Screen Time: The Biggest Relationship Killer & How to Combat It

Is your partner addicted to their phone? In the age of technology, love has found a new medium to bloom and romance to blossom. But what happens when there’s too much of a good thing? What happens when a partner in a relationship seems to spend more time on their phones and staring at screens than paying attention to their partner? This phenomenon, known as “partner phubbing”, is subtly killing relationships. If you feel you’re a victim (or a perpetrator!) of this subtle relationship killer, read on.

Read more: Booking Date Night is Key to Relationship Happiness

What is ‘partner phubbing’?

Do you remember a time when your phone was primarily a device to talk with someone? A time when we relied on our phones to connect us with others in real-time, to relay and receive information through the spoken word? Today, most of that is lost or at least much harder to absorb. We have arrived in an era of pure transactional dialogue, where an emoji is now expected to say it all.

Phubbing, a term coined from ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing,’ refers to the act of ignoring one’s partner to engage with their phone. It’s a phenomenon that’s causing strife and discontentment in relationships.

For example, you might have experienced your husband always being on his phone and ignoring you, or your girlfriend constantly scrolling through social media instead of engaging in conversation. In another case, a couple might be watching a movie together, but one partner is more engrossed in their phone than the movie or their partner’s company. This behavior can lead to feelings of neglect and dissatisfaction in the relationship.

These are classic examples of phubbing, and they’re more common than you might think.

It’s not just about being ignored either. When one half of a partnership is spending all their time on their phone, it can be easy for their other half to think something shady is going on. Ultimately, a relationship should be built on a strong foundation of trust but the reality is that emotions aren’t always logical, sensible or fair, and the combination of being ignored and suspicion that phubbing creates can spell trouble for any relationship (no matter how strong).

What is the impact of phubbing on a relationship?

Excessive smartphone use in the presence of our significant others hurts romantic relationships. One study found that people with anxious attachment styles reported higher levels of cell phone conflict than those with less anxious attachment styles. Another study found that phubbing indirectly impacted depression through relationship satisfaction and, ultimately, life satisfaction.

The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey results support this, with two-thirds of Americans saying that they “somewhat or strongly agree that periodically ‘unplugging’ or taking a ‘digital detox’ is important for their mental health.

In a study conducted by Baylor University, researchers found that phubbing could lead to lower levels of relationship satisfaction and increased levels of depression and stress. This was particularly true in relationships where one partner was more dependent on their phone than the other.

So phubbing is bad. What can you do about it?

How to stop yourself or your partner from phubbing

Before you talk to your partner about their smartphone use, it’s important to first examine your own phone behavior. If you need to improve as well, approach your partner that this is something you need to tackle together.

Set “smartphone-free” zones and times when smartphone use is forbidden, such as at dinner, during family time, on dates or family outings, and certainly in the bedroom. These can be part of your cell phone rules for married couples or any committed relationship. You can also use apps to monitor—and even restrict—your smartphone use.

Cell Phone Rules for Couples

Setting cell phone rules can help couples manage their phone use and reduce phubbing. Here are some suggestions:

  • Designate Screen-Free Times: Set specific times during the day when both partners agree to put away their phones. This could be during meals, an hour before bed, or during shared activities.
  • No Phones in the Bedroom: Keep the bedroom a sanctuary for rest and intimacy. This means no phones in the bedroom, especially during bedtime.
  • Respect Face-to-Face Conversations: When having a conversation, make it a rule to put phones away. This shows respect and ensures that each person is fully present.
  • Limit Social Media: Set a daily limit for social media use. Excessive scrolling can lead to unnecessary distractions and conflicts.
  • Communicate About Phone Use: If one partner needs to use their phone for a prolonged period, they should communicate this to the other. This helps avoid misunderstandings or feelings of being ignored.
  • No Phones During Date Nights: Make date nights strictly about the couple. This means no distractions from phones.
  • Turn Off Unnecessary Notifications: To avoid constant distractions, turn off unnecessary app notifications, especially during couple time.
  • Emergency Exceptions: Understand that there will be exceptions to these rules in case of emergencies or important calls.
  • Regular Digital Detox: Schedule regular periods where both partners completely unplug from their digital devices. This could be for a few hours, a day, or even a weekend.

Cupla: The Solution to Phubbing

While phubbing is multifaceted, you could ultimately describe it as a lack of quality time – even when you and your partner are together! Quality time is the foundation of nearly every strong relationship, and finding – and making – quality time for just you and your partner is crucial. 

That’s where Cupla comes in. Cupla is a shared calendar app designed exclusively for couples, helping couples manage their digital lives together, creating a balance between necessary screen time and quality time spent together.

With Cupla, you can plan your day, week, or month together, setting aside specific times for phone-free activities and date nights. It’s a tool that helps you manage your digital lives while prioritizing your relationship, making it the perfect solution for couples struggling with phubbing. Trial Cupla now for free on iOS and Android.

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