Does your Smartphone hurt your relationships? 


Smartphones are sold as a means of connecting people. This may be true, when someone is far away. But how does it affect how we relate to people, especially those who are most important to us, or very simply, who are right there with us?

Lets start with people who don’t know each other that well. Several studies have found that the presence of a smartphone affects the quality of interactions between strangers. 

In one study researchers had two strangers talking, while either placing their iPhone on the table while talking – or out of sight. Strikingly what they found was that the mere presence of an iPhone meant that the conversations were rated less satisfying and triggered less empathic concern, than the “phone-less” conversations. They named this the iPhone-Effect.

The question is. If the smartphone changes the perception of closeness, and empathy between strangers. What will the constant presence of a smartphone do to our real relationships? 

Friends – phubbed anyone lately?

Lets shift the relationship focus from strangers to your friends, and phubbing. Phubbing is a term that was invented to describe that situation, when you ignore the person, you’re with to pay attention to your smartphone (phone snubbing). Most of us have been there – either felt the discomfort of being phubbed, or we have phubbed someone else. 

We don’t phub our friends because we don’t like their company or find them interesting. We phub because we are addicted to the stimuli our phone keeps us hooked on. The “uhh wonder if something interesting happened?”. The problem is, that the reward we get from the release of neuro chemicals in the brain are much higher when we go online, than from talking to a close friend. 

So even if we are in the middle of an otherwise interesting conversation, our mind tends to drift to the smartphone and that pleasurable kick we get from something new or novel. 

The point is we don’t phub to be mean. But we are affecting our relationships. Think back to the study we first mentioned and the iPhone-Effect. About what the mere presence of an iPhone will do to your feeling of closeness to a stranger. 

  • What does this kind of distraction do to your friendships? 
  • Are you able to be fully there for your friends, while phubbing? 

Partners – Being alone together

Lets take this story closer to home. A 2014 report found that one in four felt that their spouse or partner was distracted by their smartphone while they were together. We have no reason to think this number has gone down since. If anything it should have increased, given the increasing numbers of smartphones sold worldwide. 

This is very ironic as smartphones are sold with the promise that we will never be alone since we can reach out to friends and family online. The result of overusing our smartphones is often, however, that we feel lonely, even while we are physically present with our partner. 

How could this happen? Well we get hooked on the newness that our smartphone can offer. A new message, a new update, a new email or contact. And because our brain gets chemically addicted to this stimulation, we will choose the Smartphone and the newness it can offer over our well-known and not so (in the neuro-chemical sense) stimulating partner. 

It’s important to stress that this has nothing to do with how much you love your partner. But the addiction to the newness your smartphone can offer can affect your relationship over time, and the intensity of your feelings if you keep choosing to disconnect from partner to check in on your phone while you are together. 

Kids – are you really there? 

Staying very close to home, how do we relate to our kids? A simple yet dramatic study from the 1970’s “the still-face experiment” looked at how one-year olds reacted when their mother met them with a blank expression. In the study they found that to begin with, the kids will try to engage their mother. They would smile, point, do the things they know will normally work to engage. But within two minutes the kids will withdraw from their mother and show clear signs of stress and being upset. 

The “Still-face” shows us how vulnerable kids are to the lack of emotional reactions from parents. In fact the study has showed that if the lack of responsiveness isn’t a once in a while experience, but an ongoing one the children will have a harder time relating to others and difficulty regulation their own emotions.  

Nowadays we have the constant pull to check for new messages, reply to work related emails or just keep up with social media. This means that many of our kids are confronted with a still face on an everyday basis, because we are busy on our smartphones. 

Scary right? 

We don’t know the long-term consequences of our kids feeling rejected by a mom and dad deep into their smartphones yet, but we think it’s fair to say that our relationship with our kids and their wellbeing will prosper from less distraction and more presence. 

In conclusion 

Smartphones seem to be good at connecting those who are far away, yet their effect is far from positive on how we related to those who are closest to us. What can you do if you notice that your relationships are hurting from overuse of your smartphone? Learning to have a more balanced relationship to your smartphone can help you to reconnect to the most important people in your life. 

We can help you with your smartphone addiction.

You can read about the "Crack your smartphone-addiction course" here =>

Best Ditte and Jason


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