Technology as the Third Spouse - The Impact of Smartphones on Newlywed Couples

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Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
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Social and Behavioral Sciences
Social Work
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Background Recent research has explored the impact of technology and smartphone use on relationships. This is the first study to address smartphone use in the newlywed stage of marriage. The newlywed time period is the foundational phase of a marital relationship. Technological changes have become part of our culture and smartphone technology has become central to individuals’ lives. The accessibility and size of the smartphone, along with the features it provides, is different from all other devices, thus creating a more intimate and dependent relationship with it. Methods The aim of this study was to expand upon the existing research related to smartphone technology by addressing the gap in the literature on smartphone use during the newlywed time period. This qualitative study explored the experiences of smartphone use in newlywed couples when in each other's presence and how smartphones were part of a newlywed couple’s interaction. Twenty newlywed couples, married between one and four years were interviewed separately, totaling a sample of 40 participants. Data were collected from June 2020 through July 2020 until saturation was met. Results The five themes that were illuminated in this study were, Vehicle, Mindset, Phone Rules, Interface, and Circular Use. The themes were developed based on the appreciation of the common experience of all the participants within their newlywed marriage in relation to their smartphone use (n=40). The results indicated that the smartphone is a neutral reflection of its user and is a vehicle that can be used to either magnify or minimize the value of the couple’s interaction when together. The user’s needs and mindset drive the use of the smartphone. Depending on the spouse’s mindset, the smartphone was used to either enhance bonding or to create a momentary outlet within the relationship. The unexpected finding that a person’s mindset effected their smartphone use informed the reason why individuals used their smartphone object in the moment when with their spouse. Discussion These findings support that when the newlywed couple either employed rules or made quality time a priority by putting the brakes on their smartphone consumption, smartphone use did not have a negative effect on their feelings of attachment to each other. This study suggests the importance of understanding a spouse’s mindset as a motivating factor for smartphone use during shared interactions in order for the couple to better acknowledge each other’s needs and support their developing marital bond. This research has provided information that stresses the importance of helping couples exchange their seeking of connection to their devices in exchange for live and conscious connection to their partner.

Ram A. Cnaan, Ph.D.
Marni Rosner, DSW
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