How Smartphones Can Hurt Your Relationship

More chatting, less tapping

Key Takeaways

  • A recent survey finds that smartphones can distract you from romantic relationships, in news that should surprise no one. 
  • A majority of people (54%) would rather spend time on their phone than in the company of their partner. 
  • To keep your smartphone from hurting your relationship, one expert recommends that couples create intentional quality time.
A couple in a bar with wine, one of them playing on the phone while the other looks on.
SolStock / Getty Images

Smartphones can sap the joy from romantic relationships, according to a recent and unsurprising survey. 

A majority of people (54%) would rather spend time on their phone than in the company of their partner, according to a depressing new study by smartphone resale evaluation site SellCell. Poor smartphone etiquette can hurt relationships, experts say. 

"Smartphones can be extremely distracting for anyone, regardless of how healthy or happy your relationship is," marriage therapist Becca Hirsch said in an email interview.

"Being distracted by your phone doesn't necessarily say anything bad about your relationship, but it may mean you need to be more intentional and mindful about being present with your partner and putting your phone away." 

Screens Beat People

SellCell's survey of 2,000 smartphone users who live with a romantic partner found that technology often takes precedence over human contact.

On an average day, 71% of people say they spend more of their personal time with their phone than their partner, with 52% of people spending 3-4 hours more on their phones a day, compared to time spent with their romantic partners, SellCell claims. 

The allure of smartphones is strong. About 30% of people message their partner when both are home, rather than have a face-to-face conversation. Over three-quarters of women (78%) spend more time on their phone than with their partner, the survey found. Even before saying "good morning," 80% of women check their phones first. 

"...Create intentional quality time, which means no screens unless you're using it for a purpose such as watching a movie."

The attention-sucking nature of smartphones can be hard on couples, Couples counselor Kyle Zrenchik said in an email interview.

"While each person has to be able to have their 'own time,' the nature of apps and devices is one that is designed to keep one's attention," he added. "Thus, harmless time for one's self can turn into neglect of those around them."

Killing Intimacy

Intimacy can suffer when phones come first, Zrenchik said. "Intimacy and spark that would otherwise develop between a couple in conversation and interaction are suffocated because one or both people are on their devices," he added.

"Cuddling on the couch, laughing together, or taking a shower together is not happening when one or both are scrolling. These actions that can lead to [intimacy] are not happening." 

Hirsch said that she struggles to practice what she preaches; that less screen time is better for relationships during the coronavirus pandemic. These days, she’s constantly checking in on her phone with her friends, family, and clients.  

"My partner and I have to be clear when we want quality time together with no phones, and on the flip side, we're also practicing giving each other patience and grace if we notice the other is glued to their phones during time together," she added.

A couple in bed, both using mobile devices and ignoring each other.
Rowan jordan / Getty Images

"Instead of assuming the other doesn't care, we state that we need each other's full attention for this conversation or we want quality time together."

Zrenchik said his own phone habits can drive him away from his husband. He gets irritated when his husband talks to him while he's scrolling Reddit or reading the news.

"This is so silly as he is not actually interrupting anything important," he added. "But, because I am so 'lost' in my phone, I get irritable when I am taken out of it."

To keep your smartphone from hurting your relationship, Hirsch recommends that couples create intentional quality time, which means no screens unless you're using it for a purpose such as watching a movie. Some couples implement a no phones in the bedroom policy, which can help create more time for connection and help you sleep better, she said. 

But don’t be too hasty to draw hard lines for smartphone use, Zrenchik said. "This is not a problem that is going to go away any time soon," he added. "Simply put, people love their phones. Once people get used to having their phones accessible at all times, they are not going to give them up easily."

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