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What is ‘phubbing' and how is it ruining our romantic relationships?


We’ve known for a while that social media and the internet are at risk of negatively affecting our personal relationships.

Now, there's even further proof that we should turn away from our phones.

'Phubbing', a portmanteau of the words ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’ is the new word on everyone’s lips. It is the act of ignoring someone by paying closer attention to your phone than to them. 

If you're the type of person who immediately reads a text as it comes through, just as your partner has launched into a story about their terrible day at work, or is attempting to whisper sweet nothings into your ears, then you are guilty of 'phubbing' - and it could be causing depression and ruining your relationship.

A new study has concluded that when your partner looks at their phone instead of listening to you, feelings of depression increase, as do feelings of relationship dissatisfaction.

James A. Roberts, Ben H. Williams, Professor of Marketing, and Meredith David, assistant professor of marketing, published their study, “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners”, in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour.


The research involved conducting two surveys with 453 adults. The first survey was used to create a ‘phubbing scale’ of nine items of common phone behaviours that participants did not regard as constituting snubbing.  These included statements such as:

‘My partner places their phone where they can see it when we are together.’

‘My partner glances at their phone when we are together.’

‘My partner keeps their phone in their hand when we are together.’

The second survey measured phubbing in romantic relationships, whereby people responded to the first scale. They also measured relationship satisfaction and depression.

The results revealed that 46% of people reported being phubbed by their partner, 23% felt the phubbing was causing conflict in their relationship and 37% reported feeling depressed some of the time.

Only 32% reported they felt satisfied with their relationship.

“In everyday interactions with significant others, people often assume that momentary distractions by their cell phones are not a big deal,” David says.

couple phone

However, the study revealed that, actually, it had a huge impact on relationships.

“What we discovered was that when someone perceived that their partner phubbed them, this created conflict and led to lower levels of reported relationship satisfaction,” Roberts explains.

“These lower levels of relationship satisfaction, in turn, led to lower levels of life satisfaction and, ultimately, higher levels of depression.”

The findings reveal that the more often a couple’s alone time is interrupted by phone usage, the more likely at least one member of the relationship will feel reduced satisfaction in the relationship.

 “When you think about the results, they are astounding,” Roberts says.

“Something as common as cellphone use can undermine the bedrock of our happiness – our relationships with our romantic partners.”

So, next time you’re enjoying date night and your boss, best friend or mum texts you to say hello, or someone comments on your Facebook post, exercise some restraint and resist the urge to read the message – you’ll thank us in the long run.

If you are affected by phubbing, you can visit stopphubbing.com for urgent help. 


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