The Grapevine

Bad Romance: Paying Too Much Attention To Your Mobile Phone Can Harm Your Relationship

couple with phone
Cellphones can be damaging to romantic relationships, which may lead to higher levels of depression: study. Peter Clark, CC by 2.0

Cellphones can be damaging to romantic relationships, which may lead to higher levels of depression, a new study finds. Sadly enough, the painful journey from happiness to sadness can begin by one person or another simply answering a call, say the researchers at Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business.

For their study, the researchers conducted two surveys among a total of 453 American adults to learn the effects of “Phubbing.” As described by the researchers, “partner phone snubbing” includes any time people use or are distracted by their cellphones while in the company of their romantic partners. In fact, Dr. James A. Roberts, a professor of marketing, and Dr. Meredith David, assistant professor of marketing, developed a "Partner Phubbing Scale," which includes these measures:

  • My partner places his or her cellphone where they can see it when we are together 
  • My partner keeps his or her cellphone in their hand when he or she is with me
  • My partner glances at his/her cellphone when talking to me
  • If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his or her cellphone

(Sound familiar?)

After creating the scale, the researchers measured Phubbing among 145 adults, who responded to the scale and also answered psychological questions about cellphone conflict, relationship satisfaction, life satisfaction, depression, and attachment style. Analyzing the data, the researchers discovered, well, what you might expect.

Just under half (46.3 percent) of the respondents reported being phubbed by their partner. Nearly a quarter (22.6 percent) said phubbing caused conflict in their relationships. And more than a third (36.6 percent) reported feeling depressed at least some of the time.

As explained by the authors, these effects work hand-in-hand, accumulating over time. Specifically, when you phub your partner, this leads to conflict, which in turn lowers relationship satisfaction, and then you feel decreased life satisfaction, and this, ultimately, results in higher levels of depression.

Overall, less than a third of respondents (32 percent) said they were very satisfied with their relationship, the researchers said.

While momentary distractions may seem insignificant at the time, keep in mind the principle underlying Chinese water torture. The more your precious “couple time” is interrupted by a cell phone, the more likely you will feel disappointed and soon enough these negative feelings will begin to grow. Once the seeds of dissatisfaction are planted, the flower of destruction will almost always bloom.

Source: Roberts JA, David M. My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior. 2015.

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