Signs of smartphone addiction

The digital revolution has a profound impact on families and our humanity in general.
The digital revolution has a profound impact on families and our humanity in general.
Image: 123RF/NENETUS

Smartphone and social media addiction has become the other partner in many relationships. It’s the enemy of authentic love that gradually dries up intimacy and connection in many marriages.

Cape Town-based divorce and family law attorney, Bertus Preller published the top 10 reasons why marriages are dissolved in SA back in 2012 based on records of divorce actions instituted in 2011.

“Addiction” in that study was number five, and “social networks” was in fourth place. He broadened his explanation of addiction beyond just drugs and substance abuse to include internet as an enabler of pornography.

We were quite perturbed, though not surprised, that smartphone and social media addiction, which was still an emerging trend back then, could already be officially cited in court papers as reasons for divorce and particularly ranked as fourth out of 10 reasons already then.

The devastation in the eyes of frustrated partners we seat with during our coaching sessions around smartphone and social media addiction is too sad to articulate. We compiled a list of some tell-tale signs that you or your spouse may be addicted:

  • Take excessive amount of selfies just to get to that one “perfect” picture you may still need to filter before updating it. Otherwise you get very miserable if you can’t find that perfect picture out of the many you took such that you won’t update any of them.
  • Wouldn’t like, comment or repost a picture with you that’s updated by someone else where you believe you didn’t strike the right pose or the picture remotely reveals a certain physical flaw about you.
  • Can no longer actually enjoy the moment as you “have to” take pictures of anything including food, drinks, venue, objects and so on just to make an update.
  • Sleep with the cellphone on or under the pillow.
  • Pay lesser attention to the real world, as you have to browse and comment even at ungodly hours, including while spending time with your spouse.
  • Use your phone while driving. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen or read of horrible road accidents as a result of cellphone usage while driving, the need to satisfy your dopamine rush far outweighs the possible consequences.
  • Suffer from nomophobia, as you seldom leave the house without your phone. Even worse, you never leave one room to another in the house without taking the phone with.
  • Become anxious, jittery or uncomfortable when there’s no network service; have run out of battery and have no charger or the phone is broken.
  • Eat meals and hold meetings with your phone on the table. We’ve sat with many couples whose partners reported the other as having to be on the phone while on romantic dinners and even at movie cinemas. We also often see many individuals checking the phone while at the gym because they just have to tell the whole world that they in fact are at the gym, and spend the rest of the day checking the comments and likes.
  • Get concerned when the phone hasn’t rung or received some notification.
  • Have had persistent failed attempts to cut back on cellphone use, and have now given up.
  • Have put your relationship in jeopardy due to smartphone usage. Your partner has often complained about your consistently being on the phone.
  • You just can’t run out of data, and you’re willing to cut back even on essential necessities just so you can have sufficient data for the month.
  • When your partner points out your excessive use of the phone, you become very defensive to the point of being verbally aggressive with them.

The mere presence of a cellphone during an exchange has been proven to negatively impact connection, authenticity, quality of conversation, and closeness in romantic relationships.

You can imagine the detrimental effects smartphone and social media addiction has on human relationships. We’re aware of partners in relationships that get so frustrated with the other that they consciously want nothing to do with social media. 

If you’re feeling worried, neglected, or depressed over your spouse’s smartphone addiction, it’s time to address the matter head on. Just like helping someone with a drug addiction, it won’t be easy for them to even acknowledge they have a smartphone and social media addiction problem. Chances are, you’ve already confronted your spouse many times about this to no avail. Addicted individuals often respond in a defensive manner when confronted, which is counterproductive to the recovery process.

Communicate in an empathetic and non-judgmental manner how your spouse’s addiction is affecting you and your relationship. While in it, refocus them back into why you married them in the first place, and how their excessive attention to the phone is eating away at your relationship.

Emphasise on your spouse’s positive qualities that are apparent without smartphone use. This will help minimise chances of them being defensive and feeling criticised. You may also commit to a number of self-regulation methods like setting time periods in which smartphone use is forbidden and committing to overnight charging your phones in a different room than your bedroom.

Overall, it’s important to remember that you must foster a loving and caring environment if you would like your spouse to respond positively. This kind of environment will create trust moving forward.

The spouse that spends countless hours on their smartphone and social media at the expense of valuable personal interaction, creates a permanent disconnect that’s difficult to repair. And it has unintended consequences like rejection, abandonment, jealousy, competition, bitterness and loneliness. The lack of trust smartphone and social media addiction causes is easily capable of even leading to the dissolution of the relationship.


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