We all know we should be better about our phone use. We shouldn’t be endlessly scrolling Instagram and Twitter, always browsing the latest sales or wasting time on the total nonsense that the internet is full of (ahem, memes). And yet, many of us can’t seem to help ourselves. Phones are designed to grab our attention and keep us hooked—and it works—but our lives and our relationships can be really affected by phone use. For many of us, it’s even the source of conflict with our partners. So at some point, you have to ask yourself—is your phone ruining your relationship?
If so, you're not alone. It's actually worryingly common; We pick up our phones, almost unconsciously, and begin to ignore our partners—or we pull out our phones at intimate moments, desperate to capture the romance on camera, which only serves to kill any romance immediately. Phubbing (snubbing your partner for your phone) has become a major source of relationship fighting. A study from Brigham Young University found that when there was more technological interference in a relationship, like phone use, there was also more conflict and less satisfaction within the relationship. Another study found that phubbing threatens our basic human needs, making us feel excluded and ruining our ability to communicate.
And yet, we all have our phones and we all use our phones excessively. So how can you tell the difference between normal phone use and if your phone is ruining your relationship? Here are some red flags to look out for.
Do You Regularly Miss What Your Partner Is Saying Because of Your Phone?
There’s no denying that communication is the bedrock of a healthy relationship, but there’s a good chance your smartphone has changed what that means. Perhaps instead of listening intensely, you're letting out a distracted “Hmmm?” or “.... oh yeah, that’s crazy babe...” while your partner is trying to talk to you. If you find you’re too busy scrolling to look up and engage with your partner or, perhaps even worse, you tend to reach for your phone and check it in the middle of speaking to them, it’s having an effect on your relationship. You might not realize it, but it is.
Phone use can creep in; it’s pernicious. No matter how innocent it feels in the moment, you need to pay attention to it. When your partner is talking, be an active listener. If you have to, put your phone in the other room or set phone-free hours. If you don't, it can have a huge impact on your relationship over time.
Do You Only Have Arguments Via Text?
Phones can affect your relationship in a lot of different ways, but one way a lot of people don’t think of is how it can funnel communication. If you only feel like you can bring up big topics or have fights over text, that’s a distancing mechanism and it will eventually come between you and your partner. Now, if you’re someone who needs time to think through big issues and sometimes want to write down your thoughts to really make yourself heard clearly, that’s fine. In fact, it can be really useful.
Technology can be a great way to add to and strengthen communication, but it can’t replace face-to-face discussions. If you find that you always hide behind your phone, try to start engaging more in real life, even with topics you find tricky to talk about.
Do You And Your Partner Have Different Phone Styles?
One thing you may notice causing tension is if you and your partner have different "phone styles." It may be that one of you is always on your phone, while the other hardly ever picks it up. Maybe one of you likes to text throughout the day, while the other finds that suffocating. It's another issue that may not seem like a big deal at first, but it can slowly start eroding your relationship.
It’s not a question of who has the better phone behavior. Instead, focus on finding a compromise: Maybe you agree to check in via text if you're not going to see each other all day; maybe you designate phone-free time over dinner. Try to find a balance you can both feel OK about.
Do You Post Every Intimate Moment to Social Media?
Social media and relationships are a dangerous mix. For one, half of millennials act on social media as though their relationship is happier than it really is, which can keep you from dealing with real issues that have come up. And for another, you can become so desperate to get likes and comments that you put every moment on social media. Romantic dinners, vacations, anniversaries—some people are so busy documenting these crucial moments that they don’t actually stop to enjoy them.
Although commemorating and sharing can be rewarding and might be important to you, make sure you’re not actually interrupting the romance and intimacy, just for the sake of the ‘gram.
Phones are slowly taking over every part of our lives, but that doesn't mean you should let them ruin your relationship. Make sure you’re being present, connecting with your partner, and not letting your phone interrupt. Phone use can sneak up on you before you know it, so try to be mindful. If your phone needs to be in another room, so be it.