Studies Show Excessive Smartphone Use Ruin Relationships

People who spend too much time on their smartphones are more likely to worry about divorce than those who do not. This phenomenon, known as “phubbing,” also increases feelings of ostracism and reduces trust.smartphone use among adult

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The scenario is all too familiar and widespread. People in restaurants, at parties, or hanging out at the water cooler have their noses buried in their smartphones. They interrupt conversations at the sound of a text or social media update notification bell. Alternatively, they stop paying attention altogether. That behavior isn’t very pleasant to anyone and can devastate people in relationships.

Canadian therapist Andrew Sofin reveals that smartphones have caused significant upheaval among his clients. The intrusiveness and precedence of smartphone use in social situations have become normal but no less destructive.

Two US and one US-Canadian studies indicate that the distraction resulting from smartphone activities is causing emotional and marital problems.

The Research

A research brief by the Institute of Family Studies (IFS) compiled several studies on the subject. It found that 40 percent of people with spouses who use their smartphones incessantly are unhappy in their relationship. It also revealed that 26 percent of excessive smartphone users fear their marriage will end in divorce. Most couples (81 percent) without phone problems express satisfaction in their marriage.
Tech use among happy people

The lack of control over phone use in social situations is also affecting other relationships. Phubbing— portmanteaus of phone and snubbing—is the practice of using a phone while physically with other people. A research article explored the effects of phubbing on phubbees and concluded that it activates feelings of ostracism, confirming earlier studies. The study also found it reduced trust.

A Computers in Human Behavior article supported these findings when surveying US and Canadian participants. It found that participants reported feeling worse about their relationships on days when there was more phubbing than usual.

One of the identified contributing factors to the likelihood of divorce in Canada is sexual relationships. The IFS states that spouses who use smartphones less have more frequent sex than those with more screen time. Less than half (44 percent) of those in the latter group report intimacy with their partners one or more times weekly.

Date nights have also declined due to phone use. More phubbers (58 percent) report having date nights only a few times a year, if any.


Researchers observed that the potential for divorce is four times more likely for couples with a phone problem than those without. The statement holds true after controlling for variables such as age, race, sex, education, and income. Excessive smartphone use is more likely to lead to inquiries with law firms such as Nussbaum Family Law.

It’s not as if the phubbees don’t complain. About a third (37 percent) claim they want to engage with their significant other more, but they’re on their phones. The incidence of dissatisfaction is even higher among low-income spouses, where 44 percent are not happy about being ignored.

Unsurprisingly, younger couples report the effects of smartphone use on their relationship more than older ones. Approximately half (44 percent) of spouses under 35 express complaints about phubbing compared to about one-third (34 percent) in the 35-55 age range.

There is no distinction in gender when determining who is more likely to complain about phubbing when physically together. Husbands are just as likely to complain as wives about smartphone use, eating into their time and attention.

Other Findings

The problem is not just in Canada. More than a third of the American participants say their spouse is often preoccupied by an electronic device. It may be their phone, computer, or TV screen. As a result, they spend less time talking or doing an activity together. The problem occurs more often in lower-income marriages (44 percent) than in higher-income households (31 percent).

There is no statistical difference based on religion or politics. The problem occurs across political or religious beliefs and practices. Liberals, conservatives, regular church attendees, and non-attendees share the same relational frustration.


The research does not suggest that excessive smartphone use is not the sole or leading cause of marital problems. What it indicates is that phubbing and similar behavior are red flags in a relationship. A preoccupation with their screens when couples should be interacting meaningfully can make the underlying issues worse.

The studies also indicate that access to social media and other means of online communication through smartphones can be addictive. It is likely that relationship problems and smartphone addiction reinforce the emotional divide between couples.


Phubbing or inappropriate smartphone use in a social situation creates problems between spouses or couples. While they might not be the exclusive cause of separation or divorce, they can certainly exacerbate the situation.

It seems evident that the solution is to turn their phones off or at least put them on mute. However, the rising concern over these issues in Canada and the US indicates it is a significant problem. The threat to their relationship will continue unless the erring spouses recognize that they have a smartphone addiction.