You May Already Be a Phubber


Maybe you can relate to this scenario:

It’s pretty late in the evening. Say, 9:37. (Give or take.) You’ve just put your last child to bed. You’ve been going nonstop since, say, 5:23 this morning, when you inexplicably woke up seven precious minutes before your alarm rang.

You plop down on the couch next to your spouse. Perhaps he or she is watching the news. Or some reality show. Or something. You know that you should probably talk about how the day went, how the week is going, what’s going on this weekend, when the kids’ next recital or orthodontist appointment is. Etc., etc.

But, well, the second you sit down, your right hand reaches for your smartphone. Somehow, it’s just an arm’s reach away. You pick it up. Just for a moment, you know. To check Facebook. Or your stocks. Or your home’s value on Zillow. Or Pinterest. Or a zillion other things.

Soon, your realize 18 minutes have passed. It’s now 9:55. You look over at your significant other. And she’s doing the same thing you are: casually, mindlessly, hypnotically, habitually flicking through her Facebook feed. Just like you.

She notices you’re looking at her. “Hey,” you say wearily and a bit sheepishly. “Hey,” she replies.

And then you both go back to your phones.

Soon it’s 10:23. The weather on the local news is done. And your days of staying up together and watching some late-night talk show are far in the rearview mirror. (Sorry Jimmy. And Jimmy. And that other guy.)

“You doin’ OK?” you ask a bit sheepishly.


“Should we go to bed?”


You know that that level of emotional intimacy probably ain’t gonna cut it for the long haul. But for tonight, well, it’ll have to do. And after all, all that stuff online was pretty important.

Maybe you can relate to that story. Maybe not. But the point here is that married couples have precious little quality time together. And the advent of our love affair with smartphones has only made fleeting moments of it at the end of the day even harder.

So much so that there’s now an official term for choosing to spend time with that little screen instead of on our beloved: phubbing.

It’s short for “phone snubbing,” a contraction that’s as inelegant as the behavior it describes.

Now, occasionally choosing to see what’s happening online instead of talking to our spouses isn’t going to torpedo our marriages overnight. But when it becomes an ongoing habit, well, it can wreak quiet havoc on kindling a connection with the person to whom we’ve pledged our life.

According to an article published on the Australian women’s website, a recent study from Baylor University found that 46% of those surveyed felt they’d been “phubbed” at some point by their partner. Australian relationship expert Julie Harte of The Harte Center said of the study:

There are three important connection factors that will give us a sense of satisfaction in our relationships. The first one is accessibility, that you’re both open and listening to one another. The second is responsiveness, as in you both empathize and try to understand how the other feels, as in ‘get’ each other, and the third is engagement, so you’re both making the time to be fully attentive to each other.

“Phubbing interferes with all three of these important factors so it’s no surprise to me that people are feeling less satisfied with their relationships because they’re just not having quality time, and they’re not feeling their partner ‘gets’ them or is there for them because there’s always this constant distraction away.”

She went on to talk about how this is a growing problem among couples she counsels:

“I have more and more people, couples—one or both partners—coming to me and saying, ‘My partner is constantly on their device and there is no time for me, I feel so completely unimportant in their life.’ … “It implies that ‘you’re not really that important to me, I will never put you first over other things and that there will never be a time when I choose you over my phone.'”

Now, checking your Facebook feed instead of checking in with your spouse at the end of a long day might not seem a particularly pernicious problem. Surely there are more destructive addictions. (And there are.) Nevertheless, I think Harte is right to note that when we choose technology over being present, available and engaged with our spouses, it may be doing damage over the long haul that we’re not aware of.

And she doesn’t even begin to address how this phenomenon may be affecting our children, too.

So what steps can those of us who are tempted to phub take to break this 21st-century bad habit? Harte offers some practical advice: “Sit down together and set out some rules about phone-free time, where you basically put your phone away somewhere where you can’t hear it, for a full hour every night while you and your partner spend some quality time together. … Most people would be amazed at what a dedicated hour a day of phone-free time can do for their relationship over time.”

I think that’s great counsel. And, as Christians, I’d add that perhaps it’s a way of life we need to talk about with God, too—both in our individual relationships with him and together with our spouses as well.

The goal here is not draconian rules about this new-fangled device. Rather, it’s recognizing that our relationships with the partner right in front of us is the one that matters most. To protect and cultivate it, we’ll have to make concrete, intentional choices to establish healthy boundaries on technology.

Because let’s face it: I don’t think any of us want to be labeled a phubber.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great article! I can so relate to it. My family of grown children all have smartphones,  busy lives  and connected to facebook. I was the last hold-out who refused to get on the techno smartphone - facebook train. 
But the only way to contact them now is by texting so I more or less had to get a smartphone too.
I just dont know how we in our culture today can reverse this trend. Or even detach ourselves  from it.
When our 'smart' devices  make so many everyday things in our life dependent or controlled by them. Theres an app for everything now, which encourages spending unlimited time on our devices. Even though some apps are very useful. I love my Bible app, gmail and being able to text message the kids.(But it can never replace spending time with them). Trying to go old school and make everyone be in one place at one time and have the grandkids go one day without electronics is a feat in itself. Yes...I'll admit I'm guilty of Phubbing too. Thanks again for the article.
Jonathan Foster More than 1 year ago
Excellent article!  We see this with parents ignoring their children, too.  Thanks for bringing attention to this new/old dilemma of putting our loved ones first before entertainment/sports/news!  Real relationships in real time matter.  Be present!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How about in retirement, when you're stuck in the house with the world's most boring man, who won't find anything to do, won't leave the house without a good reason, won't even watch tv , has nothing to talk ABOUT except things that happened in the past, when he worked, or lived at home with his mean old parents?   I would go mad if I didn't do a little phubbing.  MAD.
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SJamison More than 1 year ago
There's an xkcd cartoon to that effect, with what is effectively the same person complaining about all the different ways people avoid talking to each other, starting with books back in the 1800s.  The punchline is him being asked to "take a hint."
Shirley Mills More than 1 year ago
Or television???
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yep I agree, TV and Video games can be just as distracting.
RIcoSuaveGuapo More than 1 year ago
The difference is that before, you had built in breakpoints - chapters, commercials, news stories. You reach the end of the book. The TV channel plays the Star Spangled Banner then goes to bars and tones for the night, etc.

Not so with the internet. Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/et al. let you browse indefinitely. There's always *one more thing* you can read or interact with (like responding to a blog post at 11:25 at night when you should be sleeping...)