Could ‘phubbing’ be damaging your relationships?

We all know the feeling. Your partner is telling a long and involved story and you have an overwhelming urge to check your Instagram feed. Here’s why you need to put the smartphone down.

It’s the term given to ‘phone snubbing’ – that is, using or being distracted by your smartphone while you’re in the presence of your partner, friends or others.

Psychologist and Mind and Body Expert Leanne Hall explains it’s something most, if not all, of us are guilty of.

“A recent study suggests that 90 per cent of respondents used their smartphone during their most recent social interaction, and nearly half reported being phubbed by their partner. So, it’s happening a lot,” Leanne says.

Phubbing is damaging and depressing

A study from Baylor University in Texas, which looked at the effect of phubbing on relationship satisfaction and personal wellbeing, found it can not only damage romantic relationships but also lead to depression.

“It’s ironic that cell (mobile) phones, originally designed as a communication tool, may actually hinder rather than foster satisfying relationships among romantic partners,” the authors noted.

Even people who imagined being phubbed while viewing a simulated conversation felt more negatively about the interaction than people who didn’t picture it, according to another paper, published recently in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

Even research as far back as 2012 found that the mere presence of a smartphone during a conversation – regardless of whether it was being used – was enough to make people feel less connected to each other.

“The problem is that it is almost now seen as the ‘norm’, partly because people on the receiving end of this behaviour also engage in the behaviour themselves,” Leanne says, noting that for both sides there are downfalls.

“For people on the receiving end, it makes them feel excluded and ostracised.

“For those doing the phubbing – it makes them feel less connected and results in them experiencing less enjoyment and feeling less engaged in activities, such as eating with friends.”

Enforcing healthy phone boundaries

While smartphones are here to stay and provide plenty of amazing benefits, it’s importpant to have healthy boundaries and practice being “present” during face-to-face interactions, Leanne warns.

Here’s how to establish some ground rules:

  • Create healthy boundaries around technology use.
  • Practice being present.
  • Notice how it feels when you’re on the receiving end of ‘being phubbed’.
  • If you’re waiting on an important call or message, communicate that to the other person early. “That way, they won’t feel excluded if you answer a call or check your phone,” she advises.

And Leanne’s final piece of advice?

“Always remember that while social media and other forms of electronic communication are a fabulous way to stay connected, they should only ever enhance and augment relationships – not replace them.”

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team, or learn more about whether you are sabotaging your relationships, how to inject the intimacy back into your relationship, or why being selfish can be good for love.