Skip to content

Is "Phubbing" Ruining Your Relationship?

And what, exactly, is it?

Phubbing. Everbody does it, and yet nobody knows what it is.

The term, which has become all-too prevalent in the age of tech addiction, describes the process of ignoring the people around you in order to flip through your phone. Sound familiar?

When asked, people tend to agree that this increasingly socially acceptable habit is incredibly rude, and it's a surefire way to kill a first date. But recent research has also found that phubbing—which stands for partner phone snubbing—is actually ruining your life in a number of ways.

Like most folks who struggle with addiction, a lot of people who are addicted to their phones are in denial about their addiction. According to recent statistics, however, 39 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 and 36 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 49 admitted to being online "almost constantly." The effect that this has on your IRL relationships is devastating.

"The person that's being phubbed — the phubbee, if you will — begins to resent it, they feel ignored," says relationship expert Donna Arp Weitzman. 'They feel like the people on your cell phone or whatever that's trying to reach you…are more important than your relationship."

In romantic relationships, phubbing can also quickly lead to mistrust and fears that the phubber might be micro-cheating before their very eyes. Even if all you're doing is looking at cute dogs on Instagram, it sends a signal to your significant other that you'd rather argue with Twitter trolls or watch videos of Wally the Welsh Corgi than spend time with them—and that can hurt.

"You have an intimate relationship with your smartphone, and it's between you and the smartphone what's going on. So sometimes your companion or your mate will be jealous and they'll think that maybe you're reaching out to other women other men," Weitzman said. "That you're getting some sort of satisfaction from that that you're not getting through your partner, your companion."

A recent study, published in The Journal of Applied Psychology, confirmed Weitzman's claims. Participants were shown an animated video in which their "partner" phubbed them extensively, a little bit, or not at all. The results found that "increased phubbing significantly and negatively affected perceived communication quality and relationship satisfaction….[by creating] reduced feelings of belongingness."

The results are in keeping with a study from 2016, which found that phubbing led to decreased marital satisfaction and a greater likelihood of depression.

Phubbing threatens what psychologists call our "four fundamental needs"–belongingness, self-esteem, meaningful existence and control–thereby creating not only a breakdown in our relationships, but also negatively impacting the mental health of the person being phubbed. Just as studies have shown that holding hands can ease physical pain, other research has indicated that being ignored registers as physical pain in our brains.

In what may seem more surprising, phubbing limits the enjoyment levels of the phubber as well. You may think that you're enjoying the time you're scrolling through Facebook, but the truth is that you're simply reacting to a neurological compulsion, one which is actually inhibits your satisfaction. A 2017 study out of the University of British Columbia in Canada found that people who used their phones during dinner time felt less happy with their evening out than those who kept it in their purses or pockets.

So if you think that "phubbing is just part of the culture nowadays," remember, back in the day, so was smoking indoors.

And since admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, to be safe, you may want to bone up on the 20 Signs You're Addicted to Your Smartphone.

To discover more amazing secrets about living your best life, click here to sign up for our FREE daily newsletter! 

Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
Filed Under