Phubbing: What is it & How Does it Affect our Relationships?

You may be reading this right now thinking, "phubbing? is that new slang I should know?" It sounds a little bit like fibbing and snubbing combined, which is half-right. The term “phubbing” comes from the term snubbing, which essentially means ignoring someone in a rude manner or giving your attention to something else more interesting. The “P” in phubbing comes from phone, so when you seperate the two, it’s: phone snubbing. Basically, it's a new term created to describe the action of ignoring someone by using a phone in front of them. I learned about this during a communication class and immediately related to it. I've personally been phubbed by other people many times, but I'm also guilty of phubbing others (and I’m sure we’re all guilty of this at some point in our lives; don’t deny it).  

So, you’re talking to a friend after class and they pull out their phone in the middle of the conversation to check Instagram or send a Snap while also trying to continue the conversation and nod like they're listening. This has become such a norm that we probably don’t even realize when it’s happening, or we’ve just conformed to it even though it feels kind of rude. Most of us just let it happen or wait until the person has made eye contact again to keep talking. Maybe some people just keep talking regardless of how much the other person is paying attention. The irony of this is that we go on our phones or on social media to connect with other people, yet here we are ignoring the person we’re with for real.

Image via Giphy

Phubbing seems to be associated most with people in romantic relationships because this is where it can begin to cause problems. The act of phubbing makes interpersonal, or face-to-face interactions, seem less meaningful. We don’t feel as closely connected to someone when they’re constantly checking their phone, or vice versa. If you’re always looking down at your phone, it’ll make the other person feel disconnected from you (whether it be a significant other, friend or family member). In a relationship, non-verbal communication is essential. This means making eye contact, listening not just hearing, making facial expressions or gestures, and maybe even using touch when appropriate. These small acts of communicating help to make the other person feel heard and understood.

Imagine you're trying to tell your romantic partner about something stressful that happened at work or school and they’re staring at their phone barely listening; making the occasional “m-hm” and “oh yeah” responses. It isn’t going to make you feel good. It’ll leave you feeling unsatisfied with the conversation and unappreciated by your partner. What if you're trying to have a romantic evening, but they just won't disconnect from their device? It might make you want to toss their phone through the window. Sure, sometimes couples can hang out together while being on their phones and neither of them will be offended. It’s just having each other’s presence that’s nice enough. Some people may have less of a strong attitude towards phone use in their relationship, and that’s fine. However, when you want to talk about something important to you but your boyfriend or girlfriend is laughing at memes on Instagram or messaging someone else, avoiding eye contact in the process, that just feels sh*tty. Especially if it occurs frequently throughout the relationship. It can feel as if they’re prioritizing something else over you in moments where you should be experiencing togetherness, and that can hurt.

Image via Giphy

According to an article from Time, “phubbing was found to threaten four “fundamental needs”- belongingness, self-esteem, meaningful existence and control- by making phubbed people feel excluded and ostracized”. We can’t ignore phubbing as silly as it sounds. It’s become a serious issue that can impact our mental health and cause miscommunication and frustration in our relationships. If you find yourself being phubbed, try explaining to the person how it makes you feel and that you’d like to have a more inclusive conversation. If you yourself need to break the habit, try setting strict rules with yourself for phone use and gradually try to stop yourself when you feel that urge to check it. Setting boundaries will help create a healthier dynamic between you and your partner, you and your friend, or you and a family member.

Think about what’s more important: having a healthy relationship with someone, or checking the notifications on your new post. The post can wait, but your partner may not.