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‘Phone Snubbing’ Your Partner Can Harm Your Relationship, Cause Retaliation: Study

Man and woman on phones

Have you ever heard of “phone snubbing,” AKA “phubbing?” As people become more and more reliant on smartphones, they’ve begun to play a bigger role in our relationships – and sometimes not in a good way. While smartphones are often used to increase modes of communication, they can actually negatively impact relationship satisfaction and even cause a vicious cycle of retaliation, according to a new study.

A study published in Computers in Human Behavior looks at the ways in which the rise of smartphones and social media apps have harmed in-person communication.

“Digital technology are constantly evolving, as are the opportunities and challenges they present for our intimate relationships,” study author Janneke M. Schokkenbroek says, according to PsyPost“With the easy accessibility of smartphones and other digital devices, we have the whole world in the palm of our hands, and more and more of our lives are taking place online.”

“However, none of us have received a manual on how to navigate all these in-person and online experiences and interactions and foster and maintain healthy relationships at the same time. That is the reason why I started researching the role of digital technology within intimate relationships, and the challenges it may present.”

Related: Looking at pictures of your spouse can re-light the love spark: study.

So, Schokkenbroek and her team of researchers had 346 participants – all of whom were in romantic relationships – reveal how often their partner “phubbed” them.

What is phubbing?

Phubbing is when you snub someone in favour of your phone. It often occurs when someone becomes tethered to their phone screen, and as a result, they ignore a person talking to them.

When someone gets “phubbed” – or believes that their partner is ignoring them because they’re distracted by their cellphone when they’re together – it has quite a negative impact on their relationship.

Woman in bed on phone with man looking frustrated behind her


In addition to inquiring about phubbing, Schokkenbroek and co. had participants indicate how often they engaged in surveillance behaviours, like reading their partner’s texts or emails. Finally, participants evaluated how responsive or anxious they perceived their partners to be.

Related: Mismatches in support? Why trying to help your partner can cause relationship conflicts: research.

The study showed that around 93 per cent of women and 89 per cent of men said that they had been phubbed by their partner at least one time over the two weeks leading up to the study.

How does phubbing impact partner surveillance?

Partner surveillance, on the other hand, was far less common, with only 38 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men revealing that they had looked at their partner’s online activity at least once in the same time period.

Not only was surveillance more common in younger participants, but it also occurred more frequently with females and people in shorter relationships. Even more importantly, the study showed that people who were phubbed were more likely to surveil their partner’s online behaviour.

“The findings of our study illustrate that, for some people, the experience of being ignored by their partner because they are looking at their smartphone instead may illicit feelings of doubt about their partner’s commitment to them, which may induce feelings of stress and anxiety,” Schokkenbroek continued. “To cope with these feelings, some people will snoop into their partner’s online activities (this is also known as ‘electronic partner surveillance’) to gather information on what their partner is doing when they are so busy on their phones.”

Related: How to catch a cheater: 14 ways to spy on a cheating spouse.

While smartphones have become a fact of life, Schokkenbroek is urging people to keep in mind how using their phone might affect their partner.


“Almost everyone looks at their phone every now and then while they are interacting with their partner, but it is important to realize that this may have a negative impact on our partner and our relationship. We should be conscious of this and make sure out partner still feels validated and heard and does not interpret the phubbing behavior as a disinterest in them or the relationship.”

Schokkenbroek says that you can try to offset the negative impact of phubbing by explaining to your partner why you’re looking at your phone or including them in whatever you’re doing online.

Ultimately, the way phubbing is perceived really depends on context and the way that it’s interpreted differs greatly between people.

“Not everyone finds it hurtful when their partner pays attention to their phone instead of them, and not everyone will feel the need to look into their partner’s activities because of this,” she concludes.

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