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:
Phubbing Begets More Phubbing
Individuals who feel neglected because of their partner’s constant use of their phone may turn to social media and their own digital devices to seek the connection they crave, say studies. But social media only makes you feel more lonely at the end of the day. A relationship where phubbing is highly present is likely to spiral into a distant, neglectful, and disconnected dynamic filled with distractions.
Your Phone’s Mere Presence Is A Distraction
You might think an easy way to avoid this is simply setting your phone down on the table. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Studies have shown that your phone’s presence can affect how you connect with others. It can be face-down on the table, and you may not have picked it up throughout your conversation, yet you’d still be partially distracted by it.
Online Exposure Creates Unrealistic Expectations That Grow Over Time
On social media, you see picture-perfect examples of couples and people that only showcase what they want to show. This is not to say that the couples you know are intentionally fake, but they certainly pick and choose what to share online and subconsciously seek to project a specific image of their lives. While you can try and remember this, the longer you spend on your phone and social media, the more your idea of reality is warped by what you see. This is why we now have phrases like “chronically online” to indicate someone whose perspective is completely tainted by their constant exposure to the internet.
You Fear Missing Out More And More
The fear of missing out, often called FOMO, is a common reason behind the addictive qualities of phones and social media. When it comes to your relationship, it’s easy to see why FOMO can damage it. Studies even show that FOMO and the lack of self-control that comes with it can be a predictor for phubbing, as you constantly check your phone to see what’s happening around you. When this happens, you spend less and less time in the present with your partner, focusing on what you don’t have rather than what is right next to you!
Final Thoughts On Some Ways Your Phone Can Hurt Your Relationship
Phones don’t have to be the bad guy in your relationship. There are plenty of healthy, balanced ways to use your phone without jeopardizing your partnerships. For example, many couples likely enjoy quiet time sitting next to each other while both parties are on their phones. This isn’t an utterly all-or-nothing situation!