Have you ever phubbed your marital partner? It’s ok, this is a safe space. You can tell us. If so, you might want to think about quitting, because a new study has found that regular phubbing is bad news for a happy marriage. If you’ve no idea what we’re talking about, read on and all will be revealed.
Phubbing, or “phone snubbing” is the inescapable term originally dreamed up to describe the modern tendency towards paying attention to one’s smartphone rather than other flesh and blood humans. A number of studies have tried to get to the bottom of exactly why people phub, but one area where there appears to be some consensus is around the negative impact of ignoring familial, social, and romantic relationships in favor of doomscrolling. Who’d have thought?
This latest study is no exception. The authors, based at Niğde Ömer Halisdemir University in Turkey, used survey data from 712 married people with an average age of 37 for their investigation into the interplay between phubbing, communication, and relationship satisfaction among married couples.
As well as collecting personal information from all the participants, they each had to fill out a series of questionnaires that had previously been developed by psychologists: the Marital Satisfaction Scale, the Effective Communication Skills Scale, and the Phubbing Scale.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way early. In accordance with previous reports, phubbing was a significant predictor of poor marital satisfaction. “As a result of this research, it is understood that phubbing behavior affects marital satisfaction as well as personal well-being in married individuals, similar to the studies in the literature,” explain the authors in their paper.
This is despite the fact that phubbing has become socially acceptable, or at least so commonplace that we might not consciously notice it, and most people don’t really consider it a personal slight: “In fact, 75% of adults see partner phubbing as 'Uncouth' behavior (not intentional nor perceived as personal).”
The authors go on to explain that the perception of being ignored can generate a lot of ill-feeling, and can lead to conflict when one partner appears to not be living up to the expectations of the other with respect to interpersonal communication.
When the data on communication skills were analyzed, they revealed an important piece of the puzzle: “This result shows that communication skills are a full mediator on the relationship between phubbing and marital satisfaction in married individuals.”
The authors particularly highlighted “ego-developing language, effective listening, self revelation, empathy, [and] I-language” as being positively correlated with marital satisfaction and negatively correlated with phubbing. I-language turns the focus of communication onto the speaker’s thoughts and feelings, helping prevent the listener from feeling blamed and thus becoming defensive.
There were some limitations to the study. The data were self-reported, which always leaves open the possibility of bias. The design of the study also made it difficult to rule out low marital satisfaction scores being related to previous experiences not covered in the scope of the study. The authors suggest that future research should ideally include different demographics, as all the participants in this study were from the Central Anatolian region of Turkey.
The study concludes by suggesting that improving communication skills in married people is arguably more important than ever before, and that family and marriage counselors should consider the possible impacts of technology in their practice.
When it comes to smartphones, the genie is not so much out of the bottle as it is traveling at warp speed to the other side of the galaxy – there’s just no practical way for most people to eliminate this technology from their lives. All we can do is keep learning how to live with it.
The study is published in Computers in Human Behavior.