Is your cell phone screwing with your relationship?
This scenario might sound familiar: You’re home after work, updating your significant other on all the drama—that meeting about your promotion, that weird thing you overheard the receptionist saying, how everyone totally lost their minds when the decaf and regular coffee were accidentally switched—but you can’t help but feel like he’s not listening. Sure, he’s nodding and mhmm-ing once in a while, but his eyes are locked on a tiny screen in front of him. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap. Ah, the familiar sounds of someone distracted by their cell phone. We’ve all been there, whether with a partner or sitting across from a friend at dinner.
We all know it’s rude (even if we sometimes do it too), so it’s probably no surprise that it’s also bad for your relationship, as a recent study found. But did you know that even seeing a cell phone has a negative impact on how you connect with others?
Researchers at the University of Essex conducted an experiment in which they had pairs of strangers sit in booths together. Each booth had a book in it, plus another object—either a notebook or a cell phone. Then, the strangers spent 10 minutes sharing a story about something interesting that had happened to them in the past month. The researchers then questioned the pair about the interaction. The results? Even in a short 10-minute window, the pairs that were placed in a booth with a cell phone in it reported that they felt less close to their partner and reported a lower quality of relationship.
The researchers got the same result when they repeated the experiment, placing strangers in other environments and situation where there was a cell phone visible. So much for first impressions. And if the presence of a cell phone is getting in the way of our interactions with a new person telling an interesting story… well, then it’s no surprise that it also taints our interactions with the person we see every day (possibly telling a story we’ve heard before)—especially if we’re actively engaging with our cell phones. Our advice? Take the saying “out of sight, out of mind” to heart. Turn up the ringer in case you get an important call or text, and then put your cell away when you’re chatting with your partner or a friend. Make an effort to connect with the person in front of you, before your only companionship is Angry Birds.