Relationship Tips

Could Your Phone Be Ruining Your Relationship?

Photo: Stocksy/KKGAS
Ah, date night. A cute outfit, a drool-worthy plate of gluten-free fettuccini, a few kombucha cocktails... and both of you mindlessly checking your Instagram likes.

In 2018, the scene is all too familiar. Where relationships used to be about two people, these days a third wheel's involved: your phone. And while scrolling through your news feed during one-on-one time may just seem like bad etiquette, it may actually be hurting your relationship.

“Time spent staring at screens is time not spent connecting with someone face-to-face... and all relationships need the fuel of true connection,” says Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global. “Phones are also very easy escapes—not just from boredom, but from challenging conversations. So it’s not always just about the time spent on the phone, but also why we reach for our phones.”

If you're frustrated because you feel like you’re competing for attention with your partner’s device, you’re not the only one. “Phubbing” —a cute slang word for the not-so-cute habit of “snubbing someone with your phone”—has become a major problem.

In a 2016 study from Brigham Young University, researchers surveyed 143 people and found that 62 percent of them experienced some sort of “technoference”—interference from technology—in their relationships, which affected their overall happiness. Another study showed that cellphone dependency was linked to relationship uncertainty. The more people saw their partners scrolling, the less confident they felt that things were going to work out. The phubbing among couples has gotten so bad, a restaurant in the UK has decided to host a mandatory “no phones date night" once a week, outfitting each table with a list of conversation topics so people have something else to do. (Yes, this is what we've come to.)

“Phones are also very easy escapes—not just from boredom, but from challenging conversations. So it’s not always just about the time spent on the phone, but also why we reach for our phones.” —Arianna Huffington

So how can you break up with your bad tech habits, short of throwing your phone out the window? According to NYC-based marriage therapist Diane Spear, LCSW, ground rules are key. “Really have a conversation about what part your phone plays in your life,” she says. “[Ask] 'What are our couple agreements about how we do that? Do we just use them to Google something or check the weather... or do we have them with us all the time and we're always available to everyone?’” The most important rule to set, she says, is that "date night is date night, not date-plus-phone night.”

Huffington agrees with this sentiment—in her opinion, scheduling phone-free time is just as important as scheduling the date itself. Her THRIVE app is meant to help couples do just that, by allowing them to put their phones in "THRIVE mode" for a set amount of time so they can connect with each other IRL, instead of with the rest of the world on their screens. "It's mostly about creating—and if necessary, scheduling—time for device-free experiences," she says. "Certainly meals, but also long walks and even vacations." She's also a big believer in keeping phones out of the bedroom, where they can interfere with other, um, activities in addition to messing with your sleep.

Bottom line: Sexy time beats text-y time 10 times out of 10, so ditch your phone on date night. Otherwise, you may just be stuck using it to swipe for your next relationship.

It's not all bad news when it comes to technology and romance: Studies show that social media may not have any hindrance on relationships. But if you're worried, here's a little inspo to help kick-start your digital detox

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