Your smartphone may be powering down your relationship

The distracting presence of smartphones and other gadgets can put a damper on intimacy and relationships.

Story highlights

  • Technology can connect us to the world, but can disconnect us from each other
  • Keep cell phones out of sight and out of mind when on a date
  • Rethink social media, which can remove mystery from a relationship
  • Some apps allow you to create a social network just for two
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 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 suggest that cell phones can distract our attention from the present moment. 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 our 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.
Ian Kerner