Harvard-educated, Dr. Samantha Boardman practiced psychiatry for years, doing everything she could to make her patients less miserable. One day, she was abruptly fired by a patient who told her that talking about the many things going wrong in her life was only making her feel worse. “She was right,” Samantha says. “It was a wake-up call. I knew how to dial down her misery, but I knew nothing about how to build up her strengths and cultivate well-being.”
Samantha went back to school, got a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and she’s been practicing Positive Psychiatry ever since. “Studies tell us we perceive a hill as less steep if we are climbing it with a friend and physical pain is reduced in the presence of a loved one,” Samantha says. “All too often, stress pulls us away from the very things we need to help us stay strong.”
From Samantha: Your cell phone may put the world at your fingertips but it may also be making those closest to you feel like you are a million miles away. Romantic relationships are particularly vulnerable. As modern day philosopher Alain de Botton, keenly observed, “The constant challenge of modern relationships, how to prove more interesting than the other’s smartphone.”
“Partner phone snubbing” or “phubbing” (it’s actually a thing!) describes the habit of getting lost in your cell phone while in the company of your significant other. It is no surprise that phubbing is toxic for your love life. Research shows it leads to conflict, lower relationship satisfaction and ultimately, unhappiness.
As one researcher explains: “Cell phone use can undermine the bedrock of our happiness—our relationships with our romantic partners.”
It’s the behavior that accompanies the all-too-frequently used phrase: “Sorry, I was just checking my phone. What did you say?” or even worse, indifference or total disregard.
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you may be unintentionally sending your partner a message that you value your phone more than you value them:
DO YOU PLACE YOUR CELL PHONE WHERE YOU CAN SEE IT WHENEVER YOU ARE TOGETHER?
DO YOU KEEP YOUR PHONE IN YOUR HAND WHEN YOU ARE WITH YOUR PARTNER?
DO YOU GLANCE AT YOUR PHONE WHEN YOU ARE TALKING TO YOUR PARTNER?
WHENEVER THERE IS A LULL IN THE CONVERSATION, DO YOU CHECK YOUR PHONE?
Even seemingly minor distractions that may not seem like a big deal in the moment (“Sorry, I was just reading a text.”) can take a toll over the long run. Giving your partner your full attention seems to be the key.
Studies show that those who warmly turn toward their partner when their attention is summoned and express interest, who look up from their book or newspaper and actively engage in what their partner is trying to show them, are more likely to stay together. Those who cannot be bothered to look up, who keep doing what they are doing, who respond with hostility—“Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something?”—are more likely to separate.
The good news is that with a little effort, it is easy to tame the technology beast.
Take care of unfinished business before going out on a date so you don’t have to check your phone throughout dinner.
Face-to-face time trumps face-to-phone time every single time.
Out of sight
Leave the phone in the bottom of your handbag or in a drawer. Better yet, turn it off.
If you are expecting an important email from your boss, tell your partner. Create a special notification. At least your date will know you are not mindlessly thumbing through Instagram.
Resist the urge
Before reaching for your phone, ask yourself, “Is this urgent or important?” Texts and Facebook updates may feel urgent but they are not as important as the person you are with. Being “half-there” is damaging for any relationship. Make the choice to put your phone away when you are together, be it at dinner, while you’re driving somewhere, watching a movie or going for a walk.
So, when is the best time to use your phone? When you are alone.