12 Signs Your Relationship Is Being Ruined By Your Partner’s Phone Addiction (+ 14 Fixes)

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Phones are addictive – FACT!

They’re designed that way.

The bright colors on your screen and the beeps when you get a text or call are designed to give you a hit of dopamine – the happy drug.

That same pleasure drives us to seek out food, exercise, and sex… and we all know how addictive those can be.

It’s little wonder that many of us are obsessed with our phones.

Apps are designed to maximize emotional reward, so we want to use them more and more.

A phone brings many benefits, but a huge downside can be the effect it has on our interpersonal relationships.

Being plugged into our devices means we aren’t truly present in the moment.

We’re focused on maintaining virtual relationships with people that aren’t in the room, whether through email, Whatsapp, or Instagram likes.

We don’t give our full attention to those we’re actually, physically with.

Even if we’re meant to be in love with that person.

Whilst you might manage to keep your smartphone use to a healthy level, it takes two to tango.

Your partner being constantly plugged into a device can cause all kinds of relationship issues. You can easily start to feel like they value their virtual life more than they do you.

The feeling that you get when your partner snubs you for their phone, known as ‘phubbing,’ is a painful one, right?

12 Warning Signs Their Smartphone Usage Has Turned Into An Addiction

If your partner is continually glued to their phone and you think it might be taking its toll on your relationship, these signs show that you really do have something to worry about.

1. They ignore you.

They’re so lost in their virtual world when they’re on their phone that they completely zone out. One would hope that they’re not consciously ignoring you when you speak to them, but they sometimes don’t seem to hear you at all.

2. It’s noticeable.

You’re not the only one who’s noticed that your partner seems to be glued to their smartphone. Their family or friends (or even worse, your family or friends) have made comments about it too.

3. They’re distracted.

They see no problem with flicking through Twitter or Instagram whilst they’re having a conversation with you or whilst they’re meant to be concentrating on something else or working. They don’t seem to realize they’re even doing it. 

4. They don’t apologize.

It’s generally seen as common courtesy to apologize to someone if you’re having a conversation with them and need to check a message that’s come in. Your partner doesn’t think an apology is necessary.

5. They’re easily bored.

A side effect of our screen age is that we’re all constantly stimulated and can feel twitchy if we don’t get our phone fix. They get agitated whenever they’re not checking their phone.

6. They get separation anxiety.

They’re on their phone from the moment they wake up till last thing at night, and if their phone suddenly stops working or breaks, they’re disproportionately upset about it and nervous that they’re going to be missing out on something. This is sometimes referred to as nomophobia.

7. They can’t see the problem.

A problem recognized is a problem that’s on its way to being solved, but warning bells should be going off if they don’t seem to be aware of the fact that they’re addicted.

8. They get stressed by social media and emails.

All the time they’re spending on their phone is making them anything but happy. Social media means they spend their life comparing themselves to others.

Emails arriving at all hours of the day mean they’re always switched on and in work mode. Their bad mood gets in the way of your quality time.

9. You feel rejected.

If your partner seems to be consistently more interested in an electronic device than they do in you, it’s completely normal to feel hurt or rejected.

You often feel snubbed if they reach for their phone when you’re spending time together and that means feelings of resentment begin to bubble under the surface.

10. Your sex life is suffering.

Your partner gets into bed and starts flicking through their phone which means they’re not thinking so much about cuddling and physical closeness.

A worrying number of people have even admitted to checking their phone WHILST they’re getting intimate with a lover, which is an especially worrying sign that your relationship is taking the brunt of their addiction.

11. They take refuge in their phone at awkward moments.

Whenever you start talking about the serious stuff or there’s an awkward silence, they reach for their phone as a kind of comfort blanket.

12. It’s the main reason you fight.

If it wasn’t for their phone habit, you don’t think you’d bicker at all, but you’re always having arguments that are technology-related.

14 Practical Fixes To Help Address Your Partner’s Phone Addiction

If you’ve been noticing that your partner is guilty of the behaviors mentioned above, don’t despair.

Sure, you can’t go completely cold turkey like you might do with alcohol or cigarettes, as you do need your phone to operate in the modern world, but phone addiction is treatable if you set your mind to it.

Here are a few ways to help fix things and get your relationship firmly back on track.

1. Get things out in the open.

First things first, you need to be honest with your partner about their phone addiction. Be specific about what it is that bothers you, how it makes you feel, and why it makes you feel that way.

Does it really annoy you when they are looking at their phone whilst talking to you, but you aren’t so bothered if they do it when you’re watching something together? Help them understand what you do and do not find disrespectful so that they can put the effort in at the right times.

Use “I” language instead of “you” language. “I” language helps to disarm their defenses because you are talking about how you feel rather than how they are a rubbish partner.

Say, “I feel like my company isn’t enough for you sometimes,” instead of, “You seem to prefer your phone to me!”

You might feel ignored, taken for granted, not heard, unloved… whatever you feel, let your partner know.

Try to position your requests as wanting to improve your relationship. Say something like, “I think that a little quality time together where we focus on each other or a shared activity would bring us closer as a couple and make us a lot happier.”

Don’t forget to tell them how much you care about them and that you appreciate how great they are as a partner in other ways. Keep it positive and focus on reaching a better place than you’re in now.

If they realize that you have genuine concerns about the relationship as a result of their phone habits, it might be the motivation they need to make changes.

2. Ask them how they are feeling.

Whilst phone addition and social media addiction are problems in their own right, they may be masking other mental health concerns.

Ask your partner how they are feeling. And ask them why they enjoy using their phone so much.

You may get an answer such as, “It helps me unwind,” or, “It’s my way of relaxing.” This may suggest that your partner uses their phone to take their mind off some problem in another area of their life.

Maybe they don’t like their job but feel powerless to change their situation, so they scroll social feeds and binge watch videos to escape that problem for a while.

Maybe they suffer from anxiety and their phone is one of the few ways that they can quieten down their mind.

Do they suffer from depression? Excessive phone usage might be the thing they find most effective in triggering some sort of feel-good dopamine release.

3. Consider the possibility that they have ADHD.

People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can feel restless or have difficulty concentrating for long periods of time. Conversations can be a challenge, watching a show or movie might not come easily to them, and even shared activities might not be stimulating enough for them.

It is worth getting your partner to talk to their health professional to get a proper diagnosis, but they can take this questionnaire to find out whether it is possible that they have ADHD and simply don’t know it.

If it turns out they do, support them as they get treatment for it. And be willing to cut them a little slack from time to time.

4. Have technology-free times and zones.

I think we can all agree that turning our phone on first thing in the morning and diving straight into work emails isn’t a great way to start the day.

Flicking through Facebook last thing at night whilst in bed isn’t a great way to end it, either, as all that bright light has been proven to disrupt sleep.

From a relationship point of view, making the hour before bed phone-free and not allowing devices in the bedroom can mean you’re more likely to talk and touch when you get between the sheets. 

It’s also a good idea to make a rule that no one touches a device whilst you’re eating dinner, for example, to give you a chance to have genuine conversations.

5. Suggest a few changes to settings.

Suggest to your partner that they might want to make a habit of turning off notifications for everything except urgent phone calls when you’re meant to be having quality couple or family time.

If their phone isn’t vibrating or beeping, they’re more likely to be able to forget about it and focus on being present instead.

6. Make it a game.

If you’re out for a meal or a drink with a group of friends, suggest that everyone puts their phone in the middle of the table, face down. The first person to crack and pick up their phone buys a round of drinks.

7. Set an example.

I wouldn’t mind betting that even though your partner’s smartphone use bothers you, you could do with a little less screen time yourself.

Make it clear to your partner that you’re putting your phone away when you’re with them so that they can be your sole focus.

Consciously try to reduce your phone time, perhaps with the use of a tracking app like Space, and tell your partner what you’re trying to do.

Seeing you consciously trying to make changes when you already spend less time on your phone than they do should make your partner realize that they need to address their problem.

If they’re willing, get them to use the same app and compare usage on a regular basis. It might shock them to learn just how many hours they spend looking at their phone each day.

8. Reinforce their positive behavior with praise and appreciation.

It’s important that when you partner acts in the way you would like them to act – in this case by spending less time looking at their phone and more time engaged with you – that you reinforce this behavior.

Rewarding your partner with praise and appreciation helps to tie this new behavior with feeling good about making you feel good. By telling them how well they are doing or simply thanking them for taking the time to put their phone down, you teach them what is a desirable action.

This is opposed to nagging or punishing your partner for what is not a desirable action.

Positive reinforcement makes them feel good which translates into a desire to repeat that behavior again.

Negative reinforcement is more likely to push them away or make them put their defenses up.

9. Get intimate.

If we get the same stimulation from our smartphones that we do when having physical contact with other humans, trying stepping up the intimacy level.

Whether you just lovingly caress your partner more, hug them more, or get up close and personal between the sheets more, show them that you’re a far better way to get a dopamine hit that a phone screen is.

10. Ask whether it’s actually a work problem, not a phone problem.

It may seem as though your partner is addicted to their phone. After all, they spend a huge amount of time on it when you are together.

But what exactly are they doing during this time? If they are responding to work emails, catching up on industry news, participating in industry communities, or managing the social accounts for the company they work for (or their own side hustle), they might be a workaholic. Their phone is simply the medium through which they maintain their connection to work at all times.

Being a workaholic and being in a relationship with a workaholic are different problems to a standalone phone addiction and require a different approach altogether.

11. Ask if you can be included with what they are doing.

If your partner is looking at their phone whilst with you, see if they are doing something you can do too. That is, assuming it is something you would actually like to do.

Are they watching videos? Ask if you can watch them together on a tablet or laptop.

Are the reading funny threads on Reddit? Read alongside them and talk about the comments other people make.

Are they gaming? Is it a game you could play too? Perhaps you could compete against them or work together depending on the game.

Whilst you are still on your phones, at least it’s something you are doing together. This might be a stepping stone to improving the situation in a wider context.

Of course, if they are doing things which are of no interest to you, this won’t work and you’ll have to try a different approach.

12. Work on your conversation skills.

It may be hard to admit this to yourself, but part of the problem may be that your partner doesn’t find conversations with you all that interesting. They may reach for their phone because they’re a little bit bored.

Do you talk about the same things all the time? Do you complain about your colleagues or give detailed news about what your friends are up to? It’s easy to fall into this pattern after you’ve been together for a long time and it feels like you’ve talked about everything there is to talk about.

Consider how you’d feel if your partner always talked about things that weren’t that interesting to you. You probably don’t care that their friend just bought a new car, right?

Now, of course you’ll want to talk about your life to your partner, but is that the only thing you ever talk about? Do you ever ask them how they are or do you dominate conversations? Do you try to engage with them on broader topics of life and love and the cosmos? Do you ask them for their opinion on current news events?

Your partner’s phone addiction is not your fault, but it is worth taking a look at how you might adapt your interactions to give them less of a reason to switch off.

13. Be patient and consistent.

A genuine phone addiction isn’t something that your partner will be able to overcome in an instant. It is going to take time and effort for them to gradually reduce their phone usage.

So you will need to be patient with your partner during this process. Expect slip-ups. Expect them to get lost in their phone sometimes. Expect it to annoy you.

Just ask that they are consistent in their effort to tackle the problem. It can’t be something they try for a weekend and expect to be cured. They will have to keep identifying when they are over-using their phone and keep finding ways to drag themselves away from whatever they are doing on it.

For your part, you can be consistent with your reminders when they are falling into bad habits again. Raising your unhappiness once every few months won’t make them believe that it is a big issue to you. You need to keep pointing out to them when they are not listening to you or watching videos whilst walking with you.

If they are onside about tackling this issue, they won’t mind so much when you keep bringing it up, as long as you do it the right way. A neutral and concise statement can communicate your point without them getting upset about it.

In other words, say something along the lines of, “Would you mind putting your phone down whilst we talk?” Don’t allow your emotions to get the better of you and snap at your partner with something like, “You’re not listening to me again!”

14. A few other little tips that might help.

Here are some other things that you might try to draw your partner’s attention away from their phone:

  • Just stop what you’re doing until they pay attention. Stop talking, stop walking, stop eating, pause the TV or music. They’ll soon notice and realize that they aren’t focused on you or what you are doing.
  • Maintain eye contact whilst talking to them. Whilst it is natural to look away when talking to someone, it might be triggering your partner to check their phone because they think you won’t notice or what you are talking about isn’t that important. It’s much harder for them to turn away if you lock their gaze.
  • Text them and ask them to put their phone down – they’re looking at it so won’t be able to avoid your message.
  • Get them to watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix to open their eyes to how app developers make their apps addictive on purpose.
  • Just use that time to do your own thing. Watch what you want to watch. Read a book. Do a hobby you want to do. It doesn’t solve the problem, but at least you are getting more out of that time.

Still not sure how to approach your partner’s phone problems? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

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About Author

Katie is a writer and translator with a focus on travel, self-care and sustainability. She's based between a cave house in Granada, Spain, and the coast of beautiful Cornwall, England. She spends her free time hiking, exploring, eating vegan tapas and volunteering for a local dog shelter.