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4 Red Flags About Your Partner's Cell Phone Use, According to Therapists

Keep a lookout for these potentially problematic habits.

Cell phones play a ubiquitous role in modern relationships. From texting and calling to social media, we use them to stay in contact with our partners, whether they're near or afar. They provide an easy avenue for making date plans, checking in during the work day, or just letting your significant other know you're thinking about them. But they can also cause issues in relationships, too. That's why experts say it's so important to pay attention to your partner's cell phone use. Certain habits and activities may spell trouble.

"How your partner uses their cell phone can provide valuable insights into their state of mind," explains Lisa Lawless, PhD, a clinical psychotherapist and CEO of Holistic Wisdom. "In some ways, it can gauge how healthy your relationship is and things that may need to be addressed."

That's not to say that all shady cell phone behavior spells doom for your relationship. Rather, experts advise confronting your partner about any concerning behavior you've noticed so you can get their side of the story—and hopefully, repair the issue before it snowballs into a bigger one. With that in mind, here are four red flags you'll want to keep a lookout for.

READ THIS NEXT: 5 Red Flags About the Emojis Your Partner Is Texting, According to Therapists.

1
They're suddenly on their phone all the time.

young couple sitting in the park with cell phones
Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

Some people spend more time on their phones than others—and that's OK. But if you notice that your partner has been glued to their screen more often than usual lately, that could be a red flag, says Rachel Hoffman, LCSW, chief clinical officer at Real.

"A dramatic change in behavior regardless of whether it is in cell phone use or anything else can be cause for concern," explains Hoffman. "It's most important to pay attention to how your partner's cell phone use makes you feel. Are you feeling uneasy, anxious, or uncomfortable? If that's the case, then it's possible that the way your partner is engaging with their cell phone feels different to you than it has in the past. It's important to address these feelings with a partner as opposed to criticizing them for their phone use."

2
They hide their phone as soon as you enter the room.

man hiding phone
Mladen Zivkovic / Shutterstock

According to Laurel Steinberg, PhD, a relationship therapist in private practice, it's worth taking note if your partner is super secretive with their phone—for example, they stash it away or turn off the screen whenever you approach.

This could potentially mean that they're hiding something from you, whether that's a gambling addiction, inappropriate texting with a coworker, or something else altogether. The only way to know for sure, though, is to have an open and honest conversation about it.

So, rather than making assumptions about what they're doing on their phone—and why they're so concerned about you seeing it—it's best to just ask.

READ THIS NEXT: 5 Things You're Not Texting Your Partner That Therapists Say You Should Be.

3
They're on their phone when you're trying to have quality time.

Senior couple on couch with wine and cell phones
iStock

It's one thing if your partner occasionally scrolls through Instagram or answers texts while you're just hanging around in the living room or watching a show in bed. But if it seems like they can never be fully present with you no matter what you're doing together, or they can't show up for you because they're more invested in what's happening on their phone, Steinberg says that's cause for concern.

To be clear, this doesn't necessarily mean that your partner is having an affair or is uninterested in spending time with you. Steinberg notes that this could indicate something is wrong at work, which, of course, you'd likely want to know so you can be supportive.

Try letting your partner know how their constant cell phone use makes you feel, and ask them what's going on in a curious but non-accusatory way.

"We are all guilty of our phones being integrated into our lives," adds Marquita Johnson, a licensed professional counselor and owner at MC3. "But it may be helpful to discuss boundaries around what is okay in your relationship."

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4
They get defensive about their cell phone use.

Couple arguing about smart phone
New Africa / Shutterstock

Let's say you confront your partner about their cell phone habits, whether that's how often they're on their phone or the way they hide their phone from you. If your partner responds with defensiveness, that's another red flag, according to Lawless.

It may indicate that they know they're doing something wrong but can't own up to it. Or, it may simply show their unwillingness to validate your feelings and adjust their behavior as needed.

If this is how your partner reacts, Lawless suggests being as upfront as possible about the effects that their habits are having on you. "Focus on your feelings and avoid blame, as it will allow for a more open dialogue with one another."

More specifically, Lawless suggests finding opportunities for the sincere use of phrases like "I agree," "I understand," and "That's helpful to know" in order to disarm your partner and encourage them to lower their defense mechanisms.

Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health/wellness, lifestyle, and travel writer. Read more
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