(CNN)The majority of our relationships are in shambles.
The U.S. divorce rate hovers at 40 percent, but that’s not the whole story. Many intact relationships are on life support. According to a survey by the National Opinion Research Center, 60 percent of people in a relationship say they’re not very satisfied. There are some familiar culprits: money problems, bad sex and having kids.
But there’s a new relationship buster: the smartphone.
My colleague Meredith David and I recently conducted a study that explored just how detrimental smartphones can be to relationships.
Survey participants also completed a scale that measured how much smartphone use was a source of conflict in their relationships. Participants also completed a scale that measured how satisfied they were with their current relationship, how satisfied they were with their lives and if they were depressed.
We found that smartphones are real relationship downers — up there with money, sex and kids.
People who reported being at the receiving end of phubbing also reported higher levels of conflict over smartphone use than those who reported less phubbing. Not surprisingly, higher levels of smartphone-related conflict reduced levels of relationship satisfaction.
Something as seemingly innocent as using a smartphone in the presence of a romantic partner undermined the quality of the relationship. This can create a domino effect: As our study also showed, when we’re not happily in love, we are also less likely to be satisfied, overall, with life. We’re also more likely to report that we are depressed.
Why, might you ask, does partner phubbing wreak such havoc between romantic partners?
At least two possible explanations for such relationship tumult exist. The “Displacement Hypothesis” suggests that time spent on smartphones displaces (or reduces) more meaningful interactions with your lover, weakening the relationship. I call a second theory “Smartphone Conflict Theory.” Simply put, the device is a source of conflict and leads to fighting. Fights, of course, can only serve to undermine your satisfaction with your partner and the relationship.
So what can we take away from all of this? Even if we act like it’s no big deal, it still stings whenever we’re phubbed by our romantic partner. In a sense, our romantic partners are choosing their phone over us.
We probably feel a little less important and the relationship feels a little less secure.
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