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Are you or your partner addicted to your phones?

We are all totally guilty of spending too much time on our phones, tablets, laptops or whatever form of technology we use to access the outside world. Especially nowadays, it’s our link to society, friends and family far away, to work and even functions as a form of escapism from our reality. Phones have proven vital for communication and lockdown means we have gotten creative with the way that we reach out to each other, how we interact with the world. We get the time, access the news, check the weather and keep in contact all via this little device. And because our brains are in a sort of constant panic-mode at the moment, one thing that a lot of us are doing right now, is finding ourselves glued to them for news updates.

From above of African American man in casual wear using smartphone and sitting on sofa and woman sitting with crossed legs on carpet near and typing on laptop at home

The world is a scary place right now. There always seems to be something to worry about nowadays, which is something our brains recognise and respond to, accordingly. Because of this perpetual fear, our brains are on high alert, on the lookout for trouble, which is incidentally why we’re all so exhausted right now as well. 'Doom-scrolling' is the new trend that researchers are seeing occuring commonly among people who have been in lockdown for a while. It’s a habit of scrolling through your feed looking for information and updates constantly – looking for something new to worry about. It’s a reaction to the state of the world around us right now, but studies are suggesting this reaction is strongly associated with feelings of anger and anxiety.

Crop anonymous freelancer using laptop near girlfriend chatting on smartphone

Basically, we’re saying that if you find yourself on your phone a lot right now, you’re not alone. The whole world is relying on them to communicate and get updates about a situation that seems to change everyday. But have you considered what affect this habit might be having on your relationships?

Some of us are in long-distance relationships now thanks to travel restrictions, so our phone is our lifeline to our loved ones (Quick tip, Jin and Peña’s paper ‘Mobile Communication in Romantic Relationships: Mobile Phone Use, Relational Uncertainty, Love, Commitment, and Attachment Styles’ found that calling, rather than messaging and texting made partners feel more certain and loved in the relationship). But for those of us living with our partners or spouses, it can be hard to see when our phone habits have gotten out of control and are beginning to effect the functioning of our relationships.

From above of young African American man with closed eyes talking on smartphone lying in bed together with sleeping ethnic wife

Miller-Ott, Kelly and Duran’s research paper ‘The Effects of Cell Phone Usage Rules on Satisfaction in Romantic Relationships’ found that over-usage of phones in a relationship caused feelings of uncertainty and sparked conflict in relationships. Although they can be a good source of connection when used the right amount, they can also decrease the quality of the relationship.

For example, because our world is so connected and everyone has their phone with them at all times now, there is an expectation that our partners will always be available to us at the press of a button. When we cannot access them, that can lead to conflict as the two partners may have different ideas about how accessible they should be to the other. One of the major finding of their report is that partners should discuss phone usage rules and boundaries in order to understand one another’s habits better and have a clearer comprehension of what feels appropriate and comfortable to each of them.

Crop diverse couple chatting on smartphones on street bench

But it is James Robert’s and Meredith David’s research paper ‘My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners’ that has some of the most compelling reasons for cutting down on phone time when you and bae are together. The term ‘phubbing’ is the ‘extent to which an individual uses or is distracted by his/her cell phone while in the company of his/her relationship partner.’ Basically, how much you’re scrolling through Insta while your partner is sitting right next to you. Roberts and David created a scale to measure the severity of the problem of ‘phubbing’ in a sample study of 145 adults and followed up with questions about a) relationship satisfaction and b) emotional wellbeing.

‘Results suggest that Phubbing's impact on relationship satisfaction is mediated by conflict over cell phone use. One's attachment style was found to moderate the Phubbing – cell phone conflict relationship. Those with anxious attachment styles reported higher levels of cell phone conflict than those with less anxious attachment styles. Importantly, Phubbing was found to indirectly impact depression through relationship satisfaction and ultimately life satisfaction. Given the ever-increasing use of cell phones to communicate between romantic partners, the present research offers insight into the process by which such use may impact relationship satisfaction and personal well-being. Phubbing was found to have a negative impact on relationship satisfaction.’

Definitely something to watch out for and maybe even to have a serious, sit-down discussion about?

Young attentive female chatting on cellphone against male partner sitting on bed in house

Fiona Murphy is a freelance writer, specialising in book-related content, fiction and poetry. She can be found drinking tea, craving tapas or attempting to finish her never-ending-novel.

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