Studies: Your cellphone may be weakening your relationships

Published On: Feb 05 2013 06:48:38 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 05 2013 06:54:01 PM CST

Cellphones make it possible for people to communicate instantly, whether they're next door or on the other side of the world.

It turns out they can make a big impact on your face-to-face interactions, too.

Two new studies from the University of Essex show just having a cellphone around while you're talking to someone might be a big mistake. There's now evidence it can have negative effects on closeness, connection and even trust.

Kelsey Bock was on a double date recently when one of the guys pulled out his cellphone.

"We all just looked at him and we were like, 'What are you doing?' And he was like, 'Updating Twitter, what I'm eating.' Like, who cares? I don't know, it's really frustrating," said Bock.

Sound familiar? You're not alone.

Marriage and family therapist Julie Windahl said more and more couples are coming to her complaining about cellphones interfering with their relationships.

She said, as a generation of multitaskers, people have started multitasking with their interactions too.

"I think that we're trying to do as many things as possible, and that's probably why the cellphone is so appealing, because we can interact with someone face-to-face and also with an electronic device," said Windahl.

But the University of Essex studies show people don’t even have to be using their cellphones for them to weaken their relationships.

Just having a cellphone in the room during a face-to-face conversation can make people feel like their partner is less empathetic and less understanding.

"I think that even if the phone is not being utilized, it's still kind of an ominous object sitting there, and it's kind of like it could go off at any minute," said Windahl.

And University of Wisconsin-La Crosse sophomore Matt Birschbach said that sends a bad message.

"If you're just checking Facebook or Twitter, I don't know, it's sends me [the message] that you're bored with me or you're not really, like, into the date at all. Like, you have better things to do with your time," said Birschbach.

But that doesn't mean he hasn't checked his phone on a date himself.

"I have, actually, yeah. I mean, I think most of us are guilty of doing it. I mean, most of us live on our phone," said Birschbach.

Windahl said she usually tells her clients it's important to have a designated time during the day when they shut their phones off and just talk to each other.

But it might be harder than you think. The Mobile Mindset study, a survey of U.S. smartphone users, shows nearly 60 percent don't go an hour without checking their phones. Thirty percent of those surveyed admitted they check their phones while eating a meal with others.