in-person dates and face-to-face conversations in a relationship, much less because they can text all day.
As a disclaimer, we’re not referring to long-distance relationships, where phone interactions are a necessary, primary contact. As long as you interact in many different ways, such as by text, video call, voice call, and other shared virtual activities, this isn’t referring to healthy, long-distance, phone-maintained relationships.
So, now that that’s out of the way, what’s wrong with relationships primarily maintained over the phone? Here are some issues:
Everything Becomes About Ease Over Effort
A relationship shouldn’t be so hard that it’s impossible to maintain, but it shouldn’t prioritize convenience over all else. But, unfortunately, that’s how you grow complacent and shun the idea of putting genuine effort into your relationship. Planning a fancy date night, cooking dinner together, or making time for each other in your busy schedules simply becomes unappealing because you can just text or FaceTime instead. Eventually, this preference for convenience creates an unhealthy and distant dynamic that cannot withstand hurdles and struggles.
It’s Easy To Misinterpret Text Messages
Some things just don’t translate well over text. For example, the lack of a smiley face, a bad day that affects your perception, or adding a full stop at the end of the sentence can spark misunderstandings and conflict. This is even worse when you try to settle these issues and other disputes over text. It’s so easy to misinterpret things when you don’t have indicators like tone, body language, and expressions to inform your perception of communication.
You Miss Out On Other Forms Of Intimacy
The convenience of constant connection via phone is delightful for many partners, but this shouldn’t be the only intimacy you share. Making time to see each other in person, engage in physical affection of various forms, spend quality time together, and enjoy new experiences provides deeper insight into your partner and your relationship.
3 – Your Phone Is Addictive, And Its Impact On The Relationship Worsens Over Time
People often underestimate the effects that their phones can have on their psyches. Cell phones and everything they represent and remind you of can easily distract you. Consider how many times you check your phone a day, how you turn to it whenever you’re bored, and how you feel weird and lost when you leave it at home for the day.
Worse still, you become desensitized to how you interact with your phone over time, making you less and less aware of what it may do to your mind and manner of personal social interaction. The lack of awareness does not protect you from suffering the various adverse effects of frequent phone usage. These effects often get worse the longer you’re exposed to them. This, naturally, also hurts your relationship. Here are some ways that this happens: