Feeling Phubbed? How Smartphones Dilute Our Relationships
By Bob and Judith Wright
Over the holidays, did your grandkids sit around the room, eyes fixed on their phones, barely interacting with family members?
When you’re in meetings or even having a meal with friends, do you or others place phones on the table or within visible reach for monitoring, as though more important messages could call us away at any moment? Do your tablemates pick up their phone and start scrolling if lunch runs long or the meeting doesn’t pique their interest?
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld discusses the phone-on-the-table phenomenon in his standup: “One thing I’ve noticed about the cell phone is we seem to have much less interest in the people that are with us. Their value seems to be dropping quite dramatically. Some people want to let you know that. Don’t you have a friend, where every time you go out they take their phone out and put it on the table? What is that message? You’re not the only option that I have?!”
Worse yet, they answer the phone or send a text, ignoring you. You’ve just been “phubbed.”
Have you been phubbed by your friends, children and grandchildren? Are you phubbing them? Chances are, we’ve all phubbed or been phubbed. (Except, of course for those who’ve never crossed into the portable phone age.)
Wondering what on Earth “phubbing” means?
Dictionary.com defines phubbing as a verb for ignoring a person or one’s surroundings when in a social situation by occupying one’s self with a phone or other mobile device. A second use of the verb is to ignore a person or one’s surroundings in this way.
The word stems from “phone snub.” Ouch.
As you read that definition, did you instantly recall at least a dozen incidents when you’ve been phubbed (or been the phubber)?
A Baylor University study showed that out of 140 people surveyed, half reported being phubbed by a significant other. Over half of those phubbed reported the phubbing had led to fighting and dissatisfaction in their relationships.
We all long for genuine human connection. We want to spend time with our kids and grandkids. We want to experience the full and vibrant joy from engaging in our life and being present. Yet, so many of us tune out and zone out. Many of us allow our phones to come between us, literally and figuratively. When it happens to us, many of us stay silent (and hold in our anger).
How to Deal with Being Phubbed
So, how do we deal with being phubbed? It feels truly awful to be dismissed—and yet, many of us ignore it or move forward as though this “new norm” is simply status quo. So, what SHOULD we do?
Dictionary.com provided this sample usage: “Are you phubbing me?”
Well, it’s actually just that simple. Ask the question. Rather than holding back, ignoring the issue or shooting out a sarcastic passive-aggressive comment, sometimes the most effective route is the most direct. If we want to strengthen our relationships, engagement is the route to take.
When we’re phubbed, it hurts our feelings. In fact, but research has shown that even the mere presence of a phone sitting quietly on the table reduces intimacy and attention, diminishing the quality of the interaction. We may look forward to our time with our kids and grandkids, only to feel disappointed when our time together is second fiddle to Candy Crush, Facebook or texting.
It hurts! We may feel hungry for contact and afraid of being left behind by the grandkids, so we hide how irritated and hurt we feel. We may even blame the technology. However, in truth, what really hurts us is the feeling we’re being dismissed and ignored. Being ignored is counter to our inherent human longing to be seen and heard. When it happens, it’s painful.
Embracing honesty in our relationships and interactions is key to enjoying healthy connections with our adult children and grandchildren. It’s remarkable how many children respond with the honesty of the consequences of their behavior. Yet, it’s not our role as grandparents to parent or police or even guilt trip our grandkids. It’s also disempowering to our adult children when we tell them what they should do or how they should parent.
However, we should speak our truth and share our feelings. It’s perfectly fine to throw out the “are you phubbing me?” question. Your feelings are valid and important. Let your kids (and anyone else who favors their cell phone over real-life interactions) know you don’t appreciate being ignored. If there’s a more important matter at hand, let them go address it. If not, expect their presence.
It’s an important distinction to make. You aren’t instructing them how they should behave or what they should do. You’re simply stating their behavior has bothered you.
For those who aren’t comfortable with confrontation, an honest, open discussion might be difficult. We worry our adult children will distance themselves from us or reduce our time with our grandkids, so we walk on eggshells around them. This is a form of putting our head in the sand and ignoring the problem. Pretending or glossing over our feelings doesn’t serve or strengthen our relationships.
We want to leave a legacy of honesty and communication. This means getting hard truths out in the open without fear of repercussion stopping us. Rather than a relationship built on false pretenses and interactions, move forward in truth.
Responsible conflict can build better communication. It allows us to say how we feel. In our book, The Heart of the Fight, we discuss how conflict is at the cornerstone of healthy, honest relationships. Engagement and resulting conflict is a two-way street—if we’re 100% responsible for our feelings and no one gets more than 50% of the blame in any situation, that is. However, if we’re staying silent and seething, we’re not moving forward.
When You’re Guilty of Phubbing
Now, if you’re the one who’s guilty of phubbing, simply becoming more aware of the issue helps immensely. Just like television, shopping or overeating, our smartphones become another soft addiction.
Soft addictions are activities we use to zone out, avoid and disengage with life. We may receive a temporary fix and a boost from engaging in our soft addiction—just as we would with alcohol or drugs. In the case of phones, we may feel temporarily excited when we see we’ve received a message, “Yay! Someone’s thinking about me!”
We receive a little rush of feel-good chemicals in our brain. Those chemicals reinforce the behavior. We check our phones again and again because it feels good. We’re addicted to those happy feelings.
What are we missing out on by zoning out to our soft addiction? Our real-life interactions are much more important. In fact, when we’re present and engaged, we receive more out of each moment. We create memories. Time seems to slow down. Life becomes more vibrant and full.
Stop Phubbing and Start Connecting
If you worry you’re guilty of phubbing your partner, kids or friends, you may want to implement technology-free time. Go for a walk outdoors, keep technology away from the dinner table, and even take a day off from tech. Many in the business world are finding the benefits of taking “Technology Sabbaths”—a day, typically on the weekend, where phones are powered down and life is lived in real time.
There are several excellent ways you can ensure you’re not phubbing others (and to address phubbing when it happens):
- Speak up! Don’t be afraid to call out a phubber directly, ask them to put their phone down and focus on spending time together.
- Turn your ringer off or keep it on vibrate! You can even set up “Do Not Disturb” hours on your phone or turn off the ringer whenever your phone is locked.
- When you’re spending time with someone, leave your phone in your bag, car or pocket. Don’t engage in escapism by checking your phone.
- Limit your notifications. Do you really need a notice every time you get an email or message on social media? Turn them off!
- If you’re unsure how to adjust settings on your phone, take a class. There are many community classes that offer phone and technology basics.
- Let go of the desire to capture (and share) every moment with photos. Live in the moment and realize some moments are meant to simply be happy memories, not fodder for social media.
- Take a tech break. Implement a day off from technology or limit your technology use once a week.
- Turn your phone off at night. Store your phone away from your bed and implement a curfew when you turn off and take a break.
- Don’t check your phone first thing in the morning. Instead get your day started and check your messages later.
- Make the table a tech-free zone. Keep meal times focused on connecting, conversation and engagement. Leave your phones off the table!
We don’t need to be constantly available. Unless you’re a surgeon or working in emergency care, most messages can wait. Remember what we used to do in the days of answering machines and letter writing? While technology is a wonderful tool, it can also damage our friendships and come between us in an unhealthy way.
To get more out of life, connect with our spouse, kids and grandkids, let’s put down the phone and focus on honest, strong and meaningful relationships. Build the connections with those you love. Listen and enjoy your time together. Engagement is vital for a full, GRAND and satisfying life, so stop phubbing and start living!
We’re at a GRAND time in our lives! Let’s embrace this opportunity to go out, get involved and continue to learn and grow with our kids and grandkids. Much research demonstrates that the secret to staying young, healthy and vibrant is to be engaged in fully living your own GRAND life.
For more on living a GRAND life, visit us at www.wrightfoundation.org. We offer workshops, classes, coaching and resources to help you discover your path to living your best life.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
“The Heart of the Fight: A Couples Guide to 15 Common Fights, What They Really Mean & How They Can Bring You Closer.Judith Wright and Dr. Bob Wright, are a husband/wife duo and Chicago-based relationship counselors. They are award-winning authors and trainers and have appeared on numerous TV and radio programs including ABC’s 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, the Today Show, the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Marie Claire, Better Homes and Gardens, and Vanity Fair. They are the co-authors of “The Heart of the Fight: A Couples Guide to 15 Common Fights, What They Really Mean & How They Can Bring You Closer.