"Phubbing" Your Partner May Be Making Them Less Happy With Your Relationship

Phub at your own risk.


Dr. Katie Spalding

Katie has a PhD in maths, specializing in the intersection of dynamical systems and number theory.

Freelance Writer

A man ignoring his date in favor of his smartphone. His date, a woman, looks annoyed and bored.

Ah, true love. Image credit: Prostock-studio/

Phubbing: we all do it; we all hate it. And a recent study shows that, in the world of dating, you phub at your own peril – because you might be risking your chances of romance.

You might be wondering, round about now, what on earth “phubbing” even is. It’s a relatively new term – a portmanteau of “phone” and “snubbing” – referring to that all-too-common experience of being ignored by somebody in favor of their smartphone. 


We all know how annoying it is to have to sit through a phubbing – which only makes it worse that, let’s face it, we’ve all been guilty of it at some point too. But a new study out of Turkey has found that this weird little neologism might not just be annoying the people around you – it may well be ruining your most important relationships.

“The phenomenon of phubbing, which hits individuals’ social interactions, is an important risk factor for romantic relationships,” notes the paper, recently published in the journal Psychological Reports. “In other words, partners’ being too busy with their smartphones during their romantic relationships harms relationship satisfaction and perceived romantic relationship quality.” 

Phubbing is hardly a stranger to this kind of adverse effect: it’s previously been linked to phone addiction and depression, poor self-esteem and mood in adolescents, and communication and relationship quality. The new study sought to record the experiences of phubbees’ assessments of their own life satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, and relationship quality, as compared to the level of phubbing they experience from their partners.

The 308 participants – nearly four-fifths of whom were women – were quite clear in their response. Not only was being phubbed by one’s partner associated with lower satisfaction with the romantic relationship, but that relationship was also perceived as being of lower quality overall. And it gets worse: further analysis found a link between romantic relationship satisfaction and life satisfaction – showing once again that the phubbing phenomenon can literally impact your enjoyment of life itself.


“The results… indicate that partner phubbing had a significant indirect effect on life satisfaction through perceived romantic relationship quality and relationship satisfaction,” the paper explains. “These results reveal that relationship satisfaction and perceived romantic relationship quality decrease in individuals who are exposed to partner phubbing behaviors, and that decreased relationship satisfaction and romantic relationship quality harm life satisfaction.”

Of course, a genuine causal relationship is impossible to establish with studies like this – so we can’t say for sure that phubbing leads to worse relationships. It may be, for example, that checking your phone all the time is related to some kind of stress, which can also affect relationship satisfaction. These kinds of overlooked variables are known as confounders, and while they can be accounted for to a pretty impressive degree, it takes very rigorous study design to fully negate their effects.

Nevertheless, the lesson from the study is probably an important one: if you want to keep your partner happy – or indeed your friends, family, coworkers, and probably pets – don’t phub them off. Yes, we know it’s difficult – but if these results are anything to go by, it might just save your relationship.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Reports.


  • tag
  • psychology,

  • relationships,

  • smartphones,

  • social behavior,

  • smartphone addiction,

  • phubbing