Raise your hand if your partner has ever complained that you’re “always on your phone” when you’re with him. Or maybe you’re the one who nudging him to quit the constant clicking and scrolling. Well, the term for that is “phubbing,” or phone-snubbing, and new research from Baylor University says it’s actually damaging relationships—and making people depressed.
Here’s how we know phubbing is a real issue: Researchers conducted two separate studies of 453 adults overall. For the purposes of the experiment, phubbing was defined as “the extent to which people use or are distracted by their cellphones while in the company of their relationship partners.” Fair enough.
“What we discovered was that when someone perceived that their partner phubbed them, this created conflict and led to lower levels of reported relationship satisfaction,” said James A. Roberts, Ph.D., in a press release about the study. “These lower levels of relationship satisfaction, in turn, led to lower levels of life satisfaction and, ultimately, higher levels of depression.”
Based on discussions with the participants, the scientists developed a “Partner Phubbing Scale,” featuring nine common smartphone behaviors that represent varying degrees of phubbing. A few behaviors they shared:
- My partner places his or her cellphone where they can see it when we are together.
- My partner keeps his or her cellphone in their hand when he or she is with me.
- My partner glances at his/her cellphone when talking to me.
- If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his or her cellphone.
How many of those things would apply to your relationship? According to the study, 46.3 percent of the respondents had felt phubbed by their partner; 22.6 percent said it caused conflict in their relationships; 36.6 percent reported feeling depressed at least some of the time; and 32 percent of respondents said they were very satisfied with their relationship (meaning 68 percent were not).“In everyday interactions with significant others, people often assume that momentary distractions by their cell phones are not a big deal,” said co-author Meredith David, Ph.D. “However, our findings suggest that the more often a couple’s time spent together is interrupted by one individual attending to his/her cellphone, the less likely it is that the other individual is satisfied in the overall relationship.”
So here’s what we’ve learned: If person A is using his or her phone all the time, it can make person B unhappy in the relationship. What the study doesn’t address? Maybe person A is already unhappy, which is why she spends so much time browsing Instagram instead of connecting with her partner. If either you or your partner spend waytoo much time on your cell phone (unless you both do so in unison and are totally cool with it) consider it a warning that someone might not be totally happy, and have a discussion about it.
“When you think about the results, they are astounding,” Roberts said. “Something as common as cellphone use can undermine the bedrock of our happiness—our relationships with our romantic partners.” As a final thought, some advice from David: “When spending time with one’s significant other, we encourage individuals to be cognizant of the interruptions caused by their cellphones, as these may well be harmful to their relationship.”