Study Finds “Phubbing” May Be Lowering Relationship Satisfaction

couple laying in bed on their phones "phubbing" - cell phones and relationship problems

Cell phones and other mobile devices are everywhere and are one of the biggest distractions in our everyday lives. But are they so distracting that they divert attention away from those we love and care about? A recent study found that the use of cell phones in the presence of romantic partners may be hindering relationship satisfaction. It might be time to stop “phubbing” and start listening to your heart a bit more.

Where Are You Focusing Your Attention?

“Phubbing”, or partner snubbing for the sake of an electronic device, occurs when an individual lets the content of their smartphone distract them from the presence of their significant other. Phubbing is a recent phenomenon and is an increasing concern as cell phone addictions have become more common. Since glancing at our phones is now second nature, we may not even recognize when we are doing it. But while such behavior may not have any direct negative effects on us, it may send a message to our loved ones that we value our phones more than our relationship with them.

In 2016, a study was conducted at Baylor University with the objective of determining if phubbing is negatively affecting our romantic relationships. Indeed, the study found a positive correlation between phubbing and cell phone conflict. In other words, phubbing lowers our relationship satisfaction.

The study also found that individuals with higher levels of attachment to their romantic partners, or  “attachment anxiety”, are going to be more dissatisfied when their partners focus more on their phones rather than on them.

However, what is even more concerning is that the study found that low relationship satisfaction has an indirect effect on life satisfaction. That is, phubbing may be increasing our partner’s, and possibly our own, depressive symptoms. As mobile devices become even more common, we can expect that more individuals will experience the adverse effects of phubbing.

How to Prevent Phubbing

couple sitting on a couch, man on his phone while his spouse watches; "phubbing"; cell phones and relationship problems

Using our phones in the presence of our significant others is not harmful behavior per se. It only becomes harmful when it is constant and repetitive. The constant behavior sends the message to our significant others that we value the time on our phones more than the time with them.

If you feel phubbed by your partner, or begin to realize you are phubbing, let go of your phone and have a conversation with them. Let them know that phubbing is a real thing that might be negatively impacting your relationship. It may sound silly, but perhaps the best thing to do is monitor and limit the amount of time you and your partner spend on your phones each day.

Another great idea is to restrict phones from certain parts of the house, such as the bedroom or living room, as well as during specific activities such as eating dinner or on game nights. Using cell phones may be comfortable and a good stress reliever, but it is hopefully not going to provide the same satisfaction as engaging with our loved ones.

It is ironic that the devices we use to increase our communication with friends and loved ones may be causing harm to these very relationships. Not only is phubbing responsible for lowering relationship satisfaction, but it is expected to become even more common as devices proliferate even further. Clearly, if we spent as much time communicating with our loved ones as we spend on our smartphones we would have more meaningful and lasting relationships. It’s time to start listening to your heart more and listening to your phone less!

About the Author

Josh Miles is a St. Petersburg/Tampa based writer who studied Business Management and Marketing at the University of South Florida. He believes that time spent with good friends and a connection with nature are keys to a healthy and happy life. In his free time, you will find him exercising, listening to music, or playing video games with friends.
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