'Phubbing' is ruining American relationships

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In theory, when you're in a relationship, the temptation to seek emotional relief from isolation through your phone should be reduced.

But it's 2015, and it's not happening.

According to a survey of more than 400 individuals by Baylor University, 46.3% of respondents said their partners snubbed them by taking to their phones, or "phubbed" them. And 22.6% said it "caused issues" in their relationship.


"The results presented herein suggest that partner phubbing creates conflict over such use of one's cell phone which in turn impacts reported relationship satisfaction, and ultimately personal well-being," co authors James E. Roberts and M.E. David write.

Here's their diagram explaining how it works: the phubbing leads to conflict over cell phone use, which impacts relationship satisfaction, which impacts life satisfaction, which leads to depression. We don't want to know what happens next.


The one thing that can mitigate the effects of phubbing is what the authors refer to as attachment anxiety levels: If you're pretty secure about your status in the relationship, phubbing becomes less of an issue. If you're not, phubbing is going to wreck you.


The term "phubbing" dates at least to 2012. Around that time, a group started an anti-phubbing movement that seems to have gone dormant, presumably due to being utterly defeated (the group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new study).


It is likely to have gotten worse, they say.

"Given that the number of anxiously attached individuals has been increasing steadily over the past couple of decades and is thought to continue increasing, the negative effects of phubbing may well grow stronger with time," they write.


The study's conclusion is really bleak but worth reading in full:

The institution of marriage (and romantic relationships in general) is under attack. Approximately 40-50 percent of all marriages will end in divorce, while many of the intact unions are poorly functioning and are characterized by low levels of relationship satisfaction on the part of one or both partners.

As intimated in the title of this paper, it appears that life has become a major distraction from our cell phones. It is ironic that cell phones, originally designed as a communication tool, may actually hinder rather than foster satisfying relationships among romantic partners.



Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.