Marriages today seemingly face more of an uphill battle than ever before. This is unfortunate given all we know about how important marriage is to the well-being of men, women, children and society at large.
An important new research report from scholars at the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) explains how that little ubiquitous device we so often find in our hand distracting us is increasingly an enemy of our marriages. They explain, “Smartphones and social media were supposed to bring us closer together. But the more we learn about their effects, the more we see that these tools come with a price.”
They add, “There is growing evidence that our closest, most important relationships, such as our marriages and dating relationships, are suffering as a result.”
These scholars found that just over a third (37%) of married Americans report their spouse is on the phone or paying attention to some other screen when they would wish they would engage with them personally as a couple. Such feelings certainly do not contribute to marital intimacy and trust. IFS reports the problem is even worse among lower-income couples, where 44% complained their spouse is too often distracted by their phone or online device. For higher-income couples, only 31% expressed this complaint.
Not surprisingly, young couples are most likely to report their smart phones are infringing on their relational closeness. Forty-four percent of spouses under age 35 complain about this compared to 34% of couples in the 35-55 age range. Both husbands and wives are just as likely to complain about smartphone distraction eating into their time and attention together. And the problem is no respecter of political or religious beliefs, with both liberals and conservatives, regular church attenders and non-attenders sharing the same relational frustration.
Growing Tech Use and Lower Marital Happiness
Compulsive smartphone use is shown to cut into marital quality, as spouses who report this distraction are less likely to report happy marriages.
And this feeling seems to amount to more than just relational frustration. It is related to greater fear of divorce. IFS reports, “About a quarter of couples who lack control over their phones (26%) say their marriages may end in a divorce in the near or distant future.” Things are dramatically different for couples who manage their technology use more carefully. “Among couples without a phone issue, only 7% say they are pessimistic about their marriage.” The data IFS uncovered on divorce concerns looks like this:
These scholars add, “Moreover, the odds of a future divorce perceived by these couples is four times higher than it is among couples who do not have a phone problem.” This is certainly not insignificant.
IFS also finds the link between smartphones and relationship quality remains significant after controlling for a range of factors such as age, sex, race, education, income, and whether couples have children. “Holding all these factors constant, couples who experience phone distractions are about 70% less likely than other couples to be very happy with their marriage” their report explains.
And there is one other very significant marital factor that is negatively affected by increased phone and pad use within marriage: less sex. IFS found that “couples with greater control over their phones are more likely to report more frequent sex.”
Fewer Date Nights Too
Excessive distractions online also cut into the strong marital benefit of regular date nights. This IFS research explains that “couples where one spouse is often on the phone, however, are less likely to go on dates.” Specifically, “Nearly 6 in 10 of these couples (58%) say that they either do not have date nights or only have a date night a few times a year, compared to 48% of couples who do not have a phone problem.”
These scholars explain it is difficult to determine whether the increased tech us is the cause of these problems or results because intimacy in the marriage is lacking. It is probably a little bit of both. They explain, “The most likely scenario is that marital difficulty and addiction to smartphones are reinforcing each other, and that – without breaking out of the smartphone addiction – the underlying marital problems will be exacerbated to the breaking point and become near impossible to address.”
IFS concludes this important report with this wise encouragement,
Marriage is the thread that holds society together. For the sake of their families and for the good of society, spouses should be empowered to resist the technological forces that threaten to fray the marital bond.
Couples are wise to be mindful of the troubling foxes that enter and spoil the vineyard of their marriage.
If your marriage is struggling, Focus on the Family offers Hope Restored Marriage Intensives. Hope Restored is a biblically based, Christian counseling experience for couples facing a crisis moment in their marriage or suffering from years of disconnection and relationship decay. You can find out more about Hope Restored here.
Lastly, Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department offers help from licensed or pastoral counselors. To request a conversation with Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department, call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time), or complete our Counseling Consultation Request Form. Please be prepared to leave your contact information for a counselor to return a call to you as soon as possible. The consultation is available at no cost to you due to generous donor support and will be with one of our licensed or pastoral counseling specialists.