Cell Phones and Your Relationship

Okay. Can we talk about cell phones for a minute? I love my phone. I really do. However, I feel like there is a constant dialectic in how I feel it impacts relationships, including my own. 

Cell phones allow us to stay more closely connected to our partners when apart. Contrarily, cell phones often make us feel more distant from our partners when together. 

So, what do we do?! Am I the only one who feels this way? I don’t think that’s the case. I hear it all the time from the client’s that I see. “His/her cell phone feels more important than me” or “they are there, but they might as well be away because they are so preoccupied by their phone.”

Researchers Miller-Ott, Kelly, and Duran (2012) stated that “expectations that partners will always be available and accessible to one another may decrease the quality of their relationships.” This makes sense. We have all had that feeling of frustration when we send our partner a quick text and wait impatiently as they don’t respond. This gets further complicated by the little “read” or “delivered” message that shows up underneath the text message. We can’t expect our partner to be waiting by their phone to respond to you at any moment. They are a person outside of your relationship. I even have had clients that report going as far as looking at their partner’s social media accounts to see if they posted since their partner sent a message, serving as proof that the message was intentionally disregarded. (FYI, actively searching for ammunition to fight with your partner is not okay). 

To add, cell phones can often serve as a physical or emotional roadblock in having close, intimate connection or conversation. Instead of taking time to connect or communicate and have what I like to call “pillow talk,” we unwind by scrolling through our social media feeds before bed, a brief moment in the day where intimate connection could be the focus. 

Why do we do this!? Honestly, what is so important that it beats spending that tiny sliver of time you have apart from kids or work stress talking to your partner and connecting at the end of your day. The new car that (insert random person’s name from high school) got and posted on Instagram is really not that important. Use that time for your relationship!

Learning how to navigate cell phone usage in your relationship is important to talk about. “Satisfaction with cell phone usage and the relationship are strongly and positively correlated” (Miller-Ott, Kelly, and Duran, 2012). In other words, the more that you feel you and your partner are on the same page with how and when cell phones fit in to your relationship, the better your will feel with your relationship on this topic. 

To get on the same page, I’d suggest talking to your partner and setting some cell phone usage rules. I know this might sound a little extreme. However, if cell phones are an issue in your relationship, you need to talk about it. Let them know that you don’t like being ignored for extended periods of time. At the same time, you may have to acknowledge times where this is necessary, like when they are at work for example. 

As my husband and he will tell you that my pet peeve is someone scrolling aimlessly through their phone when I am trying to talk to them. I also hate cell phones at the dinner table or when out to eat. These are examples of times when I would want to communicate my desire for my partner to be present and put the phone down. 

Take some time to think about these questions and talk about them with your partner

  •  How does cell phone usage impact your relationship if at all?
  • What rules might you want to put forth moving forward?
  • What barriers might you see getting in the way? How will you approach those barriers?

Do you feel like there are already “rules” for navigating cell phone use in your relationship that are effective? Share in the comments below!

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