Right after I graduated from college, my boyfriend and I started fighting a lot. I was a rookie reporter at a small-town newspaper, and I was sure all the stress I was under learning the ropes of the job was what was putting so much strain on our relationship. Part of navigating my new job as a reporter was being constantly connected — I was checking my email, Twitter and the paper's website almost obsessively, which meant my phone was always in my hand. It took months before my boyfriend and I realized that it wasn't the stress that was hurting our relationship — it was the fact that my phone was a constant third wheel.
According to Dr. Jenn Mann, author of The Relationship Fix and host of VH1's Couple's Therapy, my story isn't uncommon.
"I have seen all too many clients be hurt by the poor phone behavior of their partners," Mann said. "Whether it is inappropriate social media, sexting with others or just neglecting their relationship to spend time on their phone, phone use has the potential to destroy a relationship."
But not all cellphone use in a relationship is bad. Mann explained that there are ways couples can actually use their phones to make their relationships stronger.
"Connection is the key to a successful romantic relationship," she said. "Technology, and phones in particular, can be used to help maintain that connection. A recent study found that texting to express affection was associated with higher reported partner attachment for both men and women. Sending sexy pictures is a great way to keep the flame of passion going. Just make sure to do "headless horseman" photos in case they go to the wrong person. Another study found a couple who shows gratitude for each other are more satisfied in the relationship. The phone makes it easy to show gratitude by texting a quick thank you, giving a compliment, telling your partner why you appreciate him or letting him know how important he is to you. These are great connection enhancers."
However, cellphone use can certainly go the other way and hurt relationships.
"Phones can hurt a relationship when couples use them to neglect each other or have poor boundaries with other people," Mann said. "It is important that you not spend all your time with your partner focused on your phone. Giving your partner attention, eye contact and focus is an important part of a successful relationship. Social media is another place where couples can potentially hurt their relationship. It is important to make a public statement of your relationship status on your social media. This shows respect to your partner. In addition, it is important to have good boundaries on social media by not following people to make your partner uncomfortable, not engaging in flirtations, having an agreed-upon philosophy about contact with ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, by being transparent in all social media and not doing any secret messages with other people. In addition, it is important not to post pictures of your partner without their approval, don't post pictures of yourself that make your partner uncomfortable and do not share about conflicts the two of you are having. Having transparency with your phone, emails and social media makes partners feel more secure and helps develop trust in a relationship."
When it comes down to it, Mann has a few recommendations for making sure phone habits are contributing to a healthy relationship:
- Limit or avoid all phone use while having dinner or a romantic evening with your partner.
- Have total transparency with phone use with your partner.
- Have agreed-upon limits and boundaries with social media and stick to them.
Cellphones are an integral part of almost all of our lives now — there's no way around it. But with Mann's advice (and a little self-control), phone habits can stay healthy and productive.
This post was sponsored by Cricket Wireless.