Attention — 02 December 2011
Do cellphones enhance or detract from relationships?

A recent headline news captivated listeners’ attention: “Tech lovers choose cellphones over sex.” Is this a measure of how far our addiction to staying connected has reached? Is technology changing not only our ease of communicating with each other but also our relationship priorities?

The ownership of cellphones has vastly increased in recent years. A 2008 Pew Internet & American Life Project found that, “Nearly nine out of ten households of married couples with minor children own multiple cell phones and 57 percent of their children (ages 7 to 17) have their own cell phone.” The study highlights cellphone advantages in facilitating couples’ ability to stay connected during the day as they coordinate their complex lives.

The study also reports the downside of the new technology (including the internet), “Families with multiple communications devices are somewhat less likely to eat dinner with other household members and somewhat less likely to report high levels of satisfaction with their family and leisure time than are families with lower levels of technology ownership.”

Despite the absence of daily family meals and eye-to-eye communication, the survey found that, “25 percent of respondents feel that their family today is now closer than their family when they were growing up thanks to the use of the Internet and cell phones.”

For individual phone users, a recent TeleNav survey reported, “A large number would rather give up sex than their handsets. 40 percent of iPhone users would sooner go a week without their toothbrush than relinquish their phone, and are more likely than owners of other phones to forego exercise, time with their significant other, and even shoes as long as they can hold on to their iPhone.”

For non-smartphone owners, “Thirty three percent (mostly women) would for a week give up sex, over half would give up caffeine, sixty three percent would forego chocolate, and seventy percent would give up alcohol, than give up their phone.”

When their relationships ends, the study adds, “18 percent of smartphone customers had ended relationships by voicemail, text, e-mail, tweet, or Facebook update.”

It may be that it is a generational issue. Younger people today view their connection to be just as intimate when they are using technological devices as when they communicate with each other in person, while older folks maintain that intimacy must include face-to-face connection.

To use cellphones and other technological communication methods in a healthy relationship way:


  •  Use the phone as a tool for connecting with your spouse or children when you are apart.
  • Maintain family mealtime and personal conversations on a daily basis.

Young Adults:

  • Avoid use of phone while you are in the presence of a friend. He/she needs your full attention.
  • End relationships in person so your sincerity may be viewed as well as heard.

To all cell/ tech users:

  • Balance technology with necessities and other pleasures to preserve non-addictive habits and healthy intimate relationships.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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