Is your phone addiction ruining your relationship?

"I just can't get him to put his phone down," said one of my girlfriends "it's like I'm dating Snapchat." She's the latest in my circle to become a smartphone widow. Her boyfriend spends more time on his phone than he does with her. Even when he's engaged in a conversation with her face to face, he's still checking his phone.

She's not the first one of my friends to say it. A lot of them have partners or friends who can't put down their phones. One of them described their girlfriend's addiction "She wakes up to check her phone every time she gets a notification, even at like 3am," he said "she tried charging it in another room but it made her panicky." 

He's fed up with it but his girlfriend's habits aren't exactly uncommon. A recent survey found that 79 percent of Brits feel anxious or extremely anxious when they didn't have their phone with them. It's even got a name, nomophobia. And it's on the rise, especially among US students who when surveyed said they'd rather lose a pinky finger than their cellphone.  

Wien,Austria-February 25,2014: Closeup of female hand holding an iPhone 5s while launching WhatsApp,a popular messaging application .
Photo credit: Getty

There are a lot of people who let their phone rule their lives.In a 2017 study, a third of Brits surveyed said that their partner often appeared more interested in their smartphone than them. The term for this is phubbing - when you snub someone with your phone. You see it everywhere from your partner checking their phone while you're talking to them to even checking it during sex. Yep. According to a 2016 US study, one in ten Americans are guilty of that. 

And it's far more of a threat to your love life than you realise. Firstly, you yourself have probably experienced first hand the irritation of having a partner snapchat while talking to you. British behavioural psychologist and relationship coach Jo Hemmings argues phubbing causes resentment between couples. "People report feeling neglected because of their partner's phone or tablet obsession," she published in her 2017 report "These feelings of neglect often turn into a deeper-seated resentment, where arguments and a complete breakdown in communication becomes more likely."

But it's not just irritation. Research from Baylor University in Texas has shown that phubbing your partner can lead to them becoming depressed and uncertain about their relationship. And unsurprisingly, research has consistently shown that people who felt their partners were dependent on their cell phone were less satisfied with their relationship. 

This is the theory referred to as "cell phone conflict theory."  The term was coined by cell phone addiction researcher, James Robertson, and argues your cell phone is simply a source of tension in the relationship. It causes more fights and the eventual demise of your relationship. The other theory on offer is displacement hypothesis, which argues that your cell phone takes up the time which you would otherwise have spent on your partner. But either way, they're breaking relationships apart.

Is your phone addiction ruining your relationship?
Photo credit: Getty

So why don't people just, well, stop? It turns out it's far more similar to an 'official' addiction than a lot of people realise.

Research suggests that checking your cell phone is a sign of craving a dopamine hit. Dopamine is a neurochemical known as "the reward molecule". It's that feel good buzz after someone cute smiles at you or you ace a presentation. According to Australian research in 2014, whenever we like, post or get likes on Facebook we have a hit of dopamine. Similar effects are received with checking emails and texts. 

"It works similar to other addictions," Australian psychologist Jocelyn Brewer told ABC."There is a reward pathway that dopamine sets up. If you're doing any activity that feels really good, you would want to do more of that activity." However like with any addiction, when you're separated from that pleasure center you can become sad, irritable and angry. 

The good news though is that this addiction should be easier than most to crack. The first step is becoming aware of your habits, as checking your phone is so socially acceptable it's almost invisible. When you recognise your phubbing habits, it's easier to stop them. And don't get angry if your partner points it out. It's a sign they want to spend more time with you. 

Try keeping your phone on silent during conversation, keeping it face down while you're talking to your partner and sleeping with it in a different room. 

Yes, you can do it, just buy an alarm clock. 

Verity Johnson is a Newshub columnist and feature writer

Marcus Thompson is a Newshub video producer and editor