Therapists Reveal Mobile Phones Are Negatively Impacting Relationships

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Aug 30, 2019

Therapists Reveal Mobile Phones Are Negatively Impacting Relationships

A recent study of over 900 accredited counsellors and therapists have revealed the detrimental impact excessive phone usage is having on our relationships

Results released today in a new survey by Counselling Directory and Happiful Magazine have highlighted the detrimental impact excessive phone use can have on our relationships.

Research revealed that 64% of counsellors have had mobile phone usage raised as a “quite” or “somewhat” common problem in their clients lives. 40% of those who cited mobile phone usage as a problem said it impacts relationships more than in any other area of their lives, causing feelings of rejection, communication breakdown, and sexual intimacy issues.

Launching in conjunction with Happiful’s new #ScrollControl campaign, these latest findings highlight the importance of more mindful phone usage and prioritising face-to-face communication and connections.

How smartphones are impacting our relationships

The rise of smartphones has given way to new problems. Thanks to phones and social media, more and more of us are guilty of phubbing loved ones, while others may unwittingly experience nomophobia.

As one Counselling Directory member explained, many therapists are encountering clients that are sharing feelings of rejection as their partner chooses to spend time with their device over them. Some fear that their phone usage may be a way to avoid discussing relationship issues.

“It’s interesting to listen to clients talking about situations where they have felt rejected, ignored or shunned due to their partner’s mobile phone use when out for a meal, during sexual intimacy, romance, or in the midst of talking about their own relationship issues. The message seems to be portrayed by the other person as ‘my phone is more important than you or what we were doing’ or ‘I’m way more interested in my phone than you’.”


Results also revealed the impact the issue is having on our sexual intimacy. Counsellors cited partners looking at their phones as soon as they wake up causing a loss of opportunity for intimacy. One counsellor explained:

“I hear complaints about how mobile phone interactions serve as a distraction in romantic relationships by the way of taking away quality time and attention in the relationship.

“This makes the other partner feel neglected, left out and sometimes envious of the interaction their partner is having with others and not them. Especially if they really value quality face-to-face time, interaction and intimacy with their partner.”

Another sex and couples therapist explained, “As a couple’s counsellor, I find that clients who are disconnected with each other use phones to escape and often have their attachment needs met through the virtual world. As a sex therapist I have noticed a definite link between use of phones, often to look at porn or use virtual contact, and impact on couples’ intimacy.”

Relationship and couples counselling therapist, Pam Custers, shares her insight into why we are so obsessed with our phones, and what you can do if you are worried about your usage.

“The phone has become the easy gateway for almost all interaction with the world. The phone is a quick win to provide either stimulation whilst bored or a pleasant numbing distraction when stressed. In many ways our phone has become far more than a tool it is for some an emotional regulation device.

“On average we spend three hours a day on the phone whilst before the smart phone it was eighteen minutes! We pick our phones up for a quick look and then an hour goes by this is called the "Ludic loop" its the same same addictive experience as when one uses a slot machine. We get lulled into a state of tranquility by doing things repetitively and in this case scrolling.

“Like anything that gets in the way of our relationships it's a problem.
A good relationship is the difference between thriving or simply surviving. Making sure our phones don't become the unwitting polarising force in our relationships is important.

“So, what can we do to reign in our use of phones so they resume their rightful place and don't take over our lives and interfere with our relationships and don't become an emotional barrier?

“The first step is to own it as a problem. We need to acknowledge that vast amount of time and money is spent on designing the technology to keep us hooked. Once we acknowledge that the usage is impacting negatively then we are more than halfway to dealing with it.

“Speak to your partner. A simple conversation saying I/ we are getting too attached to my phone. Whilst chances are your partner will whole heartedly agree (after all they have had the company of the top of your head as you scrutinise the screen) it will open up the space for you to discuss some healthy boundaries.

“Often the first thing we look at or the last thing we see at night is not our partners face but our phone. Deciding to keep a room tech free can be liberating. Doing a phone detox can be the thing that breaks the cycle.

“Spending a weekend without your phone and rediscovering your partners company can remind oneself that actually we can survive without our phones and whats more we start engaging with life on a deeper level. Your partner will be supportive of all these boundaries as you will be privlidging your relationship over that little screen.

“The final step is a little deeper. We can ask ourselves some more probing questions. When do we turn to our phone? Is it when we are bored, stressed or when we want to shut out the world. How could we acknowledge those feelings and nurture ourselves in a way that is emotionally fulfilling.

“I wonder what we would do if we were told that we have friittered away three hours a day for the past couple of years and yet haven't the time to do all those things we wished we had. We don't break a habit we replace them. Once we locate the feeling that we are managing with our phone then we can decide what alternative,healthy behaviour will provide us with a more meaningful way to self sooth.”


Taking a break from your phone can help you to refocus your time, increase productivity, and begin recognising any unhealthy patterns with your usage.

By taking a short break, this can help you to become more mindful in your scrolling and claim back time lost to mindless swiping that can be redirected into connecting with loved ones, self-development, and more meaningful interactions.

If you are unsure if you should take a break from your phone, discover more about the benefits of taking a day away from your phone and how it can help you take back control of how much you are scrolling, and find out what can happen when you take a break from social media.

Keep an eye out throughout September for more help and advice on how you can stop your scrolling from affecting your relationships, identifying problem social media usage, and first-hand accounts of how taking a break from social media can improve your sense of wellbeing.

For more information on internet addiction and relationship therapy, visit Counselling Directory or enter your details below to find a counsellor near you.

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