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Scientists: How ‘phubbing’ (or phone snubbing) can kill your romantic relationship


It's the ultimate modern-day snub. When you're at a fancy dinner, and all of a sudden your date responds to a text. When you are having a serious conversation and the love of your life keeps glancing at his smartphone. And don't forget when you're in bed and your partner carefully adjusts his iPhone on the nightstand so that the screen is visible — "just in case."

In what may be the first formal study of the impact of phone snubbing, or "phubbing," researchers at the Hankamer School of Business of Baylor University surveyed 453 American adults in the United States about the extent to which they or their partner use or are distracted by cellphones while in the company of a romantic partner and how this behavior impacts relationship satisfaction.

What they found doesn't bode well for the many of us who have our phones practically glued to our bodies.

Researchers James. A. Roberts and Meredith E. David identified eight types of phone snubbing behavior that have become common in today's world. They are:

  • During a typical mealtime that my partner and I spend together, my partner pulls out and checks his/her cellphone.
  • 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.
  • When my partner's cellphone rings or beeps, he/she pulls it out even if we are in the middle of a conversation.
  • My partner glances at his/her cellphone while talking to me.
  • During leisure time that my partner and I are able to spend together, my partner uses his/her cellphone.
  • My partner uses his or her cellphone when we are out together.
  • If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his or her cellphone.

(Any of this sound familiar to you?)

Writing in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the researchers noted that  "the ubiquitous nature of cell phones makes phubbing… a near inevitable occurrence."

The researchers found that those whose romantic partners had more "phubbing" behaviors were more likely to experience conflict in the relationship and have lower levels of satisfaction.

“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.”

The researchers explained that "when one partner allows technology to interfere with time spent with their partner, it sends an implicit message of that partner's priorities."

An even more surprising finding in the study was that the consequences of the behavior can extend beyond the relationship itself — and into a person's greater well-being. Nearly half of the respondents in the survey said they were phubbed by their partner with 22.6 percent saying it causes conflict and 36.6 percent reporting they felt depressed at least some of the time.

“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,” Roberts said. “These lower levels of relationship satisfaction, in turn, led to lower levels of life satisfaction and, ultimately, higher levels of depression.”

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