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'Technoference' May be Hurting Your Love Life: Put the Device Away

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You may love your smartphone or other personal high-tech device, but that doesn't mean your lover does, causing your relationship to suffer from "technoference," a new study finds.

The small but frequent everyday distractions and interruptions that are part and parcel of smartphones and other electronic devices can interfere with romantic relationships, researchers say.

In a study conducted with more than 140 women in committed relationships, three-quarters of them reported they felt cell phones detracted from their ability to interact with their spouse or partner.

"I was surprised about the amount of people saying that this happens in their relationship every day," says study leader Sarah Coyne, a professor in Brigham Young University's  department of family life. "You are sitting there and kind of bored and check Facebook ... it is almost our default to turn to our phones."

Women reporting what Coyne has dubbed "technoference" also found they got into more fights with their spouse or partner, which in turn left them feeling badly about the relationship.

In addition, they said, it left them feeling depressed and less satisfied with their lives.

"What I think the most important finding is, the more you let the technology interfere, the more conflict you have with your spouse or partner and that leads to not feeling great about the relationship," says Coyne, who co-authored the study appearing in Psychology of Popular Media Culture with Brandon T. McDaniel of Pennsylvania State University.

A number of previous studies have focused on the unhealthy effects of cell phone dependence.

Baylor University professor James A. Roberts, in study in 2012, coined the term "phub," combining phone with snub, to describe when a person chooses to text, accept a phone call or use an app rather than pay attention to someone they're with.

"Essentially, what we are saying is that you don't matter," he says.  "It really devalues our loved ones."

Cell phone attachment has been linked to increases in stress, anxiety and even depression, Roberts says.

Part of the problem, the researchers acknowledge, is the ubiquitous nature of cellphones -- we all have one as part of fitting in to modern society.

Coyne says her research was a real eye-opener, both on a professional and a personal level.

"It's a wake-up call to me because I realized I'm doing this, too," she says. "That's insane to say that as a professional who researches this, but we can let these devices over-rule our entire lives if we allow it."

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