Phubbing May Be the Sneaky Issue Messing With Your Relationship

What do you get when you mix phone and snubbing?
two women cuddling on couch
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt / Getty
Hayley Folk
Hayley Folk
Hayley Folk
Hayley Folk
The Knot Contributor
  • Hayley writes articles on a freelance basis for The Knot Worldwide, with a specialty in sex and relationships.
  • Her work has appeared in The Knot, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29 and more.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Hayley was a full-time editor at a business publication.
Updated Nov 30, 2023

Whether you're newly dating someone or are happily married, it's inevitable that sometimes things get in the way of romance and connection. Think: kids crying, busy days at work, holiday stress or house-hunting. And don't forget about phubbing.

What is phubbing, you might ask? This funny-sounding, seemingly made-up word is actually a term to pay attention to—one that describes a major pain point in a lot of relationships.

Hannah Mayderry, a licensed mental health counselor, knows a thing or two about phubbing and its effect on relationships. So what does phubbing in a relationship mean? And is phubbing disrespectful? Mayderry gave The Knot all the details, below.

In this article:

    What Is Phubbing?

    So what does phubbing mean? As Mayderry explains, "You know that moment when you're talking to someone, but they're more into their phone than your conversation? That's phubbing."

    This weird dating word—also known as phone snubbing—is meant to be a combination of the two words, phone and snubbing. Essentially, it's a term that describes when you or your partner pay more attention to a smartphone than who you're with. And unfortunately, it's quite common in today's relationship landscape.

    How Can Phubbing Impact Your Relationship?

    Now that you know what phubbing is, surely you know the feeling that it can bring. After all, it seems like everyone is attached to their phone screen—and being phubbed in any relationship or friendship can be harmful to that connection.

    "Phubbing can really chip away at the connection between partners. It's like saying, 'My phone is more interesting than you,' which, as you can imagine, isn't great for

    feeling cherished or important," Mayderry says. "This can lead to a trust deficit and a

    feeling of emotional distance."

    It's not just about ignoring what your partner says, she adds, but also about the message it sends: that the phone is a priority over the relationship. Though often untrue, that's never a signal one wants to receive and can make them feel disrespected, uncared for or ignored.

    How to Bring Up Phubbing With Your Partner

    If you're a victim of phone phubbing, there are many ways to bring up phubbing with your partner and share how you feel about it, without causing a rift. Remember: you deserve to say what you want and need in a relationship. Mayderry recommends these three ways to tackle phone snubbing and phubbing:

    1. Start by saying how you feel

    "Talking about phubbing can be tricky, but it's all about how you frame it," says Mayderry. "I suggest starting with how you feel. Maybe say something like, 'I feel we could be more connected if we had some phone-free time together.'"

    2. Don't blame them

    If you've experienced phubbing in marriage or another relationship, it can be easy to resort to blame. Instead, Mayderry suggests expressing your need for connection—and that maybe your partner could put their phone down more often.

    3. Choose the right time and place

    If you're going to bring up how phone phubbing hurts you or makes you feel disconnected, perhaps don't do it when you're at a family party or when they're at work over text, ya know?

    Instead, it can be helpful to choose a time and place that can lead to a productive, thoughtful conversation—like at home during dinner or a free Sunday afternoon.

    How to Stop Phubbing Your Partner

    If you've noticed that you've been guilty of phubbing, or your partner has brought it up, consider these four ways to stop the phubbing cycle and better connect with your significant other.

    1. Recognize it

    "The first step to stopping phubbing is recognizing it," Mayderry says. Once you can recognize that you've been pubbing, you can work on actively changing it.

    Additionally, recognizing the act shows you care about how you're affecting your partner and that you want to better yourself.

    2. Set daily device-free time

    How many hours a day do you look at your phone? Chances are, it's probably a lot. (All of us do it.) If you're looking to stop phubbing in its tracks, consider adopting daily device-free time, like while you're catching up after work with your partner or while cuddling in bed.

    3. Agree to simple rules

    "Agreeing to simple rules, like no phones during dinner or when you're out on a date, can really help," Mayderry adds. "It's about being present with each other, not just physically, but emotionally too."

    4. Use phone notifications wisely

    It's tempting to look at every phone notification we have. But TBH, most of them are pointless or can be looked at later. Consider turning off phone notifications for certain apps, or even going on do-not-disturb while you're having quality time with your other half.

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