'It's created chaos.' The hidden impact of 'phubbing' on your relationships.

I have a friend who constantly has a long list of group chats and Instagram DMs on the go. At times, I’ve felt like the third wheel on one-on-one brunch or dinner dates with her - the second person being her iPhone that inevitably finds its way off the table and into her hands at some point.

Not that I’m entirely innocent in the ‘phubbing’ epidemic of modern life. As much as I consciously try not to have my nose buried in my phone when I’m with my friends or family, I’m ashamed to say that my young daughter has literally had to yank the phone from my hands on one or two occasions to get my attention!

It’s easy to write phubbing off as a harmless - if irritating - habit, but have we stopped to think that it could be diminishing our real-life, physical relationships?

Simply put, phubbing - phone snubbing - is the act of ignoring someone you’re talking to in order to look at your phone. It may seem like something that everyone is guilty of at some stage, but experts say it could be hurting our relationships and making face-to-face interactions less meaningful.

Relationship coach Katie O’Donoghue tells Mamamia, “[Phubbing] sends the message of ‘What is going on in my phone is more important than what you have to say to me right now’, and it can leave the person on the receiving end feeling unimportant, unacknowledged, or in severe cases, like they are simply not worthy of someone’s time, energy or attention.”

While it’s true that your phone is a means of connecting you to other people, the irony is that the more time you spend texting or perusing social media on your smart phone, the less connected you’re becoming to people in ‘the real world’.

Watch: Life with or without your mobile phone. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

“Personally, I believe it’s created chaos for relationships of any kind,” O’Donoghue explains. “In recent years, the pandemic and certain social media apps have definitely created a lot of social issues for people where being focused on your phone, and the next ‘big trend’, instead of engaging with the people around you has become a priority for many people.”

It’s natural that the one being phubbed is going to feel as though they’re not worthy of your attention, but the phubber can experience negative effects, too. One recent study showed that people who used their phones while eating dinner with others enjoyed their meal less, felt less engaged and more distracted than those who went phone-free. 

O’Donoghue believes the ongoing issue of phubbing has become problematic for those seeking real connection in their personal relationships, whether they be platonic or romantic ones. 

“Frankly, phubbing has caused relationships to become dysfunctional, disconnected, and broken,” she says. “If you’re someone who feels lonely in a relationship, who feels like you have no meaningful connections in your life, or if you find yourself arguing over communication difficulties, then it might be time to consider what impact tech - and more specifically, your phone use - is having on your relationships.”

When it comes to romantic relationships, O’Donoghue explains that phubbing can create distrust and emotional distrust between two people. And for those already dealing with trauma issues, the simple act of phubbing can trigger unresolved fears of neglect or rejection.

“If you’re in a relationship, I would strongly encourage you to develop some ‘relationship rules’ around phone use and on how to be more present with the people you’re interacting with,” she suggests.


If you’re worried that your phubbing, or someone else’s, is negatively impacting your life, O’Donoghue has some tips to improve and strengthen your connections and bonds with others:

1. Make a no-phone rule for certain times.

"Whether it’s dining out at a restaurant or eating at home, grabbing drinks with friends, taking a walk with your partner or spending quality time with your kids, set a boundary to go tech and phone free. This is incredibly important if you want to have any form of meaningful conversation with someone, or if you simply want to feel connected. Put the phone down - if it's not an emergency or urgent, then it's not important and it can definitely wait."

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2. Become a good role model and practise what you preach.

"If you're on the receiving end of phubbing and you want to set a boundary, it's also important to consider how you might be making someone feel unimportant, unacknowledged or unworthy in your own ways. Make a commitment together to create more presence and connection in the relationship by setting equal boundaries and by taking ownership over how you might be creating disconnection from your side - it's never really a one-sided thing when it comes to relationships!"

3. Challenge yourself around phone use

"If you find that you're phubbing, or consumed by what's going on in your phone, then it's time to break this habit. Try setting a goal around this habit: start off with one week of not using your phone whilst engaging in conversation with others and then, stretch it out to two weeks - and keep going! As you reach each goal, you could reward yourself with something that falls in line with your personal values."

Feature image: Getty.

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