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You and your partner finally get into that hot new restaurant and it’s as fabulous as you heard. But after the two of you order, you partner whips out his cellphone to take a photo of your craft cocktails and shares it on Instagram. Then, he absent-mindedly begins scrolling.
Is this your life?
Your partner is "phubbing," or phone snubbing, you, and that could mean bad news for your relationship, says James A. Roberts, a professor of marketing at Baylor University Hankamer School of Business, and one of authors of a new study on the subject published in the journal "Computers In Human Behavior."
For the study, Roberts and his research partner conducted two separate surveys of more than 450 U.S. adults to learn the relational effects of “Pphubbing” or partner phubbing. The authors wanted to determine how much people use or get distracted by their cellphones when with they’re with their significant others.
“What we found, not surprisingly, when people perceive their partners to be phubbers — they spend more time paying attention to their (phones) — that created conflict in the relationship,”
In the first survey, participants gave a numeric value from 1-5 — with 1 meaning “never” and 5 “all the time” — to questions about their partners’ cell phone usage. (One example, “If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his or her cellphone.”)
The researchers used those answers to develop a nine-point scale of common cell phone behaviors that respondents identified as snubbing behaviors. Next, they gave participants a second round of questions based on that nine-point scale.
How much do you phub?
To get a sense of how often you and your partner phub each other, answer each item on a scale from 1 (never) to 5 (all the time):
- During a typical mealtime that my partner and I spend together, my partner pulls out and checks his/her cell phone.
- My partner places his or her cell phone where they can see it when we are together.
- My partner keeps his or her cell phone in their hand when he or she is with me.
- When my partner's cell phone rings or beeps, he/she pulls it out even if we are in the middle of a conversation.
- My partner glances at his/her cell phone when talking to me.
- During leisure time that my partner and I are able to spend together, my partner uses his/her cell phone.
- My partner does not use his or her phone when we are talking .
- My partner uses his or her cell phone when we are out together.
- If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his cell phone.
What the study found
If you're concerned about your answers, you're not alone. A whopping 46.3 percent of respondents said their partners phubbed them, and 22.6 percent said it caused issues in their relationship.
The researchers concluded that even momentary cell phone distractions add up. If one partner is repeatedly distracted by his or her phone, chances are the other partner begins to feel less and less satisfied with the relationship.
How to combat phubbing? Have empathy — and speak up
Even if couples don’t show signs of problematic phubbing, people still feel rejected when loved ones pay more attention to their phones, says Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and a frequent TODAY contributor. To make sure that doesn’t happen, you’ve got to consider how your actions are affecting others.
“Maybe you have to think about how (phubbing) makes people feel. Most people don’t,” Saltz says.
Saltz says partners should also be able to tell each other not to bring phones out during a date or special events. If someone’s expecting an important call, she should let her partner know. She may even consider rescheduling the date for a night when she’s less distracted.
If the behavior occurs over and over, Saltz says it’s okay to point it out in the moment and says something like, “This is what makes me feel bad.”
“It is hard for a person who is looking for an intimate connection to not feel somewhat put off or rejected if you are constantly looking at something [else],” she says.