Are you guilty of phubbing your other half?

Is your screentime taking away from your quality time? Ignoring our partners and focusing on our phones is becoming a common custom.

Relationship Resilience

Phubbing, a portmanteau of ‘phone snubbing’, is when one partner snubs another in favour of their phone. And, let’s face it, we’re all familiar with it. And if we’re really being honest, we’re likely all guilty of it.

Persistent phubbing, though, can have a real impact on a relationship. What should you do if your partner is a total phubber, or if you’re reading this and thinking you might be the problem?

“Phubbing is happening more and more in relationships, and it is having an effect,” says psychotherapist Shane Murphy. “If your partner is choosing their phone over you it can lead to feelings of rejection, unappreciation and anger.”

Excessive phone use has been normalised

Our lives are on our phones. They’re our TV, our office, our bank, our brain. Smartphone apps have everything we need, and then some. They empower us to be more proactive with our health, monitoring our fitness, tracking our periods, counting our calories and tracking our menopause symptoms. They support the neurodiverse community with learning, communication and social apps. They can make life with a new baby that little bit easier with organising and tracking apps. The list is endless. We cannot underestimate how integral and useful our phones are to our daily lives.

But, despite how necessary they’ve become, the time we spend on our phones isn’t always productive.

The average person spends around five hours each day on their phone, nearly a third of their waking hours. Social and video apps like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are the most popular, accounting for seven out of every 10 minutes we spent on our phones in 2021.

We spend that much time on our phones because these apps were designed to be addictive. Notifications, gamification, infinite scrolling and auto-play videos are all there to keep us on our phones as long as possible. And they do.

As well as scrolling social media feeds and watching videos, we’re also constantly checking our phones for notifications, new WhatsApp messages, or to see if someone has read our WhatsApp message. In fact, the average American checks their phone around 144 times a day.

‘Phubbing can be a difficult thing to address in a relationship’

In this environment, where excessive phone usage is normalised, phubbing can be a difficult thing to address. It can be dismissed easily, explains Murphy.

“Our phones are part of us, for better or worse,” he says. “Telling someone that you feel hurt and rejected by their phone usage can feel embarrassing or petty, but it’s an important first step. These are valid feelings and you should bring them up with your partner.”

People generally get over being phubbed every now and then, but if the phubbing continues it can trigger ostracism, distrust and negative mood. If your partner checks their phone while you’re in the middle of a conversation, it gives the impression that they’re not interested in what you’re saying. If that happens regularly, it can impact your self esteem or make you burn with rage. Persistent phubbing can also lead to a loss of intimacy, connection and basic interaction. It’s unsurprising to note that high levels of phubbing leads to lower rates of relationship satisfaction.

How do you banish the phub?

“Set rules or boundaries,” Murphy advises. “Start small. For example, no phones at the kitchen table for dinner, or no phones in the bedroom. Create phone-free zones in your home and work up to phone-free times,” he says.

“Personally, I take mobile phone holidays, where I put my phone in a box over the weekends,” he adds. “Eventually, you want to get to a point where you have set times when you can look at your phone, maybe 30 minutes in the evening when the kids have gone to bed. What you’re aiming for is that the norm is you’re not with your phone.”

Yes, some people will be clutching their phones even tighter as they read this, but phone-free time could be the transformation your relationship needs.

“During those phone-free times, make it a point to connect with your partner,” says Murphy. “Have conversations. Enjoy a nice meal. Watch a movie together. It’s about trying to regain that connection without the distraction of your phone.”

And, as usual with habit-forming and habit-breaking, persistence is key.

While it only takes three days to create a habit, it can take up to three weeks to break one, so persevere,” says Murphy. “You’re trying to find the discipline to break the hold your phone has over you.”

Deirdre McArdle
Cork-based Deirdre has written about cutting-edge technology for 25 years. Married for 20 years with a five-year-old daughter, she is currently navigating perimenopause; just the latest hormonal upheaval in two decades of multiple fertility procedures.

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