Results from Counselling Directory’s survey highlight the detrimental impact excessive phone use has on relationships
A new survey of over 900 therapists conducted by Counselling Directory and Happiful Magazine, has highlighted the potentially negative impact of phone usage and social media scrolling upon romantic relationships.
The results of the survey carried out earlier this month have been published to coincide with Happiful’s #ScrollControl campaign, launched on 30 August, to encourage mindful usage of phones and prioritising face-to-face communication and connection.
- 64% of the Counselling Directory members who responded to the survey said that mobile phone usage is a subject that comes up in private counselling - indicating that it’s “quite common” or “somewhat common” for the topic to be mentioned as a problem in the lives of their clients.
- 40% of those who cited mobile phone usage as a problem said that it impacts people’s relationships more than in any other area of their lives, mainly causing feelings of rejection, communication breakdown and problems with sexual intimacy.
Counselling Directory members shared the following anonymised examples* of how the use of mobile phone can cause feelings of rejection, sexual intimacy and ultimately a breakdown in communications.
Feelings of Rejection
The Counselling Directory survey revealed that clients have shared feeling abandoned and rejected when their partner is on the phone instead of spending time with them. Others said they feel that their partner is using their mobile phone as a way to avoid talking to them, interacting or discussing their relationship.
One Counselling Directory member explained, “It’s interesting to listen to clients talking about situations where they have felt rejected, ignored or shunned due to their partner’s mobile phone use when out for a meal, during sexual intimacy, romance, or in the midst of talking about their own relationship issues. The message seems to be portrayed by the other person as ‘my phone is more important than you or what we were doing’ or ‘I’m way more interested in my phone than you.’
The counsellor shared that this perceived rejection feels similar to physical pain and may cause a drop in mood and self esteem and a surge in anxiety, anger and resentment and hurt feelings. Quite often, the person using the phone has little to no idea of the impact their actions have on their partner’s self esteem and their relationship.
There were many examples of how mobile phones affect sexual intimacy from Counselling Directory members. Counsellors cited partners who look at their phones as soon as they wake up, and so the opportunity for intimacy was lost because their partner would then get involved in replying to messages.
Partners can also often feel romantically neglected because of excessive phone use. One counsellor explained, “I hear complaints about how mobile phone interactions serve as a distraction in romantic relationships by the way of taking away quality time and attention in the relationship.
“This makes the other partner feel neglected, left out and sometimes envious of the interaction their partner is having with others and not them. Especially if they really value quality face-to-face time, interaction and intimacy with their partner.”
Complaints about the lack of sex were also mentioned, with one client sharing that both they and their partner would go to bed with their iPads in hand. One client had shared that their partner even kept her phone with her during sex.
A sex and couples counsellor stated, “As a couple’s counsellor, I find that clients who are disconnected with each other use phones to escape and often have their attachment needs met through the virtual world. As a sex therapist I have noticed a definite link between use of phones, often to look at porn or use virtual contact, and impact on couples’ intimacy.”
Infidelity and inappropriate sexting also came up as an issue, specifically that phones make it really easy to sext and develop inappropriately close or sexual relationships outside of a marriage or partnership. One counsellor said, “I’ve noticed an increase in reported incidents where clients have caught their partner using their phone for inappropriate sexual contact - this in itself has on occasion been the key issue that the person is wanting to work on - they feel betrayed by their partner, and are often left feeling insecure, jealous and hurt.”
Breakdown in Communications
Breakdown in communication was a key issue shared by a large number of respondents. One Counselling Directory Member explained, “The impact of mobile phone use is being raised more and more by couples in counselling. Many clients take their mobile phones into the bedroom. This can take precedence over a face-to-face conversation and of course, at times this can be used as a distraction technique if one partner wants to avoid talking about a difficult topic. Mobile phones have many well-documented positive uses, but if they are used instead of real human contact and connection, this is a high price to pay for the convenience.”
The lack of face-to-face communication between couples, even those who live together, was also shown to be problematic. “Increasingly I am hearing from clients about them sending text messages to partners with whom they are in the same house. Rather than walking a flight of stairs to speak, a message is sent which often creates greater and more frequent mis-understandings. It is also seemingly common for there to be no conversation between partners as one or both are continuously busy on their phones.
“With social media being a key player, it is now becoming destructive as jealousy relating to ‘online only’ friends is increasingly prevalent. It would seem that the communication within couples is at a real low and, as relationships degrade, the phone appears to be both the creator and reliever of the stresses that it creates.”
“A recurring theme that presents itself in therapy is clients’ unhappiness that they feel a rupture in the connection with their partners when they are on the phone,” another Counselling Directory Member shared. “There is a sense of abandonment and rejection that is often felt, especially if their partner is communicating with a regular online friends.
“The time spent on the phone creates a barrier to communicating with the person beside them. The decrease in human connection as we know can lead to feeling lonely and in turn this impacts on a person’s mental health.”
This survey was conducted as part of Happiful Magazine and Counselling Directory’s #ScrollControl campaign, set to launch on 30 August. While highlighting the positive impact and opportunities phones and apps can bring, the campaign seeks to prompt people to consider how they use their phones and if they need or want to make a change and find ways to claim back control. Find more information at www.happiful.com.
Notes To Editors
For more information and interviews please contact PR Manager Amie Sparrow email@example.com or on 01276 580 030 / 07481 742 801.
*Anonomised quotes on the topic are available from the survey along with interviews with professional counsellors or relationship therapists. For more information contact Amie, information above.
About the survey:
The polling cited in this release was carried out by Counselling Directory in August 2019. A total of 912 counsellors responded to the survey, which was only accessible to members of Counselling Directory.
Counsellor’s names have been withheld to further anonymise potentially sensitive client information.
Key statistic 1: Counselling Directory asked more than 900 professional counsellors if mobile phones are identified as problematic in people’s lives, and 64% of our surveyed therapists said it’s “quite common” or “somewhat common” for mobile phones to be mentioned as a problem in the lives of clients in the therapy room.
Key statistic 2: Our therapists indicate that nearly 40% of people who address mobile phone usage as a problem in counselling say that it is impacting their relationships more than any other area of their lives.
This survey was conducted as part of Counselling Directory’s #ScrollControl campaign, set to launch on 31 August. While highlighting the positive impact and opportunities phones and apps can bring, the campaign seeks to prompt people to consider how they use their phones and if they need or want to make a change and find ways to claim back control. Find more information at www.happiful.com.
About Counselling Directory:
Counselling Directory has been helping connect people with the help they need since 2005. Listing more than 17,000 professional counsellors and psychotherapists nationwide, everyone has the opportunity to find mental health support. Counselling Directory also provides helpful information on therapy types and common mental health concerns, articles from qualified therapists, as well as public and professional events. Counselling Directory is part of the Happiful family. We exist to support others, to continually challenge stigma around mental health and mental illness, and to promote wellbeing.
About Happiful magazine:
Happiful is the only UK lifestyle magazine purely devoted to mental health. Read more of Happiful Magazine at happiful.com. The magazine, published independently, is supported by sister directories including Counselling Directory and Life Coach Directory.
Happiful is on sale in Waitrose, Tesco, Morrisons, Asda and WH Smith Travel. A free e-magazine is available by subscribing to the newsletter and print copies are also available for purchase at https://shop.happiful.com.