• Spending time on your phone instead of engaging in your social responsibilities, or interacting with others when it’s expected of you, is known as phubbing (a combination of the words “phone” and “snubbing”).
  • Phubbing is a purposeful behavior, and can cause damage to interpersonal relationships.
  • Someone may choose to pub their partner, coworker, friend, or relative to avoid having to talk, speak their mind, or otherwise put forth effort in a social environment.
  • Despite seeming like an easy way out, phubbing is wrong, and  can become a means of social isolation.
  • Instead of phubbing someone, don’t take the easy way out. Confront your desire to stay glued to your phone screen—and if you need a therapist’s help, schedule a session to talk through what you’re feeling.

When it comes to our cell phones, nothing else in our life gets as much attention. If we lose it, let it die, or can’t answer it, the stress starts to build up rapidly. Getting by without a cell phone really isn’t possible anymore—which means other areas of your life are bound to be affected.

That’s where phubbing comes in. It’s an off-putting word, befitting of an off-putting behavior: ignoring your romantic partner to spend time scrolling through your newsfeed or answer other people’s messages. We’ve all been victims of phubbing and have likely been phubbers ourselves. 

But what’s really going on when we “phub” someone? And how can we cut back on this relationship-damaging habit?

Is Phubbing a Real Word?

Phubbing is a simple play on words. It’s a combination of “phone” and “snubbing.” While we may not be seeing phubbing in Webster’s Dictionary anytime soon, it’s managed to cement itself into the current pop culture zeitgeist with a large amount of success. 

What Is Phubbing Behavior?

Phubbing is the intentional act of ignoring someone (typically a romantic partner) in order to spend more time on your phone. Here are some examples: 

  • You and your partner go out to dinner. Instead of finding something to talk about, you pick up your phone and start scrolling through Twitter from across the table. 
  • You and your partner are watching a movie as a way to spend time together, but you don’t like the film. So instead of telling them that you’re bored, you pick up your phone and begin to text your friends as a method of escape. 
  • Your sister is upset with you and comes over to talk things through. Instead of listening to her express her displeasure, you find it easier to deflect the tension by staring at your phone screen as she talks, and hope she eventually gets the hint.

The connection between these three examples is that phubbing only occurs when the social expectation is for you to interact with the other individual and show them your attention. In situations where you have downtime, need to respond to something urgent, or otherwise have no reason “not” to be on your phone, you’re not phubbing anyone. 

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Is Phubbing a Real Thing?

Yes, phubbing is a real thing. As expressed above, phubbing simply puts a clever name to a behavior that’s actually quite common. Many people (perhaps yourself, as well) have phubbed or been phubbed by someone else. Phubbing is real, even if the word itself has only been in use for a short period of time.

Concerningly, excessive screen time can actually be linked to mental health challenges such as problems with emotional regulation, low self-esteem, and even physical changes such as insomnia, migraine, and even changes to the gray matter of your brain.

Is Phubbing Ruining Your Relationship?

Yes, choosing to phub anyone (your partner, friend, coworker, or relative) repeatedly can ruin a relationship, because it’s often interpreted as a sign of disrespect and disinterest in the other person. When someone you have a connection with puts forth effort to connect with you, and they are repeatedly seeing that you are not putting forth that same energy, they may eventually become upset or angered by your behavior and may cut you off.

Overtime, phubbing may cause a breakup or divorce—or contribute to more toxic, revenge-based behavior, like cheating out of spite. Both partners might even begin phubbing each other as a defense mechanism. 

Such reactions are not healthy for the long-term outcome of a relationship. It’s important that as a partner, friend, family member, and colleague, that you show attention and support to the other person, or you may not be able to keep that connection intact. 

Is Phubbing Good or Bad?

Phubbing is a negative behavior, or at least one that could be considered antisocial and that can lead to negative outcomes in your social life. Phubbing can reduce the quality of your platonic, familial, professional, and romantic relationships, and create interpersonal conflict when it’s entirely avoidable. 

It’s one thing to enjoy your phone—to love your phone, even. But there’s a time and place for that; if you’re discovering that others are upset with you when you’re on your phone around them, then it’s possible that your phubbing behavior is creating issues in your relationships. 

How Can I Stop Phubbing?

Some ways to stop phubbing include: 

  • Turning off your social media and messaging notifications when you’re with family, friends, or spending romantic time with your partner.
  • Considering the time and place during which you are choosing to use your cell phone. Are you expected to talk and socialize with the other person instead of look at your screen?
  • Addressing why you feel more comfortable being on your phone instead of engaging with the other person(s). This is something which a therapist or counselor can help you explore.
  • Admitting that your behavior is rude. Sometimes it’s easier to deny a situation rather than take steps to resolve it, but losing a friend, family member, or partner to phubbing could be devastating. 

An interesting check to see how much time you are spending on your smartphone daily is to go into your mobile phone application settings and look at “general” and go down to “screen time” and you will notice how much screen time you have actually spent on your smartphone and you can go through each application and notice for example, “I have spent 15 minutes on TikTok”, or “I have spent 3 hours on Facebook”. 

If you notice that you are not satisfied with how much time you are spending on social media or gaming, etc, it may be time to change your habits to invest in more positive and meaningful activities you wish to attend such as exercise, social activities, and spending more time being present with your partner, or family.

You deserve to spend time, in real life, taking time out to take a breather from screen time for your mental health. Try practicing having dinner with your family with no cell phones and see what happens. Can you refrain? Research suggests that mindfulness (being present-focused and present-minded) or being focused on the “here and now” helps to increase happiness.

Ultimately, phubbing is a choice to ignore someone who deserves our attention. Like it or not, we all have responsibilities in the relationships we’ve formed, or have been graced with. 

Sometimes, that means our accounts and messages have to wait until later. But when the time is right, your phone will still be there, right where you left it. So put it down for a while; you’ll be glad you did.