The Troubling Habit That's Poisoning Relationships

.. and why it bothers some people more than others.

Posted Dec 23, 2015

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You're out to dinner with your partner and your phone buzzes: It's an incoming text. Do you glance down to read it? Do you text back? Just how often is your phone distracting you from your romantic partner?

Technology makes our lives easier, but it also can complicate our romantic relationships. One-on-one time can feel crowded when text messages interrupt, email notifications vibrate, and the social intrigue of Instagram or Facebook pulls us away from each other just when we should be moving closer together.

A new term has emerged to recognize this problem, which challenges an increasing number of couples: Roberts and David (2016) have coined the term Pphubbing, to recognize the toxic behavior of "partner phone snubbing"—being distracted by your phone in the presence of your romantic partner.

It's a common problem, but prior to this investigation it had not yet undergone empirical scrutiny. Evidence suggests that Pphubbing predicts poorer relationship satisfaction, potentially because of conflict it induces (Roberts & David, 2016). And there's no doubt that conflict can emerge from Pphubbing—think about the annoying feeling of rejection or loneliness you might experience when your partner starts texting while you're on a date. If you're someone with an anxious attachment style, this may be particularly challenging for you: Anxiously attached individuals tend to report greater cell phone conflict in their relationships than those who are more secure.

Relationship health is not the only victim of Pphubbing. The practice may inversely affect personal well-being as well. Higher rates of depression appear among those whose relationships have endured Pphubbing conflict. Life satisfaction, too, can be indirectly affected by Pphubbing.

With so many potential negative outcomes of phone use during romantic relationships, it's a good idea to think about your own behavior: Are you keeping one eye or ear on your phone when you're out with your partner?

Maybe try a trial separation from your phone before your partner is tempted to separate from you.


Roberts, J. A., & David, M. E. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141.