Why “Phubbing” is Hurting Relationships

It’s now 2017 and technology is everywhere. Forget “fast,” everything is about NOW in the instantaneous era of the digital age. With new technology and apps we have more ways to communicate and connect online. It’s a fascinating time, but there’s also a downside to technological advancement.  That’s because there are truly many ways that technology can hurt our relationships.

A New Word for Ignoring Each Other

I wrote about this phenomenon two years ago, but I am now seeing a new trend. It’s called “phubbing” or snubbing someone by being on your phone. Addiction to technology can be so powerful for some that they can lose any sense of balance between their online and offline worlds. As if there aren’t enough relationship killers as it is (financial conflict, poor sex life, parenting disagreements, etc.) cell phone use also negatively impacts the way partners relate to each other.

Research into Phubbing

A recent study wanted to look at how damaging phubbing is to relationships. Basically, the researchers wanted to look at how frequently a romantic partner is distracted by their device when it’s around them. The average person checks their phone once every 6 ½ minutes. That’s a staggering 150 times a day!

In another study conducted by James Roberts & Meredith David, 175 adults who were in romantic relationships were surveyed. They were asked to answer a questionnaire and complete a “phubbing scale.” This measured how often they felt snubbed by partners who were using their devices. They also answered questions about whether the device is a source of tension in the relationship. Additionally, the researchers surveyed the couples about the quality of their connections.

Not surprisingly, these devices are having a negative impact on relationships and contribute to other relationship issues, such as parenting conflict. Partners being snubbed also reported having more conflict over devices than those who experienced less snubbing. Also, the more conflict couples experienced over the use of electronic devices the more negatively they rated their relationship satisfaction.

Explanations for the Phubbing Phenomenon

The authors discussed two different possible ways that phubbing is hurting relationships:

1. The Displacement Hypothesis:  This explanation states simply that devoting time on one’s phone or device leaves us with less time to spend with our partner. The device basically reduces meaningful time with each other and therefore negatively impacts our contentment in our relationship.

2. Smartphone Conflict Theory:  The thinking here is that the device itself becomes the source of conflict which decreases relationship satisfaction.

The bottom line is that our smartphones have the potential to inflict real damage on our relationship. However, we do have the ability to avoid falling into this technology trap.

What Can Couples Do?

Couples can preventatively take the following steps in order to avoid electronic devices from damaging your relationship:

  • Discuss the situation with your partner regarding the presence of the device when with one another.
  • Understand how it negatively impacts each of you.
  • Come up with guidelines that clearly define acceptable situations for device use- and when to avoid technology.
  • Decide on a consistent schedule when you agree to have technology-free blocks of time.
  • Agree that certain places in the home are device-free (such as the bedroom).
  • If unclear, you can always check-in with your partner about using a device when they’re around.
  • Regularly participate in activities together that don’t require technology.
  • Give yourself a cut-off time for technology use in the evening.

Ignoring your partner is not a new concept. Yet, with the advent of the smartphone we have created a portable and powerful device that pulls our attention away from our partner and into our own digital worlds. These technologies improve communication, but they also have the potential to create real problems in relationships.

Couples can avoid these pitfalls by communicating to one another what is acceptable (and unacceptable) regarding technology use.  Couples can benefit by engaging in joint activities without any devices and focus on simply being present with one another in the “real world.”

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