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Is Your Phone Part of Your Relationship?

Even though the concept of relationships have not changed throughout the years, the way people can enter and communicate in relationships has evolved throughout the growth of social media and communication technology.

With the rise of social media, people can now enter a relationship through the touch of a blue “follow” button or a direct message to a stranger. The growth of the virtual world has led to constant availability and has even changed the way humans can communicate.

According to an article in the Association for Psychological Science, the largest technological advances have been in the last 100 years, but more specifically, between 2000 and 2018.

Psychologist Sheila Garos, Ph.D., who studies sex and relationships said those who have met online, relate to another person and perceive that their relationship is going well, would likely rate high on a relationship satisfaction scale.

However, when people met are in an in-relationship and use a phone to communicate, it can be beneficial to send a quick text message or have a quick phone call, Garos said. However, people can still miss out on nonverbal cues that would normally be transmitted during an in-person interaction.

According to Psychology Today, “a new study from Brigham Young University examined how technology interferes with relationships. The researchers concluded that ‘technoference’ can be damaging not just to a relationship but to your psychological health as well.”

The study found that relationships that suffered “technoference” had higher levels of relationship conflict and lower levels of relationship satisfaction.

Since most people use their phones for everyday life needs such as a calendar, grocery list, a weather forecast and more, psychologist and Texas Tech University professor, Jacki Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., said people can begin to look at their phone as a device that is taking care of them.

After studying college relationships since her arrival to Texas Tech in 1994, Fitzpatrick has seen the evolution of how these relationships have changed over the course of this communication technology boom.

Fitzpatrick said, since people have this reliance and comfort with their cell phone, people will seek it out as an oasis. If one is feeling sad or angry, they can go into their phone and find things that are comforting to them, she said.

If someone is in a relationship with another person, that person has their own needs and can want attention from their partner. A cell phone does not ask for these demands, Fitzpatrick said.

“In some ways, the phone is the perfect partner, because it does not require as much from you in return,” she said.

This is because a cell phone offers the benefits of human interaction, but one has control over the phone itself, Fitzpatrick said.

Some people even have an addiction to their phone and will struggle with not being near it, Fitzpatrick said.

“Because people are using it in lots of other ways and not necessarily thinking about ‘What is my relationship to my phone?’. They may not think about how strong of a presence it has in their lives or how much that relationship is getting carried into the lives of their relationship partner,” she said.

Fitzpatrick said if people are aware of their relationship with their phone, it would be best, in the beginning of the relationship, to have a conversation to see how comfortable each party is with having this third member (each other’s phones) in the relationship as well.

Similar to “technoference”, “phubbing is the practice of snubbing others in favor of our mobile phone”, according to an article in Greater Good Magazine from University of California, Berkeley.

According to the article, studies have shown that just having a phone out on a table during a conversation can alter the value of the conversation and level of connection.

A senior at the University of Texas at Austin, Trevor Moore, says having a phone left on the table during a date does not bother him. However, if someone is constantly checking their phone and not supplying a pertinent reason as to why they are checking their phone, Moore said he sees that as a red flag.

“I’m jealous of how dating and relationships were back in the day before texting. I think that nowadays we have some sort of unrealistic expectation that everybody should be available 24/7,” Moore said.

A phone can be seen as a form of temptation or distraction, Moore said.

On the other side of a relationship (A.K.A the “phubbed”), the act of being ignored or excluded actually registers in the brain as physical pain, according to the article in Greater Good Magazine.

Moore said if he is spending time with another person and they are sitting on their phone, he can find it offensive and will then question whether or not that other person wants to truly be there.

“To prevent phubbing, awareness is the only solution,” according to the article in Greater Good Magazine.

Now that most people have their phones on them all the time, Moore said, the expectation for constant communication and availability can also be translated into, not just romantic relationships, but friendships and familial relationships as well.

For someone who is part of Generation Z, Moore said he is very aware of his relationship with his cell phone and tries to spend time with people who are aware of theirs as well.

“I don’t know that there are many times in which texting is or using your phone is appropriate when you’re supposed to be cultivating a relationship with other humans that are in-person,” Moore said.

Previously published in Spring 2020 on Adobe Spark for my Multiplatform Journalism class at TTU.

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