My cousins boss and the boss’ wife went fishing one day. It was the first time in a long time they were doing something together rather than him working and being on the phone ALL day. Apparently, his phone rang so he answered it (which fellows, was the wrong thing to do!), so his wife grabbed the phone and pitched it as far into the ocean as she could throw.

Is the cell phone becoming a problem in your marriage? We certainly struggle with this! Thankfully it hasn’t quite got to the point of throwing our phones into the ocean…

What Do We Know About Mobile Phone Addiction?

The research is just starting to come out and researchers are just beginning to understand the basics of mobile phone addiction, including how we develop this addiction and the impact it has on our lives.

Some of you younger ones probably don’t have any concept of a world without cell phones, but I still remember our first phone, and I still remember our first iPhone! These new technologies hit the market, met a need, and we rely on them so heavily. Only now are we starting to step back and ask how this is impacting lives beyond the convenience factor.

One journal article that was a literature review of problematic cell phone use concluded that mobile phone use may become uncontrolled or excessive which impacts daily living. It pointed out evidence to show a behavioural addiction is possible and this would impact social, familial and professional life.(Billieux, 2012)[i]

In that study, Billieux noted three typical areas of problems:

  1. Dangerous use: tendency to use the mobile phone while driving
  2. Prohibited Use: tendency to use the mobile phone in banned places
  3. Dependence Symptoms: loss of control, negative affects in situations in which the use of the phone is not possible or allowed. People are actually losing it a bit if they can’t use their phone.

Another study connected mobile phone addiction with additional qualities found in substance abuse addiction including:

  1. Tolerance: increasing frequency and duration of cellular phone use to obtain the same level of psychological satisfaction as earlier. (Taneja, 2014)
  2. Withdrawal: feelings of nervousness and anxiety when away from one’s cell phone or when unable to use it (Taneja, 2014), using the phone to escape other problems and negative consequences in all areas of life.
  3. Financial: the tendency to use the mobile phone to the extent it incurs enormous changes and financial issues for the individual (Billieux, 2012).[ii]

These are serious things. That’s why we’ve started saying that phone addiction is the new alcoholism.

Who Tends to Develop Mobile Phone Addictions?

Studies show that women use mobile phones more than men, especially when it comes to text messaging. Other studies have found that women are more prone to experience dependence on the mobile phone, while men have a greater tendency to use the mobile phone while driving.

Problematic mobile phone use has been associated with personality areas of neuroticism (tendency to be emotionally unstable) and extraversion (tendency to be sociable). It has also been associated with the trait of impulsivity. (Billieux, 2012)

Based on our personality types, some of us are going to have to be extra cautious about our cell phone usage. I am one of those people.

All the research so far has been about the general use of cell phones – not marriage research. However, we do have a study that discusses the impact of internet usage on marriage, and I think that it’s not unreasonable to extrapolate from internet use to phone use as most people have smartphones nowadays.

How Internet Usage Impacts a Marriage

Researchers studied 199 newlywed couples who had been married an average of one month. They looked at associations between frequency of internet use, compulsive internet behaviours, and various relationship factors such as loneliness, passion, intimacy, and commitment. They were really trying to get a broad sense of how internet use might be impacting marriages.

The results showed that “frequent and compulsive internet use is associated with several indicators of low relationship quality”[iii] – both husbands and wives pointed that out (no gender differences). Couples also reported lower intimacy when they used the internet frequently and compulsively.

Husbands, in particular, reported less passion in their relationship. Wives reported more loneliness.

This is really serious and our smartphones, being internet-enabled devices are part of this problem. If you stop and think about it, it’s really horrible that there is such an impact on marriages.

It’s really a challenge to put our phones down, get off our laptops or tablets, and engage. Be human. Relate. Show some passion. Develop your sense of togetherness.

Mobile Phone Usage May Cause More Relational Issues Than Computer Usage

There was a small amount of research that suggests that mobile phone usage causes more relational issues than the use of other forms of technology. Chesley (2005) used data taken from the Cornel Couples and Career study to examine how cell phone use was impacting family dynamics.[iv]

Here’s what they found:

  1. “Cell phone use over time is associated with negative work-family and family-work spillover.” The two domains are crossing over in a way that people are not happy about.
  2. Cell phone use is associated with increased psychological distress.
  3. Cell phone use is associated with lower family satisfaction.

These same results were NOT found for computer use. It is noteworthy that this tool on convenience may also be a source of problems. While it purports to solve some problems it creates others just as quickly!

What Should a Couple Do About a Phone Addiction?

First of all, determine if you have a phone addiction. You can argue about who is more addicted to their phones, or we can email you a questionnaire – 25 items long. Each of you can fill it out and then you can talk about who has the phone addiction and what to do about that!

Ready To Move Past Denial?

Download the phone addiction questionnaire now to determine if your cell phone use is becoming a problem. Be sure your spouse does the same!

Remember though, that there is a difference between “heavy” use of a mobile phone and “compulsive” or “problematic” use of a mobile phone. (Billieux, 2012)[v] Some individuals are required to use their phone all day long for work or other purposes, and may not be addicted even though they use their phone as often as someone else who is addicted.

So get the download (click the orange button above), and then when you have figured out if there is a possible addiction or at least a problem going on, have a chat about the following ideas[vi] to see if they can be helpful to you.

  1. Determine your baseline usage: Begin filling out a daily mobile phone log which details the frequency of use, times of use, and what you are using the phone for each time. Seeing your baseline use can be a visual picture of how severe your addiction has become and becomes the basis for moving forward. There’s no better way to assess what’s happening than to actually write it down for a day or two.
  2. Identify the triggers to your use: Begin to monitor thoughts, situations, and stressors that tend to precede overuse of your mobile phone. This is critical. I tend to grab my phone if I’m unsure about something and looking for an answer – whether it be what to have for supper, or how to deal with a kid or bigger things like what to do with my life. Think about why you pick your phone up. Are you actually doing something, or is it just filling in a blank or reducing anxiety for you somehow?
  3. Determine a plan for moderate and controlled use of the mobile phone: As a couple, come up with a plan for what you believe would be moderate use of your phone. When is it ok to use it? What types of uses are ok at what times? Are there any times when use of phones should be completely off-limit? How will you know when your use has moved from moderate to out of control?

To give you an idea of what this is like, Caleb and I filled out the same downloadable questionnaire that we offer you and then discussed it live on the podcast episode. It’s not something I’m proud of…and I’m not about to publish it all here – but you can hear it all on the audio version.

[i] Charit Taneja, “The Psychology of Excessive Cellular Phone Use,” n.d.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Peter Kerkhof and Catrin Finkenauer, “Relationship Quality and Compulsive Internet Use: A Study Among Newlywed Couples,” n.d.

[iv] Noelle Chesley, “Blurring Boundaries? Linking Technology Use, Spillover, Individual Distress, and Family Satisfaction,” Journal of Marriage and Family 67, no. 5 (December 2005): 1237–48.

[v] Charit Taneja, “The Psychology of Excessive Cellular Phone Use.”

[vi] Kimberly Young, “Internet Addiction: Diagnosis and Treatment Considerations,” Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy 39, no. 4 (December 2009): 241–46, doi: