How “Phubbing” Can Increase Problems In Your Relationship

By Lauren Hall
April 2, 2024
Woman on phone

We are all guilty of phubbing whether we’re aware of it or not.

Answered a text during family dinner? You phubbed. Checked your notifications during a meeting your colleague was leading? Phubbed again. Decided to scroll through social media during your downtime instead of calling your close friend or family member? Major phub.

Phubbing is the act of ignoring your companions or relationships to give attention to your phone or device. In other words, you are snubbing others for your phone. 

While many parents complain of feeling snubbed by their teens for technology, it’s clear adults are also struggling with the distracting screens.

Researchers now have a clear picture of how phubbing impacts adult relationships. A recent tech report released by the Institute for Family Studies found that 1 in 7 parents of teens (15%) use their phones or other digital devices “almost constantly” during conversations, meals, or family events. Also, using a sample of 145 adults, researchers James Roberts and Meredith David found that regular phubbing between romantic partners leads to relationship dissatisfaction.

A new report from the Wheatley Institute surveyed 2,000 married couples. It found that 37% of married Americans (roughly one-third) feel their spouse is often focused on a device in place of having a conversation or spending time together. Interestingly enough, this statistic varies greatly between socioeconomic status. Phubbing is worse among lower-income couples, with 44% reporting their spouse is distracted by their phone compared to only 31% of higher-income couples.

It makes sense that phone usage would create frustration in a marriage, but this study reveals even more.

Couples who experience excessive phone use are less happy about their marriage than others.

Only about 6 in 10 married adults whose spouse is often on the phone (59%) say they are “very happy” with their marriage, compared with 81% of those who don’t struggle with this issue. More so, 1 in 5 married adults (21%) with a spouse who overuses a phone say they are not happy with their marriage, compared with only 8% of couples who do not report the phone as an issue.

Of course, the question has to be asked: Is phubbing the real issue?

Or are there other factors in the marriage that increase the phubbing behavior? According to the Wheatley report, infrequent sex and fewer date nights may be contributing to lower marital satisfaction among couples who have a phone problem. Fewer than half of these couples (44%) have sex at least once a week, and about 1 in 5 of these couples (23%) report that either they haven’t had sex at all in the past 12 months (11%) or only once or twice (12%).

In contrast, couples with greater control over their phones are more likely to report more frequent sex and date nights.

Smartphones get a lot of blame for relationship and mental health issues. There’s no doubt that correlations exist between relationship dissatisfaction, loneliness, anxiety, and smartphone usage. But smartphones themselves aren’t the real issue–phubbing is. Whether couples find themselves using their devices to avoid spending time together or they slowly slide into prioritizing their phones over each other, phubbing is a choice. It’s something to be aware of and practice against for the health of ourselves and our relationships.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Kev Costello on Unsplash

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