How "Phubbing"—AKA Phone Snubbing—Is Ruining Your Relationship

Instagram can wait.

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The first thing that may have come to mind when reading this headline was, "What the heck is phubbing?"

If so, don't consider yourself too out-of-date. The word is a newly minted Gen Y term (my money's on a new entry in Webster's by 2018). Similar to words like "bae," "Hundo P," and "FOMO," phubbing is an abbreviated hybrid of the words "phone" and "snubbing." Basically, it's a catchall term for when you pay attention to your phone instead of the person you're with.

You know the very scenario I'm talking about: You're sitting at a restaurant with your significant other, you're trying to have a nice meal and meanwhile, your partner has his or her head jammed so close to their screen that you legitimately wonder if their phone is going to become a growth attached to their skull.


In my own relationship, approximately 84 percent of the fights I have with my partner have to do with being neglected for a piece of technology. Either he's on his phone and I get mad, or vice versa. We're all phubbing each other.

As a generation of screen addicts, it's become so common that we don't even notice it anymore. "Our phones are an extension of our social life. Actually, they are our social life. It's how we connect with everyone we know and the rest of the world, instantly," says Lorrae Bradbury, a sex expert, speaker, and founder of the sex positive site, Slutty Girl Problems. "We see our partners all the time, but media is always fresh and changing. It's tempting to tune in to something new, rather than feel monotonous or familiar with our partner."

We're so accustomed to our social media habits that we've forgotten how to be present. IRL is synonymous with boring because there are no filters IRL. We're so into keeping up with our texts and likes, we don't know how to have relationships outside of them.

IRL is synonymous with boring because there are no filters IRL.

Ira Israel, a counselor and psychotherapist, tells Marie Claire that neglecting personal time to scan your Instagram or Twitter is equivalent to emotional infidelity. That may sound like an exaggeration, but he explains that the split-screen attention span over time can eventually destroy a relationship. "The beeps and buzzes are highly addictive and whittle away at our abilities to concentrate on any one thing, even making love."

Plus, it ruins sex for everyone. If you ever needed a reason to put your phone down, please let it be the fact that it is messing with your ability to get laid.

Just the other day my partner was on his phone and didn't even notice I was trying to give him a handy-J over his khakis. He was so immersed in his Twitter I had to say to him, "Hello. I am trying to fool around with you, sir."

Needless to say, when your eyes are glued to a screen, you're not picking up on another person's social cues. Bradbury says that if you're scrolling first thing in the morning and right before bed, it especially affects your level of "pillow talk," the time before bed when you connect with your partner both emotionally and physically.

All of this begs the question of why we do this to ourselves. Israel says phubbing is directly linked to our lack of self-esteem and insecurity. We check our phones to avoid any unwanted discomfort or interaction with our romantic partner. This, of course, just perpetuates conflict, leaving us in a cycle of mounting discomfort and resentment towards each other.

Then there's the fact that it's second-nature for us to miss our phones since we're constantly exposed to technology. "We use our phones to escape awkward situations and the rest of the world. We forget that our partners are more important, and instinctively reach for our phones," Bradbury says.

Just like going to the gym, eating healthy, and meditating, resisting the urge to scroll through your notifications at any given moment takes conscious effort.

Israel tells us that it's really a matter of priorities. "When you are with another human being and are multi-tasking—answering your phone, checking your texts and emails, etc. you are subconsciously signaling to them that they are not your primary concern," he says.

"If you're meeting with someone who's important to you, take your phone out, look the other person in the eye and say, 'I'm shutting my phone OFF.' Then put the phone somewhere out of eyesight. Hopefully your partner will do the same."

Dropping your phone also makes sense on a personal level—it eliminates distractions, makes you a more thoughtful person, and helps you work towards those millennial self-care goals. Says Bradbury, "Your connection in real life is more important than anything online. Remember that being on your phone makes your partner feel rejected, and be aware of your partner's needs in the moment."

And, hey—it's not like your Twitter is going anywhere.

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Gigi Engle

Gigi Engle is a writer, certified sexologist, sex coach, and sex educator. Her work regularly appears in many publications including Brides, Marie Claire, Elle Magazine, Teen Vogue, Glamour and Women's Health.