What is Phubbing & How It Can Harm Your Relationship

So, what is phubbing? It’s very simply giving all of your attention to your phone and ignoring the outside world, including someone that may be talking to you. In fact, it’s very possible that you are phubbing somebody while reading this article! With the world-wide rise, and take over, of smartphones, it’s no wonder that the phenomenon of phubbing has become prevalent in our society.  But why has it bled over into our relationships? To find the answer, it’s important to first have a better understanding of why we phub each other and what signs to watch for.

Why We “Phub”

The truth is that many factors come into play when trying to “put a finger” on why we Phub others.  It’s easy to be upset when someone else Phubs you but then do it right back later without even meaning to.  Think about your smartphone for a minute. How many different things could you possibly go do on it right now? A crap-load that’s how many.  Let alone the high amount of notifications, texts, calls, messages, etc. that could be waiting on screen after you turn it on.  

A Stanford University study found that people who are constantly receiving digital information have issues paying attention, trouble recalling information and difficulty changing jobs/projects.

So in short, the person phubbing honestly may not be aware that they are doing it, nor to what degree.

Signs of Phubbing

Woman ignoring another woman while on her smartphone

There are many signs of phubbing to keep an eye out for:

  • Looking at your phone while someone else is talking to you (at any point in the convo).
  • Checking your phone when it rings/vibrates while someone else is talking.
  • Answering/sending texts, calls, messages, etc. while on a date.
  • Using your phone to counter against awkward social situations.
  • Holding your phone in your hand while spending time with others.
  • You place the phone screen side up during meetings, dates, etc. in order to view notifications as they pop up.

Side Effects of Phubbing

Phubbing can result in many negative emotions, by causing your partner to feel ignored, rejected or even as a lower priority to you. Even worse, cheating suspicions can arise regardless of their validity.  

  1. Mental Health – In a study conducted by Meredith David and James Roberts, results showed that phubbing can have a damaging impact on our relationships. The constant feeling of being unimportant to someone you love, that accompanies being phubbed, can lead to depression and a feeling of dissatisfaction with life. 
  2. Disconnected Feelings – This is something that I’ve experienced in my life, and as I tried to reconnect with how I was feeling, I found that it’s very hard to describe. But I’ll do my best. In general, it’s just feeling like I’m less important than whatever was on her screen. And oddly, it almost irks me more when I find out it was just a quick scroll through Pinterest.
  3. Less Quality Interactions – So I think it’s safe to say that, at least in our minds, we are “good” at multitasking in all aspects of our lives.  So why not when we are on our phones? To you, it truly feels like you are engaged in both the digital and real world simultaneously. And doing so splendidly! But the truth is that it’s impossible to give your FULL attention to two things at once. It just is.  

All that information is great, but now what do I do with it?

In your relationship

  • Communicate – Talk with one another about your thoughts on phubbing and how you are going to handle it in your relationship. Keep talking until you have a common understanding that works for the both of you.  
  • Declare “Phone-Free” zones – A great place to start implementing a “Phone Free” zone is when sitting down for a meal together, whether at a table or on the couch. 
  • Leave the phone at home – I know, it’s terrifying to even think about being without your phone.  But I promise, it’ll be okay! Maybe start small and leave your phone in the car the next time you go out with your boo.


Woman sitting while on smartphone
Photo by Tofros.com from Pexels
  • Be understanding – Did you know that nearly every person spends an average of 5 hours a day on their phone? And the truth is that much of this time may overlap with time you are spending together. 
  • Lead by example – If you don’t want you S/O to phub you, then don’t be a phubber yourself.
  • Call them out (without a shout) – Don’t just yell “Stop Phubbing me!”, but rather as nicely as possible make them aware that you notice this behavior and how it makes you feel. If they refuse to stop, you may have bigger problems. 
  • Refuse to Talk – This has actually worked well for me in my relationship. If my girlfriend is Phubbing me, I will just say “Just let me know when you are done and we can talk”.  This works well because it accomplishes two things by making them aware that they are phubbing you, while also sending the message that a disconnect is happening. Remember it’s not just about calling them out, or using it as a weapon in an argument, but rather align your expectations of mutual respect.
Jefferson Shillingford
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