Have you ever been jealous of a smartphone? If so, you are definitely not alone. You are probably one of the millions who have been phubbed at one point or another in your life. And chances are that you have done it too, and often. This funny word, phubbing, refers to the practice of ignoring the person you are with at that moment in order to pay attention to your phone. The word was coined in 2012 for a campaign by Macquarie Dictionary and it comes from combining ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’.
A recent study showed that the average American checks their phone 80 times a day. That means once every 12 minutes. Are all those times really necessary?
The effects of phubbing in relationships
There is a growing body of research that shows that phubbing not only has become epidemic in the Western society but that the effects can be devastating in a relationship. Most studies so far validate what we already know, that being phubbed sucks because they are choosing the phone over us.
A study from Baylor University in Texas conducted by professors James A. Roberts and Meredith David, called “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners”, concluded that when someone felt phubbed by their relationship partners, that person reported lower levels of relationship satisfaction which led to lower levels of life satisfaction and, ultimately, higher levels of depression.
“In everyday interactions with significant others, people often assume that momentary distractions by their cell phones are not a big deal,” David said in a press release about the study. “However, our findings suggest that the more often a couple’s time spent together is interrupted by one individual attending to his/her cell phone, the less likely it is that the other individual is satisfied in the overall relationship.”
The study shows that even quick distractions by one’s cell phone while spending time with a partner likely lowers the significant other’s satisfaction with their relationship, and could lead to enhanced feelings of depression and lower well-being of that individual.
In another study, Brandon McDaniel and Sarah Coyne rated the effects of everyday intrusions and interruptions due to technology devices, which they term ‘technoference’, in 143 married or cohabitating couples. The conclusion from this study showed that participants with a higher technoference level in their relationship reported more depressive symptoms, lower life satisfaction, and lower relationship satisfaction. The reason is that by allowing those technology interruptions, the message is that the person who looks at the phone, even briefly, is placing more value on the phone than in their loved one.
Another study by Hanna Krasnova and colleagues proved phubbing as toxic for a relationship and showed that partner phubbing is linked with intensified feelings of jealousy which creates a sense of insecurity in the relationship.
Here are seven steps for a phubbing-free relationship:
1. Be aware of your own dependency
Before you start complaining to your partner, beware that most likely you have phubbed too. Sometimes, when we are phubbed we see it as we are giving permission to glance at our phones as well, and sometimes, we might not be able to blame anybody but our own urgency to check how many likes we got in our latest post, or how did the Dow Jones do today, or simply share the latest Chihuahua picture on Instagram.
But the key is that it doesn’t matter how much you use it, but more how dependent you and your partner are on the smartphone. The perception is that the more our partner needs the phone, the less overall satisfaction with the relationship, as another study from the University of Arizona by Matthew Lapierre and Meleah Lewis shows. They claim that it is the psychological attachment to the device more than the frequency of use what creates the negative feelings in the relationship.
So, to start, you need to have a clear picture of your own dependence. There are two tests you can take. The first one measures Nomophobia (fear of being without our phones), a 20-question quiz called the Nomophobia Questionnaire (or NMP-Q) – click here to take it - developed by researchers at Iowa State University.
The second one was developed by Dr. Roberts, mentioned earlier, and it’s an addiction quiz for your smartphone –click here to take it-. He developed this test based on his research and for the book Too Much of a Good Thing: Are you Addicted to Your Smartphone?
After you have stablished your own level of dependency, establish the state of your relationship in relation to phubbing. Robert and Davis developed the Partner Phubbing Scale, a nine-item scale of common smartphone behaviors based on their research. They asked their participants the following questions (answers are on a scale of 1 for never and 5 for always):
During a typical mealtime that my partner and I spend together, my partner pulls out and checks his/her cell phone.
My partner places his or her cell phone where they can see it when we are together.
My partner keeps his or her cell phone in their hand when he or she is with me.
When my partner's cell phone rings or beeps, he/she pulls it out even if we are in the middle of a conversation.
My partner glances at his/her cell phone when talking to me.
During leisure time that my partner and I are able to spend together, my partner uses his/her cell phone.
My partner does not use his or her phone when we are talking.
My partner uses his or her cell phone when we are out together.
If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his or her cell phone.
The higher the number, the more your partner is phubbing you.
Those results will give you a good idea where do you stand continuum of smartphone dependency and the level of phubbing in your relationship.
2. Hold an honest conversation
Discussing with your partner, helps resolve a lot. Do not make it confrontational, choose a soft start and say how are you feeling about being phubbed. What would you like to see differently and what are you willing to give up to achieve it?
Beware that the phone doesn’t need to be on to cause a negative effect. A study from the University of Essex found that just by having the phone nearby while having a conversation about a personally meaningful topic inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust and diminished the feelings of empathy and understanding from their partners. So, when you have this conversation, keep your phone away.
3. Establish basic non-negotiable phone boundaries
Having a set of agreed rules is essential. Decide on when and where the smartphone is not welcome in sight. An example would be during meals, to silence your phone and put it away. Or for example, if you guys decide to take it on a romantic walk, agree that you will use it only to take pictures.
4. Free your bedroom of Phones
If the excuse is that you use the alarm, buy an old fashion alarm clock and try for one week. Your relationship will thank you and you will sleep better.
5. When it’s indispensable to use your phone, then explain WHY
For example, “I need to answer this text to my boss about my meeting tomorrow”. Or, “Oh, Lisa just texted, she wants to know if you are still coming next weekend. Let me answer her real quick”.
6. Save private time for daily meaningful conversation
This is a basic part of any relationship, independently of your smartphone attachment. Take a walk the two of you alone, hand in hand. If you can’t because you have small children, put them to bed and then make a little time for both of you. Nothing like a little share of good old-fashion face to face interaction.
7. Be mindful and savor your time together free of smartphones
That means, being present with your partner. Take in what do you see, what you hear, smell, what you feel with your partner. Mindfulness is the opposite of distraction and there is no room for distraction when we are giving something or someone our full attention. Also, you can use Dr. Jessica Borelli’s technique, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, called relational savoring. A practice that involves focusing on a specific time when you felt appreciated or connected to your partner.
Roberts, J. A., & David, M. E. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, (54), 134-141.
McDaniel, B. T., & Coyne, S. M. (2016). “Technoference”: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5(1), 85.
Krasnova, H., Abramova, O., Notter, I., & Baumann, A. (2016, June). Why Phubbing is Toxic for your Relationship: Understanding the Role of Smartphone Jealousy among" Generation y" Users. In ECIS (p. ResearchPaper109).
Lapierre, M. A., & Lewis, M. N. (2016). Should It Stay or Should It Go Now? Smartphones and Relational Health.
Yildirim, C., & Correia, A. P. (2015). Exploring the dimensions of nomophobia: Development and validation of a self-reported questionnaire. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 130-137.
Przybylski, A. K., & Weinstein, N. (2013). Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(3), 237-246.
Borelli, J. L., Rasmussen, H. F., Burkhart, M. L., & Sbarra, D. A. (2015). Relational savoring in long-distance romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(8), 1083-1108.