Vitality

Turn Off To Turn On: Smartphones May Power Down Intimate Relationships Due To 'Technoference'

Young man blowing dandelion to face of angry woman holding mobile phone
‘Technoference’ could be powering down connections in intimate relationships. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Smartphones have opened up the flood gates to instant and constant communication in the twenty-first century making us always readily “available” 24/7. Although our wireless devices are generally seen as a convenience, they can also be a plague of everyday intrusions and interruptions to our most intimate relationships. According to a recent study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, technology and screens that keep us constantly connected to the world actually create “technoference” and disconnects us from our significant others.

It’s no surprise smartphones, tablets, and laptops can distract our attention from the present moment. A Mobile Mindset Study found we are constantly connected, with nearly 60 percent of people admitting they don’t go an hour without checking their phone. This also extend to the bedroom with more than half admitting they check their phones while lying in bed before they go to sleep, after they wake up, and even in the middle of the night.

Using a smartphone isn’t smart in bed. In a relationship, a couple’s bed is a sacred place and ideal for going to sleep and waking up to reconnect not disconnect with a partner. The frequency of technoference in romantic relationships can interrupt interactions such as couple leisure time, conversations, and mealtimes with partners.

In an effort to examine the effects of electronic devices on intimate relationships, Sarah Coyne, an author of the study and a psychologist at Brigham Young University surveyed over 140 married or cohabiting heterosexual women and asked them about their phone, TV, computer and tablet habits. They were also asked about how their partner used technology, if there was any conflict about using technology, and about their satisfaction with their relationship and life overall.

The findings revealed the most common technoference was seeing a partner pick up his phone during couple leisure time with 62 percent of woman admitting this happened at least once a day. During a conversation, 40 percent of women said their men would get distracted by the TV at least once a day while a third said he would take out his phone in the middle of a conversation or during a meal together. A quarter of the participants reported their partner would actually send texts or emails to another person while they were having a face-to-face conversation with their significant other.

Overall, the more technoference in relationships, the more likely women reported conflict over technology use, lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms, and lower life satisfaction. Using a structural equation model of technoference predicting conflict over technology use, the researchers found it predicted relationship satisfaction, which finally predicted depression and life satisfaction. The partners of these women were giving their energy to digital distractions and not their partner, which could set the stage for infidelity.

The mere sight of a cellphone could also lead to trouble in paradise. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that people who engaged in personal discussions when a phone was nearby, even if the couple isn’t using it, reported lower relationship quality and less trust for their partner. They believed their partner was less empathetic to their concerns.

Although smartphones allow us to connect with friends, co-workers, and even former flames leading to immediate feelings of intimacy and deeper connections, it can lessen our connection with our near and dear ones. Completely removing technology from the relationship to combat smartphone interruptus is not the answer, according to the authors of the study. Instead, they suggest for couples to make rules about technology.

“Just having the discussion about what's OK and what's not when it comes to devices at the dinner table or in the bedroom can help,” Coyne said to National Public Radio. Coyne’s own method is: "Put [the phone] out of my reach, like on top of the refrigerator, just so that it releases the temptation."

Couples should try to turn off their electronic devices in the bedroom to turn on.

Sources: Coyne SM and McDaniel BT. “Technoference”: The Interference of Technology in Couple Relationships and Implications for Women’s Personal and Relational Well-Being. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. 2014.

Przybylski AK and Weinstein N. Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 2012.

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