Relationships: When a smartphone turns into the 'other partner'


Sometimes couples become distant because of smartphone addiction. (Net photo)

Thesmart phone is the most sought after gadget. Blossoming romance is incomplete unless it is sealed with a gift of the latest smart phone. The smart phone has become a status symbol. In the words of Steve Jobs (RIP), co-founder and CEO of Apple: “It is not just a communication tool but a way of life.”

But there is a flip side to the Smartphone craze.  It is ruining marriages and other inter-personal relations. So it’s still the same familiar story of ‘Man vs Machine.’

Hence, the smartphone has been described as “the electronic enemy of love.”  Today, these devices are playing the role of the ‘other man/woman’ in relationships. In other words, they are now responsible for snatching your spouse or partner away from you – maybe even your entire family!

It’s pretty common walking into a restaurant and spotting a family out for dinner and, not a word exchanged all the while they are there because they are all engrossed with their phones.

Even children as young as eight now have phones and very little time for just good old socialising, where you actually sit with someone and talk!

A new national survey recently conducted in China blames ruined marriages and divided families squarely on the exponential rise in smartphone use in the country.

The survey by the All China Women’s Federation (ACWF) found that 60 percent of married respondents complained about intrusion from the smartphone use in their relationship.

Of course, this phenomenon is not unique to China alone, but with more than 500 million active smartphone users, it presents a good reference point.

The havoc that the smartphone is visiting on marriages and relationships is only a continuation of the damage that ordinary cell phones and the internet had already orchestrated.

Jerome Kajuga, the director of culture, social and human sciences UNESCO –Rwanda warns that phone addiction is a reality in marriage and relationships, especially for young couples and should be addressed.

“I sometimes have problems with my wife when I spend too much time on my phone or TV screen and vice versa. Sometimes she’s busy working on a document when I want to talk to her but she doesn’t seem to have time for me and considering my age, my tolerance for this is lower than younger couples.”

Kajuga describes the issue as a general problem in every family. 

“For instance sometimes I have heard my daughter making or receiving a call from her room deep in the night. So I think for couples yes, it’s a huge challenge but also for the whole family, especially young people. I think that phones and social media should be regulated,” Kajuga says.

The phones have children's apps that make learning more enjoyable.

Observers say that by their very nature, smartphones were always bound to exacerbate an already worrying situation. 

It has all these fancy apps you just have to make acquaintance with. But here’s the thing with smartphones, some people can’t go to bed without them; others check them the second daylight streams in through the curtain, and others even use them to keep an irritated baby calm!

Jeanine Uwase, a married woman had to take matters into her own hands before her husband’s phone habits spiralled out of control. Uwase is convinced that her husband’s phone addiction was affecting not just their relationship and family life, but his overall life.

The first thing she did was to talk her husband out of the habit of moving with a power bank, especially when going to church.

The other measure she instituted was in the bedroom.

“We decided that after a certain time, our phones would be switched off and if not, be left in the living room and the same applied for charging the phones. Even when I’m trying to sleep and the phone is charging in the bathroom or living room, I can still hear those beeps and message notifications and I can’t stand that.”

She admits that she too is a culprit of phone addiction, though not at the same level as her partner;

“It’s not easy to be in bed doing nothing when new tweets, new chats, new messages and status updates are jamming your phone!”

James an employee with a telecom company says that apart from placing and receiving calls or texting, a smartphone holder has a whole lot more digital mobile devices at their disposal.

There is a cache of Personal Digital Assistants on offer; events calendars, digital camera and digital video camera, media player, video games, and GPS navigation, he notes. Add to that other internet-enabled third-party software components like Soundcloud, Apple App Store and Google Play, and you have a device whose potential for social interruption has, in China at least, provoked the government’s concern and intervention.

People are also listening to or watching audio music files, streaming YouTube videos, playing games, browsing the internet, using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, reading e-books and listening to podcasts, contributing in chat rooms, and watching films or television shows –all at the touch of a smartphone button.

 What’s more, smartphones have entrenched the whole concept of the virtual office, with bosses now able to keep in touch with their employees round-the-clock. What this means is that employees increasingly have to work (or at least keep in touch with the employer) even outside of conventional working hours –checking and responding to mail, putting final touches to that report or presentation.

According to the survey mentioned earlier, in January 2015, a woman in the city of Wuhan smashed her husband’s $500 smartphone because he had been so engrossed in social media after coming home from work that he had ignored their three-year-old daughter, local media reported. Burying his head in his smartphone, he barely exchanged ten words with his daughter on some days, she complained.

Smartphones are used by very many people. 

Status symbols

At the launch of the first iPhone, a type of smartphone in 2007, Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple computers made a profound, if not prophetic statement:

“It is not just a communication tool but a way of life.”

So what would one expect from something that has been described as a lifestyle –the words coming from the horse’s mouth itself?

My own understanding of ‘lifestyle’ is that it’s those aspects of our lives that we take a little more personal than everything else, something of which we are regularly fond of or indulge in.

As for the smartphone, it’s both a lifestyle and a status symbol –viewed by many as a statement of one’s social class and economic status.

And status symbols have been around since the beginning of civilization. One of the earliest such objects to be viewed as a status symbol was gold, and to this day, some of the most iconic museums, buildings and other such places of heritage derive their appeal from their gold artefacts.

There was a time when watches were status symbols, just like cars. But then, status symbols are usually defined by their exclusivity and limited availability, so with time, it was no longer enough to simply own a car –it had to be a sports car. Same with watches, as these now had to be Swiss-manufactured.

The first phones, large enough to be compared to a brick or security guard’s baton in size were equally status symbols. Back then, it was all about whether you owned a phone or you did not.

The mass proliferation of cheap phones inevitably pushed manufacturers like Apple into endless innovation, thereby raising the standards as to what kind of handset constituted a status symbol. 

Today, the smartphone in all its variations has become the de facto status symbol of our time. So much so that a man out on a date with his wife or girlfriend is more likely to have their hands filled with smart gadgets as opposed to holding his partner’s hand or a wine glass or even better, pulling a seat for them.

But do you want to know the implications of the smartphone as a status symbol? Well, the first is that it has been sought by people from all social classes and walks of life.

While the genuinely rich want to show off their status, those that are not rich also aspire to be like the rich, or at least be viewed that way.

So in poorer societies like ours, you can be sure that for every ten smartphone holders you encounter, perhaps a greater percentage acquired the gadget just to ‘look good’. Yes, smartphones give that semblance of equality, deceptive though it might be.

What’s more, any half-butted attempt at borrowing or saving up will get you that iPhone 6, which is not the case with other loftier status toys like a mansion or that Toyota Rando Kuruza V8.


Are smartphones wrecking homes?

Antoinette Niyongira

If smartphones are not used properly, they can cause inconveniences. It may not make people cheat on each other, but it somehow ‘facilitates’ the vice. Misuse of smartphones can bring about disagreements, for instance, if you are having a conversation with your boyfriend and at the same time you are laughing at a joke on a WhatsApp group, he will feel disrespected and that can really destroy a relationship.

Antoinette Niyongira, radio personality


Gilbert Kalawanga

I wouldn’t call it a homewrecker, I think people just need to balance the time they spend on their phone and the time they put into their relationship. I don’t think smart phones spoil marriages or relationships.

Gilbert Kalawanga, architect


Godfrey Neza

We are in a busy and fast environment; a digital world where people are keen on what’s happening on Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, the list is endless. This leaves you little to no time at all for your partner, and that’s how cheating and quarrels come up.

Godfrey Neza, accountant


Felix Kayihura

There are pros and cons considering the fact that smartphones also help with communication. And lovers can share anything but a phone, when going to take a bath, or sleep, they put passwords to avoid ‘trouble’. People are misusing smartphones and this is breaking up families.

Felix Kayihura, lawyer


Aisha Kobusingye

Smartphones are ruining relationships and this is mostly because people are failing to manage them. People are on social media all the time and they forget what their responsibilities are, so this is where marriages are failing. And there is the issue of WhatsApp where people share wayward stuff regardless of their marital status.

Aisha Kobusingye, Businesswoman


Jules Tigana

Actually, a smartphone is a tool that facilitates efficient communication and when used well for something productive such as business, it is a tool that can play a vital role to achieve different goals. But some couples use them for unproductive things like flirting and cheating, thus the fights.

Jules Tigana, public servant


Thomas Muyombo

I don’t think so; smartphones don’t use people, people use smartphones. Something can’t destroy you when it has no control over you. There are many things that can take your attention and destroy your relationship, like alcohol or even sports.

Thomas Muyombo, musician


Anna Kaliza

I believe that smartphones are affecting marriages today because people are too busy on their phones and are not giving each other attention. In the long run, couples don’t have intimacy, which is the most important thing in a marriage. Also, parents are busy on social media and do not pay attention to their kids, so they are not taught how to behave. They are likely to grow up picking up bad habits from other people.

Anna Kaliza, mother