Smartphones and social media: Relationship killers?

Interactive technologies (e.g., smartphones, internet, social networking sites) are a regular part of everyday life. Staying constantly connected to others- through email, social networks, or immediate messages - has become the new social norm, with the majority of us constantly texting and checking emails on-the-go and having incorporated several social network sites in our daily routine. The variety of applications across platforms has generated increased dependency on our mobile devices, pervading into our social life and romantic relationships. Literature on the influence of interactive technologies on relationships has largely focused on relational challenges.

One major concern regarding excessive smartphone use is that it reduces (the quality of) face-to-face interactions, thereby decreasing relationship satisfaction and commitment as well as increasing relationship uncertainty. Furthermore, multimedia multitasking may feel like a distraction to the relationship and the time spent together, ultimately leading to a disruption of the work/life balance.

Everyday intrusions and interruptions due to technology devices (i.e., technoference) and attending to one’s smartphone when in the face-to-face company of the partner (i.e., phone snubbing) is associated with greater relationship conflict and lower relationship quality. Interestingly, it is not the actual use of the smartphone that increases relationship uncertainty and reduces satisfaction, but the psychological reliance and dependency on it, the increased number of applications and communicative platforms available, and one’s need to constantly be connected with the smartphone.

Moreover, not the own but mainly the perceived smartphone dependency of the partner is most detrimental to the relationship climate, because it raises the impression that the partner does not care about intimacy. The effects of overconnectedness extend far beyond the relationship because it may lead to feelings of entrapment and depression. Furthermore, smartphone devices allow eschewing face-to-face contact and maintaining psychological distance with others, leading to increased loneliness and less authentic and empathetic interactions between people.

Marieke Dewitte
Assistant Professor
Section Experimental Health Psychology, Clinical Psychological Science, Departments, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience


HFTHQ 20-19

Suggested readings

  • Abbasi, IS. Social Media and Committed Relationships: What Factors Make Our Romantic Relationship Vulnerable? Social Science Computer Review 2019, Vol. 37(3) 425-434.
  • Amichai-Hamburger, Y, Etgar, S. Intimacy and Smartphone Multitasking—A New Oxymoron? Psychological reports. 2016, 1-13.
  • de Lenne, O, Wittevronghel. L, Vandenbosch, L, Eggermont, S. Romantic relationship commitment and the threat of alternatives on social media. Personal Relationships. 2019. 26. 680-693.
  • Seabrook, EM, Kern, ML, Rickard, NS. Social Networking Sites, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review. JMIR Mental Health 2016;3(4):e50.
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