Phubbing is Ruining Relationships – And That’s Not Even the Worst Part

You may not be familiar with the term phubbing, but it’s probably happened to you.

It means snubbing your significant other (SO) in favour of your smartphone – a hybrid of ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’.

And it happens all the time in modern relationships.

I’m totally guilty of it and I’ve also been on the other end, whether at a busy restaurant or on the couch.

‘Who or what could be that much more fun/interesting/engaging/entertaining than me at the moment!?’, you think, tempted to wave your hand in their face.

And then you pick up your phone and dive face-first into the screen as well.

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Last year, a Baylor University survey revealed that phubbing was ruining relationships. It found that 46 per cent of people have been ‘phubbed’ by their partner – and more than a third felt depressed by it.

It makes sense. Nobody likes to be ignored on the regular for a sleeker, newer model full of more knowledge than your brain will ever house.

Recent research published in Computers in Human Behavior offers more insight as to the cause of phubbing in relationships. Apparently, it comes down to three common factors.

In “How ‘phubbing’ becomes the norm: The antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone,” University of Kent professors Varoth Chotpitayasunondh and Karen Douglas surveyed 251 men and women aged 18-66 about their smartphone habits. Participants were given a questionnaire about their smartphone use, as well as whether they have phubbed or been phubbed in a relationship.

They were also asked whether they viewed phubbing as acceptable behaviour.

Internet addiction, fear of missing out (FOMO), and self-control issues were predictors of frequent phubbing.

“When the effect on smartphone addiction from each variable was calculated, it was revealed Internet addiction and fear of missing out were positive predictors of smartphone addiction – whereas self-control negatively predicted smartphone addiction,” said Professor Douglas.

While these three factors definitely make sense as precursors of phubbing, in my personal experience turning your attention to your phone is also a go-to defense mechanism after a heated conversation or argument with your SO – if it happens in the car, for example, and you can’t walk away and take some space.

Whatever the cause, researchers found phubbing to have a chain reaction. People who experience phubbing consistently may begin to see the behaviour normal and engage in it themselves.

This is not good.

From a medical or pathological point of view, the researchers found evidence that phubbing should be considered “problematic smartphone use.” And problematic smartphone use is an actual thing, measured on a smartphone addiction scale.

Though many of us are probably slightly nervous to try it ourselves, the scale asks patients to rate the frequency of smartphone overuse. Metrics include things like “Missing planned work due to smartphone use” and “The people around me tell me that I use my smartphone too much.”

Those who score above a particular number on this scale are classified as being problematic smartphone users. This included 13 per cent of the participants in the study.

Women are the bigger phubbers – 53.1 per cent of females phub in social situations at least twice a day, whereas only 28 per cent of men admitted to doing it.

They also found that women are more likely to be phubbed themselves: 67 per cent of women reported being ignored in favour of a smartphone at least twice a day, while only 36.6 per cent of men did.

Instances of phubbing. Source:

Instances of phubbing. Source:

Phubbing goes beyond romantic relationships, of course; you can just as easily phub your friends and family too.

But no matter who you’re phubbing, one of the most troubling takeaways from recent research is that the behaviour has become socially acceptable. It’s no longer considered rude, but normal.

When it comes to relationships, I try to actively take action to eliminate cell phones from our interactions. This means things like phone-free Sunday dinners, or weekend nights where phones are left outside of the bedroom. If the other person is driving (and can’t be on their phone if they wanted to), I try to refrain as well.

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If you think phubbing may be negatively impacting your relationship, you can take the same survey administered to the Baylor study participants to find out:

1. During a typical mealtime that my partner and I spend together, my partner pulls out and checks his or her cellphone.

2. My partner places his or her cellphone where they can see it when we are together.

3. My partner keeps his or her cellphone in hand when he or she is with me.

4. When my partner’s cellphone rings or beeps, he or she pulls it out even if we are in the middle of a conversation.

5. My partner glances at his/her cellphone when talking to me.

6. During leisure time that my partner and I are able to spend together, my partner uses his or her cellphone.

7. My partner does not use his or her phone when we are talking .

8. My partner uses his or her cellphone when we are out together.

9. If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his cellphone.

If you answered ‘yes’ to the majority of these, you may want to make a few adjustments and stop phubbing your life away. Seriously – get the help you need.

A smartphone should never become the annoying third wheel in a relationship.