We've all gone out to lunch with friends who, instead of engaging in a fun conversation, end up getting distracted by their phone throughout the entire meal. This impacts your friendship, as it can leave you feeling ignored and disconnected. But research has found that the habit of "phubbing" — short for "phone snubbing" — can also threaten your relationship, according to US News.
This bad habit, known as p-phubbing when it relates to partners, has obviously become a bigger problem now that so many people have smartphones, and thus access to friends, social media, emails, and so on 24/7. As reported by US News, phubbing stems not only from phone overuse, but also from being addicted to the internet. If your partner falls into this category, and seems to be ignoring you for their phone, it really can chip away at your overall relationship satisfaction.
Of course, when you're around someone all the time, they will eventually need or want to look at their phone, and that's OK. There may even be moments when it's necessary for your partner to field important work emails, or respond to a friend, even though you're hanging out. But that doesn't mean they should choose their phone over you the majority of the time.
One of the most harmful side effects of phubbing is the lack of eye contact, and the negative feelings that follow. "Most of the way we communicate is by our body language more than the words we say," Michelle Henderson, MA, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice at Next Chapter Counseling, tells Bustle. "When someone is looking at their phone, they're not making eye contact or facing their partner with an open body posture."
And that can leave you feeling totally ignored and rejected. "When your partner's body language indicates that they're not listening, you may feel hurt and like you have to do more work to get them to pay attention," Henderson says. "This can lead to miscommunication and a feeling of disconnection in the relationship."
So, how can you start reconnecting, even when your phones are mere inches away? The first and best way is to simply let them know it's bothering you. "An integral part of a healthy relationship is open communication," April Davis, relationship expert and founder of LUMA Luxury Matchmaking, tells Bustle. "Share your worries with your partner and let them know that you feel ignored and pushed to the side when they are continuously on their phone. People are not mind-readers and a problem can not be fixed if it isn't communicated to your partner."
It can also help to acknowledge your own phone use, so it doesn't feel like you're pointing fingers. "Even if your partner is on their phone much more than you, chances are you're still on your phone quite a bit, too," Henderson says. "Talk about it as a relationship problem, not a problem with your partner. Instead of saying, 'I feel ignored when you're on your phone so much,' say something like, 'I worry that us both being distracted by our phones means we're not spending as much quality time together.'"
This can start a positive conversation about the wedge your phones are driving between you, instead of an argument where your partner tries to defend their right to text.
From there, you can come up with ways to use your phones less often when you're together. For instance, "many people decide to not bring phones to the dinner table or to avoid looking at them in bed when you're laying down to go to sleep," Henderson says. "Suggesting one of those options could be a good place to start."
You may also want to chat about phone use as an addiction, because it really can be really difficult to put it down, and may even explain why your partner can't help but look. "Phones are specifically designed to be distracting, from the brightness of the screen to the sounds they make," Henderson says. "There's a lot of research that has gone into learning what conditions people to be distracted by their phones — we are more addicted than we think. We're checking our phones constantly because they give us positive reinforcement."
To help yourselves pay more attention to your phone usage it can help to turn it into a game, Davis says. Consider making a pact that you'll put your phones away when eating in a restaurant, with the rule that whoever checks it first has to pay the bill. "Whatever stipulations best fit your relationship should be what is applied," she says. "If both parties are consenting, this could be a way to raise awareness of the issue and deal with the issue while keeping it light-hearted."
If your partner is constantly looking at their phone, instead of connecting with you, it can certainly take a toll on your relationship. You'll want to let them know you've noticed a pattern, and worried about the impact it might have. And from there, you can find ways to put your phones down, create more connection in your relationship, and save all that texting for later.
Michelle Henderson, MA, LMHC, licensed mental health counselor in private practice at Next Chapter Counseling
April Davis, relationship expert and founder of LUMA Luxury Matchmaking