Maybe you’ve heard of phubbing, maybe you haven’t. It’s the latest technology-induced problem that couples have to navigate.
The word is a mix of ‘phone and snubbing’ and refers to the (annoying) habit of people zoning out of a conversation to check their messages or browse the internet. You’ve probably had it happen to you once or twice. Many people find that the joy of bringing a new baby into this world is one and the same with long, sleepless nights and exhaustion. This means that they have less time for each other – not only do they have to take care of a needy baby, but your free time is also usually spent catching up with chores and sleep.
If we spend our limited free time checking social media, it can be seriously harmful to a relationship. We cut our interaction time down, meaning that there is less time for support – Beach et al. (2003) found that a lack of quality time leads to an increase in “depressive symptoms”. But is phubbing to blame?
Table of Contents
How Can Phubbing Happen After A New Child?
So, we know what phubbing is. But how can that affect a relationship after the birth of a new child? Prolonged periods of tiredness, social isolation, and lack of free time can lead us to make bad choices for our relationships.
Successful relationships thrive on empathy. You need to give and receive care to not only build but maintain a loving atmosphere. This is hard in the early days of “new parenthood” (even if it’s not your first child).
If we rely on technology for all our entertainment, then we are closing the door to enjoy quality time with our partners. Partners who take maternity/paternity leave are prone to this – spending all day with a needy child can leave us exhausted and some people find it easier to mindlessly scroll social media than have an in-depth conversation.
In the worst cases, this can lead to feelings of depression and jealousy. We begin to stray into the areas of “emotional cheating”.
What Is Emotional Cheating?
Emotional cheating is relying on a third party in a relationship to fulfill the emotional and empathetic duties we would expect from successful loving couples.
This doesn’t need to be sexual or romantic, but there is a level of nonsexual intimacy with someone other than the partner.
This might not seem too serious to some people, but research has shown that around half of “emotional affairs” end up turning into sexual affairs. If partners neglect their emotional and empathetic duty to each other, there is a high chance that their relationship won’t survive.
Obviously, that’s an extreme example of phubbing. But it does happen! When couples don’t enjoy quality time together in favour of chatting over the internet, we expose ourselves to the risk of emotional cheating and relationship breakdown.
Does Phubbing Affect Relationship Satisfaction?
Yes, in many ways. As well as fears about emotional cheating, Roberts and David (2016) found that couples who are prone to phubbing have lower relationship satisfaction. They found that 46.3% of people had experienced phubbing and 22.6% said that it affected their relationships.
Phubbing directly links to lower life satisfaction in general and an increased risk of depression. This isn’t just annoying, but actively affecting relationships for the worse.
This might be because we simply enjoy conversations less when we are constantly interrupted by someone using a phone (Turkle, 2011). “Phubbers” do the opposite of what high quality partners do – they ignore, interrupt, or just don’t listen.
As relationship and life satisfaction goes down, we also see a jump in mental health related problems.
Does Phubbing Affect Mental Health?
Yes, mainly in the growth of aggressive and depressive behaviour. A study by McDaniel and Coyne (2016) found that the women responding to their questionnaire who said they used technology a lot reported lower life satisfaction and a higher number of depressive episodes.
McDaniel and Coyne posed that frequent “technoference” (phubbing with any device) your partner shows a lack of respect in the relationship. If one partner uses technology instead of chatting, it sends out “implicit messages about what they value more”.
Long term phubbing leads to depression and feelings of worthlessness. But don’t just take our word for it:
Making a connection became difficult. I knew she was tired, but I was tired too and still making an effort. It felt unfair. I was pretty mad about it all, looking back.
Said one responder to this question we sent out last week.
What Can I Do About Phubbing In My Relationship?
It can be hard to open a dialogue about subjects like this. We don’t want to be confrontational about something our partners might not see as an issue (but we want to make our feelings known, of course!).
Here are our Top 5 Ideas for talking about and overcoming phubbing in your relationship:
1. Find Time Just For The Two Of You
Even if it’s half an hour a night, it’s good to set time aside for your partner. Ask your partner to put time aside from you and your needs at least once a day. It’s a busy world, but making time for each other makes the world of difference.
A lot of couples are now having “tech free time”. They put their laptops, tablets, and phones away and just focus on each other. This is perfect for unbroken, empathetic chats and support.
2. Remember Your Partner Needs Time
This can be a hard one. Sometimes we need just to be on our own (or, at least, left to our own devices). It can be important to remember that your partner may need “no talking” time.
It can be easier to text or chat over an IM service than to have a conversation with someone. The “phubber” isn’t ignoring you. They’re too tired to talk. Consider how tired they are and if now is the right time to discuss the use of technology in the home.
3. Use Technology Together
Technology doesn’t have to isolate us from our family. Think about everything that we learned from the coronavirus lockdowns – tech can bring us together!
Why not suggest an online quiz like Sporcle for some lighthearted teamwork? Or multiplayer video games (if you’re into that sort of thing)? Technology can be a tool for good, so why not use it to bond with your partner?
4. Pick Up A New Hobby
Sometimes relationships can feel a bit stale, but we can shake them up by learning a new skill together. Something that doesn’t require a lot of physical or mental energy could be brilliant for couples who are still dealing with a new baby!
New hobbies can be anything, but here are a few ideas:
- Take up couples cooking, trying out new dishes whenever you get a change
- Have themed film nights, like a horror movie week
- Learn a language together
- Create a scrapbook of your relationship, showing all of your favourite memories
That’s just a few ideas, but anything can be a new hobby. You just need to lead your partner in the right direction.
5. Make A Date Night (Even When You’re Stuck In)
Being stuck in the house can be a frustrating fact of being a new parent. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up dating each other.
Make one night a week your date night. Regardless of what’s happening in life, that is when you get your quality time. You can even recreate your favourite dates from before you had kids in your own home. Seems a decent way to impress, right?
Smartphones aren’t evil. No technology is. Also, no technology is going to ruin your relationship with your spouse or partner. It all comes down to the way we use it. Fostering a loving relationship is a difficult task at the best of times, but failing to recognize the signs can lead to long term issues.
If you feel that your partner is neglecting your relationship to play on their phone (or if you are the guilty party!), you need to have a serious conversation. This involves identifying the problem, talking about the feelings you both experience, and suggestions for how to overcome the issues.
Remember, you don’t need to throw your phones, tablets, and laptops in the bin just because you both need some quiet time. Learn to use technology to your advantage or set aside tech-free time to strengthen your relationship and avoid the stress and upset that phubbing can bring.