What is Phubbing? Is it Harming Your Relationship?

What is Phubbing? Is it Harming Your Relationship?

Phubbing, or phone snubbing, is an all-too-common behavior these days, but the real question to ask is whether phubbing is harming your relationship.

First, what is phubbing exactly?

Imagine you and your guy are out for date night. You’d like to talk about what movie you should go see later, but he’s got his thumbs furiously tapping on his phone. He’s engrossed and completely oblivious to the fact that you’re talking to him.

That’s phubbing.

Look on your next public transportation ride – I’ll bet you that the majority of people are phubbing. They’re engrossed in their phones so deeply that they miss what’s going on around them.

Why do People use Phubbing?

Of course, there’s a why associated with phubbing, and I think it’s important to understand it so we can dig down to why it harms relationships.

Phubbers are often Phubbed

If you’ve been phubbed a lot before, you’re more likely to engage in the same behavior. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?

This is backed up by a scientific study.

Science is Still Studying

As far as scientific research goes, phubbing is a newer phenomenon, however, this doesn’t mean that there’s no information. It simply means that more information is needed to make well informed conclusions.

So, what that means to our conversation is that there are some ideas on who’s more likely to be phubbing, but there could be more information to come.

One prevailing thought is that phubbing is associated with people who have an addictive personality to start with. Since phubbing can be seen as a smartphone addiction, this makes sense. Some science has initially proven this to be true.

Along with that, some believe a social media addiction is closely related or correlated to phubbing. Again, this makes sense. If you’re hooked on social media, where are you going to spend your time?

Part of the social media problem, which is also new in scientific research, is learning whether people are using social media to form their own identity. Who you are in real life is who you project on social media, except it isn’t. That doesn’t stop people from trying to build an identity around what they post on social media.

FoMO is another reason for phubbing. FoMO, for those of us who are older (I had to look it up) is fear of missing out. Again, it makes sense because much of FoMO relates to social media.

Studies don’t yet agree on whether men or women are more prone to phubbing. Some say yes while other studies say no.

Additionally, there’s good news if you’re married as married people are usually less prone to phubbing.

Emotional Intelligence and Physical Aggression

Some have studied the relationship between emotional intelligence, physical aggression, and phubbing.

Research to date tells us that emotional intelligence can be a predictor of phubbing. Those with high emotional intelligence are able to control their emotions while those with low emotional intelligence cannot. Those with lower emotional intelligence are more likely to engage in phubbing.

So, it stands to reason that physical aggression would also have a relationship with phubbing. Some who have low emotional intelligence, but not all, are more prone to physical or verbal aggression.

More Information is Needed

Obviously, since this whole smartphone world is relatively new, the science behind its impact on our lives truly remains to be seen, but now let’s dig into how phubbing negatively impacts your relationship.

Phubbing and the Impact on Your Relationship


One common problem often associated with phubbing is jealousy. Imagine you’re on a date with your guy and all he wants to do is be on his phone.

What’s your first thought? Who has his attention so much that he can’t tear himself away to talk to you, right? Of course! That’s what anyone would think.

He’s Phubbing, You’re Phubbing

One of the first things I mentioned was that a predictor of whether you’re a phubber or not can be whether it’s been done to you.

If your guy is phubbing and ignoring you, what’s a girl to do? Get her smartphone out and join the phubbing party.

The problem with this is that you’re supposed to be out enjoying one another, but you aren’t. If one of you isn’t really into the whole smartphone thing, it can become very aggravating.

It Promotes an Environment of Retaliation

Some studies have shown that when your partner is phubbing, it makes you angry, of course, and your desire for retaliation is higher. You want revenge for being ignored.

This makes sense again because when you’re in a relationship, you want the attention of your loved one, but if all their time is spent with their nose in their phone, they barely know you exist.

You’re Very Dissatisfied with Your Relationship

To me, there’s already a high rate of relationships ending for reasons that could be avoided, and this seems as if it would fall into the same category.

What I mean by this is that if you or your partner simply realize that your behavior is hurting the other, you would quit or at least slow way the heck down so you wouldn’t continue to hurt them.

People who have phubbing partners, often called ‘phubbees’ reported lower relationship satisfaction in a study during which the partners were asked to keep a daily journal that also noted how extreme they felt the phubbing had been during the day.

Now that You’re Aware of the Harm of Phubbing

If you’re the phubber, I hope you see how your behavior is harming your relationship. If you’re the phubbee, I hope you see that what you’re feeling is backed up by science. Your partner is physically, but not mentally present.

If you feel frustrated, ignored, and unhappy with your relationship, you’re right where you should be. Your feelings are to be expected.

It’s unfortunate that we’re becoming so socially isolated because of technology. During COVID, we learned how to engage in relationships without being physically present, but there are things about being in close proximity to your partner that can’t be replaced.

Touch is very important because it gives us a feeling of being appreciated and loved. There is actually a physical response to being touched that helps reduce your stress and anxiety.

If we begin to dump our noses into our phones, we’re missing out on a huge aspect to a relationship. Not only are we avoiding eye contact, but there’s no touch, no conversation, no interaction of any sort.

So to answer the original question – is phubbing harming your relationship, the answer is a big YES!

How can you stop?

How to Stop Phubbing

Acknowledge the Problem

Of course, the first step in solving any problem is acknowledging that the problem exists. We often equate this to alcoholism, but the truth is that you can’t fix a problem you don’t recognize.

Whether you’re the phubber or the phubbee, it’s time to have a conversation with your partner to discuss the problem. As you know, one begets the other, so chances are you’re both doing it to some extent, regardless of who started it.

Implement Technology-Free Date Nights

A date night is a chance for the two of you to regroup and reconnect. The older your relationship is, the more important date night is, but it’s important to every relationship.

I make one, maybe two exceptions for this, and that’s if you have kids or one of you is on-call for a job, but even then, the phone is face-down on the table or put away in a pocket or purse.

This is your time to talk and spend time just being together. Phubbing moves you about as far in the other direction as you can go.

Place Your Phone Out of Sight

If you’re at home watching a movie, don’t put your phone on the table face-up where you can see every notification that comes in.

Lay it face down and silence notifications. If you can’t lay it face down, set it in a drawer or across the room.

The point is to remove the temptation to use it. And don’t go get it during a commercial or when your partner needs a bathroom break.

Try a Digital Detox to End Phubbing

There are apps that will help you regulate your time on your device. Some apps will block distracting apps from intruding in your life.

You can also turn off notifications for apps that tend to pull you away, like social media, mail, and even texting or voicemails.

I don’t like the little red numbers beside apps that tell me how many unread messages I have any more than the next person, but I don’t sit and stare at my phone either.

Assign Ring Tones to Important People

I understand that in today’s society, people expect you to reply immediately, but that doesn’t mean you should. Instead, assign the truly important people in your life a ringtone. Give Mom her own tone, or your kids, or your office if you go on-call or have a job where you may be urgently needed.

Kick the rest of the messages and voicemails to the later pile.

How to Stop HIM from Phubbing

If you’re the phubbee, it’s time to have a conversation with your partner. He’s obviously so engrossed in his phone that he hasn’t noticed how upset you get. Tell him. Use “I” language:

  • Brett, I feel like you’re ignoring me when you spend so much time on your phone
  • It makes me feel like I’m not important to you when you never look up from your phone
  • When we’re together, I feel as if you’re not really there

Stating how you feel is harder to dispute and these sentences don’t begin with an accusation. They state the situation and how it makes you feel.

After you’ve discussed it, if you notice that he’s starting his phubbing again, gently remind him that he’s doing it. Try not to take it personally. This is akin to an addiction and the phubber won’t be able to stop cold turkey.

Also, avoid your own phone. Give an example of what being present looks like. Be understanding and compassionate. This has likely become a habit and habits can be tricky to break. Give him time to recognize his problem and make a course correction.

Finally, resist the urge to turn to your own phone. Instead, try to interest him in something. Choose a topic of interest to him, like a hobby he has, a favorite team, or some other topic. This is intriguing enough for him to pull him away.

If you replace phubbing with fun, it will be an easier habit to break. Engage him in activities that make it harder to dig out a phone.

That’s a Wrap!

It’s clear that phubbing is harmful to relationships, and not just romantic relationships, but relationships between parents and children and your friendships.

In any instance, the feeling of being ignored and unimportant is there, waving a big red flag.

Whether you’re the phubber or the phubbee, there are things you can do to help rein in the problem. Patience with your partner will help things go more smoothly.

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