Phubbing: What It Is, Impact On Relationships, & How to Deal With It

February 7, 2024

Are you familiar with ‘phubbing’ and its detrimental effects on your relationships? This act of ignoring someone in favor of your cell phone is more than just bad manners; it undermines mental health and personal connections. Today you’ll discover the signs of phubbing, its implications for both your social and romantic engagements, and practical strategies to stop phubbing and reclaim meaningful communication.

Key Takeaways

  • Phubbing is an act of prioritizing smartphone use over face-to-face interactions, leading to feelings of exclusion and negative impacts on mental health and relationship quality across various types of relationships.
  • Several strategies to combat phubbing include prioritizing face-to-face conversations, establishing boundaries with technology like ‘phone-free’ zones and scheduled phone checking times, and promoting focused interpersonal interactions.
  • Resilience Lab offers specialized online therapy to address phubbing and communication issues, providing accessible and qualified support through cognitive behavioral therapy and other evidence-based approaches.

Understanding Phubbing: The Impact on Mental Health and Relationships

Phubbing is a behavior where smartphone or cell phone usage takes precedence over interacting with a companion. This act, which may seem harmless, can have several negative effects:

  • Triggering feelings of exclusion, stress, and diminished self-worth
  • Negatively affecting mental health
  • Causing unnecessary interpersonal discord and strain on relationships.

The influence of phubbing isn’t limited to a specific type of relationship. It has the potential to diminish the quality of platonic, familial, professional, and especially romantic relationships, resulting in unnecessary conflict and emotional detachment. Studies in applied social psychology have demonstrated that excessive smartphone use can lead to job burnout, depressive moods, and symptoms, ultimately reducing overall psychological well-being. Managing phubbing can take dedicated attention or help from a mental health professional because of how addictive cell phone usage has become.

Phubbing Definition

The term ‘Phubbing’ was coined by the McCann Group in 2012, defining the act of phone snubbing, which occurs when someone in a social setting shifts attention to a smartphone instead of engaging with others. This has become a common occurrence in everyday life with the rise of smartphones and social media. Phubbing in a relationship, also known as partner phubbing, occurs when one partner chooses to prioritize phone usage over actively engaging with their partner. This behavior has been shown to result in negative consequences, such as emotional disconnection and conflict.

The scope of phubbing is not limited to romantic relationships. It can occur in any social setting, from family gatherings to professional meetings. Phubbing behavior is driven by a variety of factors, including smartphone addiction, a fear of missing out (FOMO), and the omnipresence of social media. Additionally, individuals with social anxiety may also turn to their phones, as looking down at the phone could be a way to avoid social discomfort or discomfort with silence. Lastly, a reliance on phones can also be caused by boredom. For example, a person sitting at dinner looking at their phone may subconsciously be alleviating boredom or avoiding difficult conversations. 

Tackling phubbing requires an understanding of these underlying factors and the implementation of strategies to manage them effectively. Phone snubbing and social media have a strong grip on individuals all over the world and across multiple different generational demographics.

A smartphone with a chain and lock around it, symbolizing addiction and FOMO

The Connection Between Phubbing and Mental Health

Phubbing has been linked to various mental health challenges. By disrupting face-to-face conversations and reducing the quality of interpersonal interactions, it can trigger feelings of exclusion and loneliness, leading to conditions such as depression and anxiety. This implies that our reliance on smartphones and other digital devices for communication is not without its drawbacks.

Phubbing can result in dissatisfaction and disconnection in relationships. It hinders effective communication between individuals and can leave the person on the receiving end feeling ignored or unimportant. These feelings of neglect and disinterest can strain relationships, reducing their quality and satisfaction.

Understanding how phubbing affects relationships can help individuals recognize the importance of prioritizing face-to-face interactions. It is important to think deeply about how phubbing can negatively impact your own mental health but also how partner phubbing can negatively affect your relationship with your partner or friends and family.

Identifying Phubbing in Your Life

The first step to tackle this issue is acknowledging the presence of phubbing in your life. In order to prevent phubbing and social media from negatively impacting your life, you must identify the instances it happens in your life. Indications of a phubber include:

  • Prioritizing phone usage over interacting with others
  • Checking the phone during conversations
  • Using the phone as a means of distraction from real-life situations

If you find yourself or someone else displaying these behaviors, it’s time to take a step back and reassess your communication habits.

Phubbing can lead to the following consequences:

  • Emotional detachment
  • Impaired communication
  • Reduced relationship contentment
  • Perceptions of disrespect or lack of interest, especially among romantic partners

It’s essential to be mindful of these consequences and take proactive steps to address this behavior.

Using your phone without engaging in phubbing is possible, but it demands deliberate effort and a willingness to prioritize personal interactions over digital ones.

Common Phubbing Behavior

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Common phubbing behaviors include checking your phone during conversations and using it as a distraction in real-life scenarios such as social gatherings, family dinners, and dates. These behaviors can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection among the people around you. Another common manifestation of phubbing is the compulsive need to engage with social networking sites, indicative of an addictive relationship with one’s cell phone, internet, and digital games.

Phubbing goes beyond the casual act of checking your phone. It manifests as a behavioral pattern, hinting at a deeper problem in our relationship with technology. The psychological factors contributing to phubbing behavior include a lack of mindfulness, an unhealthy attachment to digital devices, and a fear of missing out on online interactions. Recognizing these behaviors and their underlying causes is a crucial step towards addressing the issue of phubbing.

The Detrimental Effects of Phubbing on Relationships

Phubbing can significantly impact relationships. By prioritizing mobile phone usage over interacting with a companion, it can foster feelings of exclusion and neglect, adversely affecting mental health and interpersonal relations. In romantic relationships, phubbing can lead to decreased relationship satisfaction, feelings of loneliness, and conflicts over phone use.

The psychological effects of phubbing extend beyond the immediate feelings of isolation and neglect. In romantic relationships, it can lead to a romantic partner experiencing:

  • Reduced trust
  • Heightened anxiety and depression
  • Diminished satisfaction
  • Adverse impacts on communication quality and psychological well-being

These negative impacts can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and jealousy, further influencing relationship satisfaction.

Strategies for Combating Phubbing

Tackling phubbing necessitates a proactive approach. One of the most effective strategies is to prioritize face-to-face interactions and reduce the reliance on digital communication. By actively engaging with others and setting a positive example, individuals can encourage others to put their phones away and focus on in-person communication.

Another effective strategy is to establish boundaries with technology. This can be achieved by:

  • Setting specific times for checking the phone
  • Disabling notifications
  • Creating ‘phone-free’ zones like the dinner table or bedroom
  • Utilizing silent mode or ‘Do not disturb’ to prevent distractions and promote more focused and meaningful interactions with others.

Prioritizing Face-to-Face Interactions

In our digital age, giving precedence to face-to-face interactions, including face-to-face conversation, is of immense value. These interactions cultivate stronger bonds and relationships, mitigate miscommunication, establish trust, and facilitate an understanding of attitudes and emotions often overlooked in digital communications. By giving priority to in-person interactions, we can foster stronger relationships, reduce miscommunication, and establish personal connections that digital interactions often lack.

Prioritizing face-to-face interactions has several benefits:

  • It reduces the temptation to use smartphones, thereby decreasing the occurrence of phubbing.
  • It enhances the quality and satisfaction of personal connections, fostering a sense of belonging and understanding.
  • By reducing our dependence on digital devices for communication, we can improve our interpersonal relationships and overall mental health.

Implementing New Habits

Adopting new habits can play a significant role in curbing phubbing behavior, which is a part of human behavior. In order to stop phubbing, these habits can include leaving your phone behind during social events, turning off notifications, or scheduling specific times to check your phone. Such changes may seem small, but they can have a significant impact on reducing our reliance on digital devices and improving our interpersonal relationships.

Establishing boundaries with technology can also help. This includes:

  • Designating specific areas or times where digital devices are off-limits
  • Limiting screen time
  • Establishing regular schedules for tech use
  • Utilizing apps and settings on your phone to manage technology use judiciously

Being conscious of one’s device usage is a critical step in combating phubbing and fostering healthier communication habits.

Resilience Lab: Supporting Your Journey to Healthier Communication

At Resilience Lab, we acknowledge the hurdles posed by phubbing and are devoted to aiding individuals on their path to healthier communication. Our team of qualified therapists employs a variety of therapy methods to address phubbing, including logotherapy and digital detox interventions. We may also apply Exposure and Response Prevention if in the case of Social Anxiety, and teaching alternative social skills for these situations. Our online therapy services offer support and treatment for phubbing through virtual sessions, ensuring accessibility and convenience for those in need of assistance.

We aim to help individuals reconnect with their authentic self, loved ones, and environment using cognitive-behavioral therapy and effective techniques.

Benefits of Online Therapy with Resilience Lab

Opting for therapy with Resilience Lab comes with an array of benefits. Our online therapy services prioritize:

  • Holistic, evidence-based, and high-quality care
  • Convenience and accessibility
  • Connecting with a specialized therapist who aligns with your logistical, identity, and care needs
  • The convenience of receiving therapy from the comfort of your home

We strive to make our services as affordable as possible. By leveraging technology to automate non-clinical tasks, we enable our therapists to dedicate more attention to delivering therapy. Moreover, we endeavor to provide high-quality care that is accessible to patients regardless of their location or insurance status. Our online therapy sessions, including those utilizing cognitive behavioral counseling, have been shown to be just as effective as traditional in-person therapy.

Summary of Phubbing

Phubbing is a prevalent issue in today’s digital age, with detrimental impacts on mental health and relationships. It fosters feelings of exclusion, stress, and diminished self-worth, leading to conflicts and emotional detachment in relationships. However, by recognizing phubbing behavior, prioritizing face-to-face interactions, and implementing new habits, we can combat this issue and foster healthier communication habits.

At Resilience Lab, we are committed to supporting individuals on their journey to healthier communication. Our online therapy services provide a safe and accessible platform for individuals to address phubbing and improve their communication skills. We invite you to join us on this journey and take a step towards healthier communication and improved mental health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Coined The Word Phubbing?

The term "phubbing," a blend of the words "phone" and "snubbing," was coined in 2012 as part of a campaign by the Macquarie Dictionary in Australia. The dictionary teamed up with the McCann Group Ad Agency to create a word that described the increasingly common act of ignoring someone in favor of a mobile phone. This effort was part of a larger initiative to address and raise awareness about this social phenomenon. The term quickly gained traction and has since become widely recognized in describing the behavior of neglecting one’s surroundings or companions to focus on one's phone.

Is Phubbing More Common With Younger Individuals?

Phubbing tends to be more prevalent among younger individuals, primarily due to their higher engagement with and reliance on smartphones and social media. Younger generations, especially those who have grown up with digital technology as an integral part of their lives, are more likely to integrate smartphone use into various aspects of their daily routines. This increased usage can lead to more frequent instances of phubbing, as staying connected digitally often takes precedence over in-person interactions. Social anxiety and boredom alleviation may also cause younger individuals to turn to their phones. However, it's important to note that while phubbing is commonly observed in younger demographics, it is not exclusive to them and can be found across all age groups.

What Is an Example of Phubbing?

An example of phubbing occurs when someone, engrossed in their smartphone, ignores or pays minimal attention to the people around them. Imagine sitting at a dinner table, and instead of engaging in conversation, a person continuously checks their phone for messages, scrolls through social media, or responds to emails, effectively disregarding their companions. This behavior not only disrupts the flow of real-life interaction but also conveys a lack of interest or respect for those present, even if it’s unintended. Such instances, where digital communication takes precedence over face-to-face interaction, exemplify phubbing.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis and needs immediate help, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Clinically Reviewed by Christine Carville, LCSW-R.
Christine Carville, LCSW-R, is the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of Resilience Lab. Christine developed the Resilience Methodology, a trans-theoretical training model for therapists to provide individualized, flexible, trauma-informed care. She has also been teaching at the Columbia School of Social Work since 2016 and continues to maintain her own private psychotherapy practice.

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