Is Your Phone Damaging Your Relationship? 20 Strategies to Take Control.

Image from Canva

Useful and everpresent, our pocket computer is designed for addiction. So how is your phone damaging your relationship? And what can we do?

The Sugar Doctor and Kia Handley discuss the impact of phone use in intimate relationships.

[Full Transcript Below - Please note this blog is a living piece and is continually updated as this is such an important issue of our times. You can download the transcript from the radio show, or read the living document below.]

You can listen to the show live on Monday mornings from 9:30 am on ABC Newcastle at 1233AM or stream live here.

[Original recording on ABC website here]

Kia Handley is: Not a car! Presenter ABC Newcastle. Loves vintage, Eurovision & great stories.

You can also find the incredibly talented Kia Handley on ABC  Newcastle Mornings here, Twitter @kiahandley  Facebook kiahandleyjourno and on her podcasts: This Retro Life & Let’s Talk-  Rural Mental Health, PLUS even more amazing gems here.

Episode Transcript:

Image shows a hand holding a phone with superimposed images of notications hovering in space above the phone.
Image from Canva

Why Do We Find Ourselves Endlessly Scrolling?

You get home from a busy day of work, ready for some downtime and to discover what has been happening in the wider world. You take out your phone, check, the news, check your emails, and check your social feeds. All of a sudden you find hours have passed and you are still scrolling scrolling scrolling…and now you'll begin to see your phone damaging your relationship.

But why do we find it so hard to put down the phone?

From a neuroscience perspective, we become addicted to our phones because of the way that phone manufacturers, phone apps, and social media platforms have deliberately hijacked our neuro feedback mechanisms to make those behaviours chemically rewarding for our brains & bodies.

When we are engaging with the world, we get feedback from our brain and body when we interact with others; We get a dopamine hit when that social stimulus is positive. And that's important because we're a social species. As we talk about all the time, you know, we need to build connections amongst ourselves to survive.

But what happens is that our phones leverage the same neural circuitry of rewards, this is the same neural circuitry that leads to addiction and the same parts of the brain that are linked to drug use and gambling. That's not surprising as the reward system provides us with dopamine regardless of the social or cultural contexts - whether it is rewarding the completion of a project, a line of cocaine, a win on the pokies, or a FaceBook notification, the neural mechanism is the same.

So we do get addicted to that little dopamine rush that we get when you see a notification pop up on your screen or a banner, that tells you that someone is engaging with you.

From a design perspective, the 'infinite scroll' which allows social media users to endlessly move up or down a page without refreshing, was invented to provide a seamless experience... BUT the impact of this is that users (YOU) never feel satisfied and can find yourself endlessly scrolling.

"We want things and when we get them, we enjoy them. However, the brain circuit involved in wanting (mesolimbic dopaminergic system) is much more powerful than the brain circuit involved in enjoyment. The feeling of wanting something can be so strong that even when we find what we want, we don’t get much satisfaction. Sometimes, the wanting networks in the brain become hypersensitive and we get addicted: endless loops of seeking. In addiction, what we want becomes dissociated from what we enjoy. 

Technology often capitalizes on the potency of wanting, providing endless possibilities for seeking but few experiences that satiate. We might find fleeting pleasure, but no enduring satisfaction. Our “tolerance” increases, and we need more to achieve the same effects. The result: we keep clicking and scrolling, mindlessly consuming content, often with minimal oversight from cognitive control regions of the brain. Ultimately, this behavior depletes us, but feeds engagement-based business models." ~ Quote from The Center for Human Technology Website here.

In fact, Aza Raskin, the inventor of the infinite scroll, deeply regrets this invention. He is one of the founders and driving forces now behind The Center for Human Technology where along with other tech designers( including former senior engineers and ethicists from Google, FaceBook and more) are working to drive change in the tech industry through educating the public, supporting technologists and tech leaders, and informing policy change.

Image shows old fashioned telephone handsets from the 80s on a messy benchtop. They are dusty and there is also a human skull, magnifying glass, golf ball and pen.
Image from Canva

How is Using Your Phone Damaging Your Relationship?

There are so many ways you'll find your phone damaging your relationships. The couples I work with on “the phone thing” have three main gripes. Most other complaints are really just a subset of these three;

  • One person is “chatting” online, to exes, to friends or colleagues, or to others, in a way that feels to their partner like infidelity, or an early stage of infidelity (whether it is emotional, romantic, sexual, or something else).
  • Someone is uncomfortable with the level or type of sharing of their personal life, or their partners personal life, on a public platform.
  • One partner feels like there is an issue with presence, level of connection, or quality of their time together.



[Read: Is Social Media a Force for Good or Evil in Relationships?]

20 Strategies to Take Control and Stop Your Phone Damaging Your Relationship

This is going to be a pretty long section, but is by no means comprehensive.

I have found that the iPhone rabbit hole is one which I have a real tendency to fall down, and when it is left unchecked it has a huge negative impact on my mental health, and I also find my phone damaging my relationship.

I have ADHD so harnessing my attention is already a huge challenge for me.I can FEEL it. I am wired. I can’t relax. Most importantly, my capacity for focus is profoundly diminished. I feel a constant itch in the back of my brain to “just check this thing”.

Technological Solutions;

Relational Solutions;