Are you giving more attention to your phone than your S.O.? This habit is called “phubbing,” and it’s probably not doing your relationship any good. (Photo: Getty Images)
We’ve all been there: You’re spending quality time with your partner, when they whip out their phone and completely block you out.
While the action is small, it can be infuriating — and new research has discovered that it can cause everything from a decrease in your relationship satisfaction to feelings of depression.
For the uninitiated, phubbing (short for “phone snubbing”) is a term coined to capture the practice of ignoring the person you’re with by paying more attention to your phone than to them. StopPhubbing.com, a tongue-in-cheek website devoted to spreading awareness about the behavior — they report that “if phubbing were a plague, it would decimate six Chinas” — features a spot where you can upload images of your friends phubbing, called “the Phubbing Hall of Shame.”
The new research findings were part of a study of more than 450 adults on “partner phone snubbing” (which they called “Pphubbing”) that was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
Among the more detailed findings:
- More than 46 percent said they’ve been phubbed by their partner.
- More than 22 percent said phubbing caused issues in their relationship.
- Nearly 37 percent said they feel depressed at least some of the time.
Study co-author James A. Roberts, a professor at Baylor University and author of Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?, tells Yahoo Health that there is a direct correlation between phubbing and relationship issues. “We found that the ones that reported higher partner phubbing fought more with their partner and were less satisfied with their relationship than those who reported less phubbing,” he says.
According to StopPhubbing.com, New York City is the city with the worst phubbing behavior. (Infographic: StopPhubbing.com)
Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona tells Yahoo Health that he’s not surprised at all by the findings. “As the use of smartphones continues to proliferate, negative feelings such as anger, hurt, or jealousy around a significant other’s attention to and engagement with their phone has become a commonplace and often serious problem for many,” he says.
And depression is included among those problems. While it sounds extreme that a partner’s smartphone use can make you feel depressed, psychologist Paul Coleman tells Yahoo Health that the resulting drop in relationship satisfaction is the biggest issue. He says about half of all clinical depression can be linked to relationship unhappiness: “Depression is multifaceted, but often improving the quality of a relationship can help improve depression.”
Of course, not everyone will feel depressed if they’re regularly partner-phubbed. Roberts’s research found that people with anxious attachment styles (i.e., those who need to spend more time with their partner and require higher levels of assurance and validation) had higher levels of cellphone conflict in their relationship than those with less anxious attachment styles.
Want to know if you’re being phubbed? Answer yes or no to the following statements:
- During a typical mealtime together, my partner pulls out and checks his/her cellphone.
- My partner places his or her cellphone where they can see it when we are together.
- My partner keeps his or her cellphone in their hand when he or she is with me.
- When my partner’s cellphone rings or beeps, he/she pulls it out even if we are in the middle of a conversation.
- My partner glances at his/her cellphone when talking to me.
- During leisure time that my partner and I are able to spend together, my partner uses his/her cellphone.
- My partner uses his or her cellphone when we are out together.
- If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his or
The more you answer “yes” to the statements, the more likely phubbing is a potential problem in your relationship.
Here’s how to stop the phubbing
Luckily, experts say there are steps you can take to improve the situation if you find you’re being regularly phubbed.
Cilona recommends having a frank discussion with your partner as soon as you realize the phubbing is having a negative impact on your relationship. During that conversation, talk about how the phubbing makes you feel and establish boundaries you both can agree on for future phone use.
“The emphasis should be on a true negotiation and genuine compromise, so that both partners’ needs and preferences are factored into final agreements,” he says.
Roberts also recommends getting a phone usage-tracking app such as Moment, which tells you how many hours a day you’re on your phone. “That in and of itself can be enough of a catalyst to cut back,” he says.
And finally, Roberts points out that partner phubbing isn’t always a one-way street, so it’s important to be understanding of your partner’s behavior … and truthful about your own in the process. “This is a deeply ingrained behavior. A lot of us do it,” he says.