Spending too much time on your iPhone can damage more than your data cap. That’s because while you’re plugged in, she’s tuning out. A growing body of research indicates that your cell phone habits could be sinking your relationship.
When people text, they miss the immediate impact they have on others, causing communication to become messier and easier to misunderstand, says Lori Cluff Schade, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist at Brigham Young University.
If you’re guilty of these glitches, re-up your game with tips to keep your relationship from going under.
1. You Don’t Text Her Enough…
In a 2011 study from the University of Hartford, the people who had the most tension in their relationships were those who were pissed at their partners for not calling or texting enough.
“Technology is a means of testing the relationship,” says study author Robert Duran, Ph.D. “How quickly you respond is often of barometer of how interested you are.”
Fix it: The goal is to maintain independence without disappearing from each other’s radar. A lack of response can easily translate to a lack of interest, or leave you both fearing infidelity. (Suspect she’s straying? Check out the 6 Signs She’s Thinking of Cheating.)
But researchers also reported that establishing rules for cell phone use actually elevated tension between couples. So go about it casually: If you’re about to walk away from your cell phone, send a quick message that you’re “at the gym” or “driving.” Clue each other in on the best times, or ways, to be reached. This can leave you both with less time to worry about what you don’t know.
2. …Or You’re Texting Too Much
A recent study from Brigham Young University found that the more a guy texted, the less happy he and his significant other were in their relationship. “When women are texting more, they are simply using it as an additional way to connect in a happy relationship, says Schade. But when guys get text-happy, she says, “it could be a sign they’re avoiding more interpersonal forms of communication.”
Fix it: Strike a balance of back-and-forth communication—wait for her to respond before firing off multiple messages.
The same BYU study also found that couples who expressed affection via text enhanced their relationship quality. But don’t take that as license to smother her with heart emojis: Instead, text her with more depth. Something like “I just heard a song that reminded me of you,” can compliment her and start a two-way conversation.
3. You and Your Phone Have a Very Special Relationship
No one wants to be the third wheel with you and your phone. A study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture noted that ‘technoference’—interruptions from computers, cell phones, and television—all negatively affected a couple’s happiness.
“Allowing technology to interfere with or interrupt conversations, activities, and time with your significant other—even when unintentional or for brief moments—could be sending an unwanted signal to your partner about what you value most,” says study author Brandon McDaniel, Ph.D.(c).
Fix it: It’s not totally your phone’s fault. People with impulsive and easily distracted personalities tend to have a harder time tuning out technology. (Sound like you? See the 10 Surprising Signs You May Have ADHD).
Try turning off all your devices on a date, or during a meal, and focus on one-on-one conversation instead, says study coauthor Sarah Coyne, Ph.D.
What’s more, keeping your phones out of eyesight and earshot can help you connect on a more intimate level, research from the University of Essex suggests.
4. You Sext More Than You Text
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, an unsolicited sext could say way too much, too soon. According to a recent report from Indiana University, about 50 percent of men and women sext, even when they don’t want to.
Their reluctance comes from very different reasons—women tend to reciprocate sexts as a means to revive a relationship and appease their partner, while men sext partners simply because they felt expected or obligated to.
The status of a relationship is a critical factor for why women respond to a sext, says study author Michelle Drouin, M.D. “Women who feared losing their partner were more likely to do so, but even women in healthy relationships would sext to avoid an argument.”
Fix it: If your conversations aren’t leaving much to the imagination, there could be an underlying issue you’re both skating around. And be careful: Consenting to avoid an argument and sexual coercion could easily be blurred when one of you asks for explicit photos. Flirtation is fine, but make sure you’re incorporating conversational foreplay as well so you’re both clear on what you want out of the relationship.
“Let your own relationship and sexual boundaries help you figure out when it is appropriate to send such musings,” says Drouin. “Respect your partner’s boundaries and don’t push the issue.”
5. You Attempt to Discuss Serious Stuff
Don’t mistake your phone for a shield. The Brigham Young University study also notes that when men used technology to bring up potentially hurtful topics with their partner, both experienced dissatisfaction in the relationship. Certain topics don’t translate well through texts or social media, so bringing them up in these settings can often make the face-to-face conversation even worse later on.
Fix it: Treat texting like a cocktail party chat—mild-manner drunkenness is fine as long as you check political debates and religious musings at the door. “The more emotionally laden a topic is, the less successful a texting conversation will be,” says Schade.
If you start to broach a topic that can’t be discussed in 3 to 4 texts, call or meet to resolve it, she says.
This article originally appeared in Men's Health US.