They used to say a man’s best friend is his dog. In the 21st century, it seems that the fluffy pet has been replaced by the smartphone. Everywhere you go these days, half of the population seems to be gazing, tapping, and swiping at their phones. Sometimes, this can be annoying — like those people who charge towards you on the street, heads down, thinking they can successfully walk and text at the same time.
However, when it comes to relationships, being a phone-zombie can have more serious effects. New research shows that romantic partners who devote too much attention to their phones suffer more conflict and experience lower levels of relationship satisfaction, which ultimately can lead to higher levels of depression.
A study of 453 adults from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business looked at the relationship effects of Pphubbing — that is, “partner” phone-snubbing. Unsurprisingly, researchers found that participants felt snubbed and ignored when their romantic partners were constantly distracted by their phones.
The study asked participants a range of questions about their partner’s phone habits including:
- If there is a lull in our conversation, does my partner check their phone?
- Does my partner hold their phone in their hand when they are with me?
- Does my partner always have to have their phone in view when they are with me?
- Does my partner glance at their cellphone when we’re talking?
Ultimately, the study found that phone snubbing had an indirect negative effect on life satisfaction and depression.
So, is there anything you can you do about partner phone-snubbing? Well the first thing is to become more mindful. Don’t reach for your phone every time there’s a gap in conversation. But, there are also some practical tips you can apply to ensure your phone doesn’t ruin your relationship.
1. Turn off all your push notifications
Push notifications are the little symbols and icons that pop-up on your phone, even when you’re logged out. Facebook messages, email alerts, Retweets, Instagram Likes. These are all nice things to have, but do you really need to be notified instantly, every time they happen?
The ping of a new notification is often too irresistible to ignore. So, do yourself and your partner a favour: turn off all your push notifications. They’re a distraction and they can destroy intimate moments with your partner.
(Cheater’s tip: if you can’t completely do without push-notifications, at least set them to silent!)
2. Set a cut-off time for work emails and phone calls
Email was supposed to free us from the tyranny of being tied to the work desk. Instead, it has meant that we increasingly bring our work back home with us. Sure, it’s great to have instant access to the latest updates in your work inbox, but ask yourself, do you really need to check your work emails at 10 pm?
Understandably, if you’re climbing the career ladder or trying to impress your boss, you might want to put in some extra time at home away from the office. But if you’re a 9-5-er and make a habit of reading and responding to work-related matters at home, your employer and your colleagues will eventually just get used to your 24/7 availability. Before you know it, you’ve lost all sense of work-life balance, you burn-out, and your relationship suffers.
So set yourself a cutoff, say 7 pm, as a time for clocking out of your virtual office. After that, be determined not to read any emails or answer any phone calls related to work, unless you think it’s putting your career in jeopardy.
3. Start implementing screen-free time
How many screens have you got at home? Count them: TV, computer, laptop, tablet, phone, gaming console — probably quite a few if you’re like most households. But screens weren’t designed to foster romantic relationships — apart from curling up together on the sofa for some Netflix.
Screen-time is usually about me-time, and this obviously isn’t a great thing for relationships. In an earlier era, troubled couples used to read separate newspapers in silence. These days, we often sit next our loved ones, hypnotized, not by looking into each other’s eyes, but into our iPhones.
Setting aside some dedicated time each night where both of you vow not to spend time in front of the screen (unless it’s something you do together) will create more opportunity for intimacy, conversation, and generally just being together as a couple.
4. Keep your phone out of view
This hack is super simple and super effective — out of sight, out of mind. What better way to rid yourself of the temptation to pick up your phone at every spare minute than to move it into another room. Don’t use the bedroom for the best results, and try and keep your phone out of the living spaces, maybe in the hallway or even the kitchen.
This way, next time you’re tempted to refresh your Twitter feed, or curious to see if anyone has posted another cat video on Facebook, you’ll be actively forced to get up and fetch your phone, rather than just lazily reaching over the sofa… or your partner.
Even better, keep your phone tethered, on charge — like a dog on a leash. Don’t be tempted to unplug it until you really have to (playing Candy Crush in the bathroom doesn’t count). Soon, you’ll come to realise that life does not come to an end when you’re more than a meter away from your phone. And more importantly, your romantic partner won’t feel like they’re competing for your attention anymore.
5. Turn off your phone 30 minutes before bed
It’s becoming more acceptable to take your phone to bed these days. We kid ourselves that we’re just using it as an alarm clock, deep down we know that’s not true. We’re checking out social media, reading the news, or playing games. A recent survey found that 3% of young people actually sleep with theirsmartphone in their hand!
According to sleep specialists, the bedroom should be reserved for two things — sleep and sex. The bedroom should be a sanctuary for relaxation and intimacy. Bringing the phone into the bedroom is like inviting the outside world, with all its excitement and stimulation, into a space that should be tranquil, peaceful, and private.
Another thing to bear in mind is that smartphone screens emit blue light. Recent research has shown that exposing yourself to blue light at night stops the brain from producing melatonin — the “drowsy hormone” that helps us fall asleep.
So, if you want to improve the quality of your relationship AND get better sleep at night, it’s wise to consider a total ban on phones in the bedroom. Give yourself a 30-minute gap between spending time with your phone and hitting the sack. You never know, you might enjoy it.
Jeff is a musician, photographer, writer, publisher and entrepreneur based in London UK. He writes about the fascinating world of Sleep at Sleep Junkies, and about psychological and philosophical life-hacks atBrain Fodder