Smartphones hurt relationships, says study

Gelo Gonzales
Smartphones hurt relationships, says study
'Phubbing' or 'phone snubbing' may be just as harmful to relationships as money problems and bad sex, say US researchers

MANILA, Philippines – For anyone who’s been in a relationship in the smartphone era, it’s no secret that mobile devices can sometimes put a wedge between people in a relationship. Simply put, it’s annoying to be with a person who’s just constantly on their phone, checking their social media feed or whatnot. Sometimes, the annoyance can lead to dissatisfaction in the relationship. 

A study in the January 2016 issue of the academic journal Computers in Human Behavior added scientific proof to that belief. Looking to verify the correlation between smartphone use and relationship health, the study surveyed 175 US individuals in romantic relationships these key factors:

  • How often they felt neglected by their partner due to smartphone use
  • How much smartphone use was a conflict in their relationships
  • How satisfied they were with the current relationship 
  • How satisfied they were with their lives

The surveys were crafted to quantify “phubbing” (a portmanteau of “phone” and “snubbing”) or the act of being snubbed because of the distractions that a smartphone offers. From the survey, the researchers – James A. Roberts and Meredith E. David from Texas’ Baylor University – came up with unsurprising results: Yes, constant phubbing is a big factor that can put a dent on one’s relationship.

In a Quartz article, Roberts wrote an article summarizing the findings of their study: 

“We found that smartphones are real relationship downers – up there with money, sex, and kids.

People who reported being at the receiving end of phubbing also reported higher levels of conflict over smartphone use than those who reported less phubbing. Not surprisingly, higher levels of smartphone-related conflict reduced levels of relationship satisfaction.”

Consequently, individuals who reported romantic dissatisfaction because of phubbing also reported themselves to be depressed in general – a domino effect as Roberts calls it. 

The researcher points out 2 potential explanations for the phenomenon. One is called the “Displacement Hypothesis,” which says that being glued to the smartphone blocks opportunities for meaningful interactions with the partner. Time and attention are being directed towards the device rather than the partner who’s physically present. It might seem like bringing out your phone is a small, inconsequential thing, but Roberts says that the habit has the power to weaken relationships.

The researcher offers a second theory called the “Smartphone Conflict Theory,” which says that the device and its constant presence is a source of conflict that can lead to fights that, again, serve to weaken the relationship. 

“In a sense, our romantic partners are choosing their phone over us. We probably feel a little less important and the relationship feels a little less secure,” Roberts writes. –

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.