Are you spending more time with your smartphone than with your partner — even during romantic dates?
Technology allows us to be constantly connected to the world, but it can also make us even more disconnected from each other.
In fact, two recent studies show that cell phones can have a negative impact on close relationships.
Researchers from the University of Essex found that people who engaged in personal discussions when a cell phone was nearby — even if neither person was actually using it — reported lower relationship quality and less trust for their partner. They also felt their partner was less empathetic to their concerns.
Other studies confirm that cell phones are distracting. And that’s a problem, considering the results of the Mobile Mindset Study, a recent survey that found three out of five U.S. smartphone users don’t go more than hour without checking their gadgets.
Taken a few steps further, smartphones, tablets and laptops — and the social media they often support — have the potential to tear couples apart.
I’ve talked before in this column about the capability of Facebook and other social media to threaten relationships: They provide a sense of instant gratification that stimulates the brain’s reward centers, offering quick hits of novelty that can be downright addictive.
Plus, they allow us to connect with friends, co-workers and even former flames, fostering an immediate and intense sense of intimacy that can lead us to romanticize these connections. At best, you’re giving your energy to these digital distractions, not your partner. At worst, you could be setting the stage for emotional infidelity.
Of course, it’s unrealistic to ditch your smartphone altogether, especially if you also need it for work. But there are things you can do to use it wisely — and even help improve your relationship. Here are three tips for making technology work for you and your partner:
Set it aside. It should go without saying that cell phones are best kept out of sight and out of mind when you’re on a date. Turn it off and place it in your bag or pocket for the duration — the world won’t end if you can’t check your e-mail for an hour or two.
I also recommend shutting down phones, tablets and laptops at night, or at least charging them in a room other than your bedroom. Not only can they interfere with your ability to relax and unwind, but their distracting presence can also put a real crimp in intimacy.
Read more: Ian Kerner, CNN