The Effects of Smartphone Use on your Relationships


Phubbing: a term created by the combination of words ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’. It refers to a person interacting with their phone (or other device, such as a computer) rather than interacting with a human being. It can also mean preferring your phone to other people’s company or indicating to others (through the use of your phone) that your phone matters to you more than they do.

Has any of the following ever happened to you? You are trying to discuss something important with your spouse when you are subjected to the familiar “ding” of his/her phone. Your spouse takes just a second to check it’s source before putting the phone aside and returning his/her attention back to the subject matter. No big deal, right? Or perhaps you are spending quality time with your kids when you hear your cell phone’s familiar ring. It takes just a moment or two to see what the caller wants. Then back to the kids. No harm done, right?? Or, you catch your kids doing something cute and run to find your phone to capture the adorable moment. It’s the same as using a camera, isn’t it?

Researchers James Roberts and Meredith David from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business in Texas set out to determine the effects that “phubbing,” has on relationships.” The findings were not surprising: “In everyday interactions with significant others, people often assume that momentary distractions by their cell phones are not a big deal,” David explained. “However, our findings suggest that the more often a couple’s time spent together is interrupted by one individual attending to his/her cellphone, the less likely it is that the other individual is satisfied in the overall relationship. I think this is kind of a real wake up call,” Roberts adds. “People need to set boundaries and develop some kind of rules for how they use their smartphones.”

Another recent study conducted by Przybylski and Weinstein found that the mere presence of a cell phone in view can have effects on the quality of the conversation, if a serious topic is being discussed. The pairs who conversed with a cell phone in the vicinity reported that their relationship quality was worse.  The pairs also reported feeling less trust and thought that their partners showed less empathy if there was a cell phone present.

Let’s take a closer look at at how cell phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops etc can effect the quality of our relationships:

1)  Lack of Mindfulness.  It is difficult to be fully present when we are  constantly being subjected to an endless plethora of rings, pings, beeps and dings. The noises themselves, even if we resist the urge to check our phone at that very moment, pulls our attention away from the present and lures us into a relentless thought pattern of “who just texted me?” “who’s calling” or “sounds like someone just responded to my latest Facebook post.” Naturally, it is difficult to devote our full attention to the present. The result is that precious moments are lost forever, or at least diluted by the distraction of the phone.

2) Loss of Communication. During important or intimate discussions, it’s difficult cultivate and maintain continuity when there are near constant distractions and interruptions from phones.  Important snipets of conversation may be missed when people (even momentarily) shift their focus to check their phone.

3) Decline in Social Skills.  Because people are spending more and more time communicating through social media platforms, they are getting less exposure to real life social situations. Therefore, people have less opportunities to develop and grow appropriate real life social skills.

4) Developing an Over dependence on your Phone or Computer. Some signs of this may be using  your phone to quell feelings of loneliness, or to replace human interactions. You may also feel panicky if it’s misplaced.

So, what can you do to improve your relationships and ensure that your cell phone or electronic device isn’t getting in the way of them?

Mindfulness is key here. If you are playing with your kids, dismiss thoughts of checking your e-mail or sending your friend a text, even if it’s to show her a cute pic of your child playing with hers. If you are talking to your spouse, resist urges to check the latest pin or notification. Many people think “But I need to just call/e-mail/text so-and-so before I forget.” Chances are, it’s not so important that it needs to be done right now. If it is truly of significant importance, you will remember to do it later.  The more committed you are to compartmentalizing your cell phone use, the more skilled you will become at remembering to take care of all of your calls/e-mails/texts when you are using your phone. During cellphone free times, commit to being fully present in, and involved with, the current task at hand.

One practical way to achieve this is to designate certain cell phone free hours in your household. For example, you may decide that from the time you/your kids/your spouse comes home and for 2 hours after that, you will not use your phone. If your kids are home with you this summer,  choose specific hours during the day that you will devote your attention only to them, like when you are doing a project or taking a day trip. In order for this solution to be effective, however, two factors must be in place: 1- Your cellphone must be kept on silent (unless there are extenuating circumstances) and 2- your cellphone must be placed in an area where it is not easily visible or accessible. (i.e. not within reach or view on the kitchen counter, tabletop, or your pocket.

Wishing all of my readers cell phone and electronic free quality time with family and friends!


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