A couple in bed together texts in the dark with screen illuminating their faces.

Is “Phubbing” Affecting Your Marriage?

Is “Phubbing” Hurting Your Marriage?

Your Spouse’s Not-So-Secret Affair with Their Smartphone

With the rise of social media, smartphones, and the all-powerful “Metaverse,” Americans don’t have to look far to discover the latest “tips and tricks” for online etiquette in relationships.

From mindlessly scrolling our Facebook feed to checking our phones 96 times a day, it’s time to face the facts: our nation has a smartphone dependency. For most of us, this comes as no surprise. These days, it’s impossible to search the internet for answers without finding more evidence that our relationships are suffering because of…well, the internet.

Boomers, millennials, and Gen Z alike are immersed in the elaborate trappings of a screen-filled world. Approximately 85% of Americans have access to news, entertainment, shopping, music, dating, social media, and more—all in the palm of their hand. This is quite a big jump from 2011, when only 35% of Americans owned a smartphone.

From secret dating apps to more “FaceTime” than face time, research repeatedly points to the negative impact of social media and smartphones in our relationships—a problem so common, the world officially coined the word phubbing in 2012.

What Is Phubbing?

Phubbing is a word derived from the term phone-snubbing. The dictionary definition (yes, it exists) defines phubbing as the act of “ignoring a person or one’s surroundings by busying oneself with a phone or mobile device.” Such behavior can manifest in our relationships in various ways.

Here are common signs that your partner is choosing their screen over you:

  • They keep their phone in plain sight most or all of the time. Does your spouse carry their smartphone from room to room? Is their screen constantly lighting up with notifications or new “likes” on TikTok? Do they leave their phone face-up on the dinner table, even in restaurants?
  • Scrolling before bed is a sacred ritual. Does your spouse scroll through Instagram or Facebook before bed each night? Do they have a habit of starting or ending their day on social media?
  • They check their phone constantly in social settings. Does your partner automatically tap their screen every time there’s any lull in conversation? Do they glance at their phone while you’re talking? Does their cell phone inevitably become the “third wheel” during dates or quality time?
  • They feel the need to capture and post everything—literally, every little thing. Picture this: you and your partner grab lunch at a cute new bistro in town, and your plated food is already on Instagram before you take the first bite. Does your partner struggle to enjoy life in “real” time? If so, phubbing might be at play in your relationship.

How Screen Time Can Sabotage Your Partnership

As you can imagine, any person forced to compete with a phone screen for love and affection is bound to experience negative effects. Studies repeatedly point to the harmful impact of smartphones, social media, and screen time in our marriages.

Technology has the potential to affect all aspects of our relationships, including our sex lives, quality time, trust, companionship, and security. Screen time not only impacts our marriage, but can prove detrimental to our mental health as well.

Consider these common ways that phubbing can hurt your marriage:

  • Poor mental health. Spouses who are pushed aside by their partner’s smartphone often feel a lack of belonging, diminished self-worth, and are prone to experience mental conditions such as depression and anxiety.
  • Communication challenges. Ironically enough, the communication device at our fingertips tends to leave us more disconnected than ever. Modern features (such as the iPhone’s “typing bubbles” or the option to “leave someone on read”) can take marital conflicts to new heights, often sparking feelings of mistrust, jealousy, paranoia, and a tendency to misinterpret our spouse’s communication.
  • Difficulty trusting your partner. Do you find yourself second-guessing your partner when they tell you what they’re doing, or where they’ve been? This is a natural response to the isolation posed by phubbing.
  • Low marital satisfaction. Phubbing can lead to spouses feeling ignored, unimportant, excluded, or neglected by their partner.
  • A lack of stability or security in our marriage. Being snubbed for your partner’s phone doesn’t feel great. Worse, it can lead you to question your role in the relationship. No matter your preferred love language, you deserve to feel valued, loved, and secure in your marriage. Phubbing can lead to feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, and uncertainty in a partnership—emotions that can easily lead to marital conflict if left unaddressed.
  • Infidelity or suspicions of infidelity. The internet is a never-ending labyrinth to explore. Unfortunately, modern technology and social media platforms can open up channels that lead to unfaithful behavior. Even false accusations of adultery can lead to conflict between partners or cause irreparable damage to your marriage.

Best Practices to Prevent Phubbing in Marriage

Fortunately, there are ways to protect your relationship from “silent killers” like social media, smartphones, and screens. Here are a few healthy tips that couples practice to choose marriage over media.

  1. Practice mindfulness when you’re spending time with your partner. Whether you and your spouse are actively conversing or simply spending some quality time together, make an effort to actively engage with them.
  2. Don’t use your phone as a buffer for boredom. It’s okay to be still without a screen. While many of us struggle to be present at times, it’s not a bad thing to be alone with your thoughts. Break the habit of pulling out your phone every time there’s a lull in your day, whether it’s waiting at the doctor’s office or sitting in traffic.
  3. Delegate time or space that is screen-free. Agree to set boundaries in your marriage. Experiment with new rules, such as no phones during meals, or no social media after a certain time.
  4. Actively seek out opportunities to spend uninterrupted, face-to-face time together. Make plans, go on dates, and find time outside of your regular routine to engage in activities and quality time with your spouse. Doing so can strengthen your emotional connection, romantic attraction, and physical intimacy with your partner.
  5. Set aside personal screen-free time for yourself, too. In the same way that phone-free time is important for your relationship, it’s also important to take time for yourself. Get in the habit of enjoying time alone without screens, as this can help you prioritize your mental health and ultimately be a better partner to your spouse. Journaling, daily walks, meditation, being active, or a relaxing bath can improve your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take Action

Be vocal about any concerns you have. If you feel the need to initiate conversation regarding your partner’s behavior, do so. If your instincts are telling you that something is “off,” don’t shy away from communicating your feelings to your spouse.

While there are definite advantages to evolving technology, our modern world does not always align with the sanctity of marriage. Our smartphones and social accounts can open doors to temptation, infidelity, or other unfaithful acts. The ability to hide behind our screens can tempt us to make impulsive decisions and detrimental mistakes in our relationships.

At Burch Shepard Family Law Group, we understand the damage that online activity can cause in a marriage. When one spouse decides to use technology, social accounts, or secret dating apps to be unfaithful, it can inflict serious and often irreparable harm.

We all deserve to feel loved, valued, and acknowledged in our relationships. If you are considering divorce, it’s crucial to seek the support of a qualified family law attorney, as they can offer needed counsel and help determine your next steps.

Are you stuck in a rocky marriage? Our dedicated divorce attorneys are here to help. Call us at (949) 565-4158 to schedule a case evaluation.