Phubbing, Phones, and Partners

Is Your Phone Ruining Your Relationship?

There is nothing more annoying than trying to have a conversation with someone, especially your partner, and only getting half of their attention because they are staring at their phone:

  • Checking texts

  • Scrolling social media

  • Anything behind that little glass screen

It isn’t just rude, it tells the person that they are less important than whatever is on that screen. It’s called ‘Phubbing’ or ‘phone snubbing’. It’s a word I just learned, but it is an act I am all too familiar with. (I can’t wait to get to use this new vocabulary. It will most likely be this evening.)

It can lead to arguments, not just because it shows an addiction to Facebook or checking work emails, but because it is denying attention to a loved one. Studies are becoming more common on this issue, and they are coming to the same conclusion that it creates relationship dissatisfaction on a subconscious level. Ultimately leading to emotional distance between romantic partners.

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When it comes to family, be completely present.

Okay, so we are all guilty of occasionally ‘choosing’ our phones over our partners. So where do we draw the line? When does it become a problem?

According to Jim Seibold, Ph.D., it is when it begins to cut into family time. It can be especially troublesome if one of the partner’s ideas of showing love is sharing quality time.

‘When someone’s primary love language is quality time,’ he says, ‘they will feel rejected and abandoned when their partner is spending too much time on their phone.’

In an ideal world, we would have our relationships in the real world. Yet, for many of us, we seem to be more in a relationship with our phones.

Phones are great, right? They give us a break from living with actual people. They always respond when touched, and they allow us to avoid any of the more complex conditions of true connection.

The problem is relationships have always been hard, but now it’s on a whole new level.

It can seem now that:

  • We talk through apps and text

  • We argue over the phone

  • We only meet up for selfies and sex

  • And our feelings are status updates and posts

Another dynamic to this difficulty is the fact that before a partner had to compete with other love interests. Now they have to compete with these more portable and intrusive devices. It’s not easy, especially when considering how addictive phones are.

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Yes, please.

We have a friend or lover talking about their day or complaining about one of our faults, and we just feel that urge to slip away and check our phones. I mean, it is absolutely vital I check in to see if my friend across the Atlantic Ocean has had her baby yet. Or what that clever person I’m currently following back in the States thinks about the current primary candidates.

Going beyond the annoyance of having a partner who seems to be constantly scooping up his/her phone every few minutes, is when there seems to be some aspect of secrecy involved. Keeping passwords from partners or quickly putting down the phone when the other walks in the room are causes for concern.

‘Affairs don’t have to be physical in nature,’ Seibold says. ‘I have worked with many couples in which an affair took place entirely by phone or text.’

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An affair is a worst-case scenario, nonetheless, a steady case of phubbing can create and continually widen a major rift in a relationship.

So what do we do about it?

  • In the short term: try gently suggesting ‘Can we please not have the phones at the dinner table?’ rather than yelling, ‘Put your phone away when I’m talking to you!’ or ‘That phone is more important than I am!’ The latter will just cause resentment and more problems in the end. Bear in mind that this does go both ways. If your partner is complaining about your phone usage, offer to make certain agreed-upon times with no phone allowed. It shows you can manage and control yourself and that you do truly want to engage with your partner wholeheartedly.

  • In the long term: Psychiatrists including Seibold agree that creating ‘device-free days’ and ‘no-phone zones’ are great solutions. This is because comments about phones may help keep phones away for one night, but the draw of social media will need more than that to overcome it. Designating whole days or places in the house creates a more consistent habit of respect. I mean, who needs a phone on Sunday anyway?

Of course, exceptions can be made if something important is expected.

‘Be clear this is an exception not a new normal,’ Seibold says. ‘Also identify the difference between crucial and important. Do you really have to check your phone as soon as it alerts you? Can it wait for a few minutes until you finish dinner or a few hours until after your date night?’

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I’m kind of the moaning and complaining woman in my relationship.

Research shows that less phone time helps moods, feelings of security, and overall connection between couples. It is even recommended that from time to time make a sort of ‘fast’ from social media or other phone distractions. Just a week to break the cycle of addiction.

‘We often don’t realize the amount of time and emotional energy we spend on these apps. It can be quite telling,’ Seibold says. ‘If you become irritable and anxious initially, it is probably a good sign that you are becoming too dependent on your device. If that is the case, identify some long-term boundaries for how you spend device time. Use that time to be purposeful about actively engaging with your partner.’

I know. I know. The people on our phones are just so much easier to deal with than those right next to us. These people we have known for years have no chance when being judged against the saints we have never spent a real-life minute with.

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But the phones are kissing…?!

Besides that, if we get too annoyed or frustrated, technology promises a star-filled sky of possible love affairs… maybe even ‘the right one’. With all the choices, it’s hard to accept that relationships are just inherently difficult, but it is just we haven’t found the right people to be around. And I mean, they’re out there on the internet somewhere, one thumb-swipe away on the right day.

Sadly, it gives the wrong idea that finding ‘the right one’ is not an achievement of love, but a precondition of love.

Even if love isn’t your thing, the biggest business online is the naked business. Porn doesn’t judge us or ask for anything in return. Compare that to the fact there are just so many things to have to deal with when it comes to a real-life partner:

  • Unsolved anger

  • A daily dose of their unreasonable side

  • And somebody close enough to see our monstrous shortcomings

Redtube doesn’t care if you threw your phone across the room or if you are in a troubling financial situation. It doesn’t need you to open up and share your dreams with it. It won’t complain whether you speak too much or too little. It only exists for your pleasure. Be as you are and you are accepted.

The seemingly free paradise has a dangerous undisclosed cost though:

It takes sex completely out of the picture when it comes to feelings and emotions.

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It’s just sex.

Then there is the other aspect of all this phone-business that may be the most difficult to admit:

We all like being ‘liked’.

No, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are a narcissist, but it is a bit narcissistic in behavior. And our phones know this very well. A new ‘friend’? Another ‘like’? These words are little treasures of tender love to our souls.

It answers a secret desire that we may not have to be so alone. That we may soon be understood by another. It’s a very touching thought, though perhaps a bit naive and ultimately, tragic.

In the end, we should learn to not only pay more attention to our partners and less attention to our phones but take on an even bigger lesson:

Our phones do not offer a solution to the natural tensions that come along with love.

(Unless you're reading this on your phone. *wink)

We should try, when we can, to put these wonders of modern technology to the side and do something even more wondrous: try to love that crazy, frustrating, yet precious, bag of blood and bones that is sitting very genuinely in existence beside us.

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