Is Your Smartphone Killing Your Relationships?


Hello dear friends!

Our collective smartphone addiction is something that I’ve been contemplating a lot lately. And before I get into this blog, let me first acknowledge that I am human, just like anyone else. I’m certainly not a perfect, ultra-zen, phone-free master living up in the mountains, looking down on the masses in disgust. Ha! Certainly not. I’m a normal 30-something small business owner, with lots of social media accounts, and plentiful emails. I’ve got Instagram, 4 different Gmail addresses, Twitter, and Facebook. I’ve got apps galore for music, shopping, design, meditation, and more. And I’ll be the first to admit, I really like my iPhone and I’m not gonna give it up anytime soon!

I’ve wanted to write about this for some time now, and I’ve struggled with how to make it sound less like a judgment, and more like an invitation. Because that’s what it really is- an invitation to be more mindful and to be more engaged with the world around you. As a health coach, and a human being that struggles with balancing the digital world with the real world, technology addiction is a topic that I deal with on a regular basis. I see so many people plug into their phones, and thus, unplug from the people and experiences right in front of their face. And while there are many wonderful benefits to technology, overall it makes us more tired, more stressed, more distant, and more at risk for health problems and accidents.

There are a lot of downsides to constant smartphone usage, including:

  • Sleep disruption
    • The blue light of your screen halts the natural production of melatonin in your brain, making it harder to fall asleep
    • If you sleep with your phone by your bed and have it on, the constant notifications disrupt your sleep quality, even if you don’t wake up completely
  • Physical strain
    • Digital eye strain can cause serious headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, and more serious issues down the road
    • Carpal tunnel is making a comeback- it’s not just for office workers anymore!
    • “Text neck” is a real thing, and it’s throwing off our spinal alignment
  • Constant distraction
    • Having a smartphone at your fingertips at all times removes the element of boredom, which has been shown repeatedly to be necessary for developing creativity, imagination, resourcefulness, and other life skills
    • Many people use their smartphones to escape discomfort (myself included!), but experiencing discomfort is critical to learning empathy, coping skills, and self-determination

Learning to manage the influx of new tech, and still maintain focus on what really matters is a consistent practice for most people, including myself. And “what really matters,” I know, is a personal thing, but I think we can all agree that things like relationships, health, and spirituality are things that matter. And they should certainly come out ahead on our priority list, well above things like material possessions, Instagram “likes”, and beating your latest high score on that game you like so much.

And while I could probably go on and on about how our smartphones are causing us to lose touch with our physical health or spiritual path, this post is about relationships. I think this is the #1 thing that is damaged by too much tech. The preference of technology over our real-life loved ones has become such an epidemic, that is now has an official term: “phubbing,” or “phone snubbing.” Researchers at Baylor University recently completed a study on phubbing between romantic couples, and identified 8 main types of this behavior. Obviously, you can extend these to non-romantic relationships as well, so I adjusted the wording from “partner” to “companion,” to reflect that.

How many of these have you experienced lately?

1.     During a typical mealtime that my companion and I spend together, my companion pulls out and checks his/her cellphone.

2.     My companion places his or her cellphone where they can see it when we are together.

3.     My companion keeps his or her cellphone in their hand when he or she is with me.

4.     When my companion’s cellphone rings or beeps, he/she pulls it out even if we are in the middle of a conversation.

5.     My companion glances at his/her cellphone while talking to me.

6.     During leisure time that my companion and I are able to spend together, my companion uses his/her cellphone.

7.     My companion uses his or her cellphone when we are out together.

8.     If there is a lull in our conversation, my companion will check his or her cellphone.

While the term “phubbing” is relatively new, the idea that smartphones are hurting our relationships certainly isn’t. Over the past several years, researchers have noted that the quality of conversation decreases when a cellphone is visibly present, especially when discussing something personal or important. Another study showed that people reported feeling less trust and empathy when a device was out during a social gathering. A groundbreaking study a few years ago even found that using your smartphone was correlated with lower levels of compassion, generosity, and selflessness (what are called “pro-social” behaviors).

Now, while your phone may or may not be making you a jerk, you can probably understand that having your phone out while socializing with someone you care about may not feel too good to them. I mean, you have likely been on the receiving end of such phone snubbing yourself. Do you remember how it felt? When is the last time you were out to coffee with a friend, or out to dinner with your significant other, and they picked up their smartphones in the middle of a conversation? How many times have you noticed your companion glance at their phone while you were talking? It might be habitual behavior by now, and considered “normal” in our society…but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.

I know I’m not the only one who has had to ask my friend a question multiple times because they were looking at their phone instead of listening to me. Just like I know there are others who have experienced the sting of watching your dinner date repeatedly refresh their Instagram feed, constantly distracted by social media to the point of being unable to participate fully in the conversation. And surely I’m not the only one out there who has let relationships fizzle out because I felt like I was constantly competing with an electronic device! Phubbing has become so common that it is now being reported as one of the main official reasons why couples break up (money problems, bad sex, and having children are at the top, in case you were wondering).


The often-conflicting worlds of technology and real-life human interaction give us an opportunity to reflect on our smartphone usage, our relationship satisfaction, and what things we might be able to change in order to maximize our mutual happiness without giving up our iPhones completely. It’s a practice that isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for certain. After all, the typical American checks their phone an average of 150 times per day- that’s roughly once every 6 ½ minutes!

But there are things you can do to reduce the negative impacts of your smartphone on your relationships. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep your phone in your purse or backpack while out to coffee with a friend
  • If you’re worried about running late, simply set a timer/alarm to remind you when you need to leave a social event, but otherwise, keep your phone tucked away
  • Put your phone on silent when visiting with loved ones
  • Enact a “no devices at the table” rule in your home
  • Take a “screen free Sunday” or another full day, where you do fun activities with friends and family, with no devices allowed
  • If you share a bed with a partner, consider enacting a “no phone” rule in the bed
  • When you simply must finish an email/text before conversing, apologize to your companion and put the device away as soon as you’re finished
  • Consider downloading a screentime manager or tracker on your phone/tablet. Some suggestions might be: Moment, Breakfree, and Offtime

So friends, what do you think? Would you like to have more real, genuine, distraction-free connections with people? Sign me up! Let’s take a pledge to do better. For our friends, for our partners, and for our entire community.

And as always…

~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~