Remember when lack of sex was the biggest stressor for long-term couples? Or was it kids? Or money woes?
Anyway, now we have another challenge thrown in our path: phubbing.
The word blends “phone” with “snubbing” and it’s wreaking havoc on intimacy.
Want to know what it looks like? Take a selfie.
Pretty much everyone is guilty of pretending to be listening while scrolling through a newsfeed or Facebook posts. Phubbing is particularly annoying — bordering on insulting, bordering on soul-crushing — when done across the table at a restaurant or in bed, and both scenarios are sadly common.
James A. Roberts, a Baylor University professor of marketing, set out to determine just how problematic phubbing (which he also calls “cellphone conflict relationship”) is among romantic partners. In a word, very.
Speaking on the “Today” show, Roberts said phubbing is leading to increased stress, anxiety, even indirectly to depression, among those on the not-receiving end of attention.
In his study, Roberts asked 145 participants to fill out a questionnaire aptly titled “The 9-item Partner Phubbing Scale.” Questions included:
• During a typical mealtime that my partner and I spend together, my partner pulls out and checks his/her cellphone.
• My partner places his or her cellphone where they can see it when we are together.
• My partner keeps his or her cellphone in their hand when he or she is with me.
• When my partner’s cellphone rings or beeps, he/she pulls it out even if we are in the middle of a conversation.
• My partner glances at his/her cellphone when talking to me.
More than 46 percent of respondents said their partners phubbed them. Nearly 23 percent said the act caused issues in their relationship.
Such unfortunate phubbing fodder has led to campaigns including stopphubbing.com, which includes stats on world-class phubbing centers (hello, New York City!), how to stage a phubbing intervention, and funny, albeit unsubstantiated statistics such as “97 percent of people claimed their food tasted worse while being phubbed,” and “92 percent of repeat phubbers go on to become politicians.”
Well, maybe that second one is true.
The good news, I suppose, is that we’ve always found handy ways to shut out our beloved.
“Back in the old days, she had her magazines and he had his newspaper, he watched football and she watched comedies,” noted Terry Real, founder of the Relational Life Institute (terryreal.com) and a frequent visitor to the Twin Cities with his relationship boot camps.
Work, too, is a handy gatekeeper. I guess we’d call that wubbing.
“I just had a case,” Real said. “A guy getting a divorce, wife leaving him. He was stunned. She described that most nights he would work — captain of industry — until 7:30 or 8 p.m., then he’d come home, do his e-mail while they were eating dinner, then go up to his study to finish his e-mails. One hour with her after that, then bed. That was life with this guy.
“I can’t tell you how many times usually women are saying to their partner in my therapy room, ‘Put the dang thing down.’ It’s very common.”
Disconnect to connect
Jennifer Vencill also sees intimacy taking a drubbing from phubbing in her work as co-coordinator of the relationship and sexual therapy program at the University of Minnesota’s Program in Human Sexuality.
“The word I hear most often is ‘disconnect,’ ” said Vencill, a licensed psychologist with a specialty in sex therapy.
“People often feel disconnected from their partners. Part of intimacy is getting to reconnect with your partner,” she said.
Vencill is a big fan of regularly scheduled date nights, but pushes us to go further. With all the forces competing for our attention, she suggests that we also make regular appointments just to talk to each other.
“At the end of day, we say, ‘How was your day? How was work?’ and that’s as far as many of us get,” Vencill said.
At least once a month, or even better, once a week, she’d like to see us move past the small talk and say something along the lines of, “How are you doing? How are we doing as a unit? I have been feeling disconnected from you lately. Let’s check in on our relationship health.”
Terry Real counsels a similar strategy. He calls it “fierce intimacy” and it requires us to “lean in and deal with issues.
“If you want to keep passion in the relationship,” he said, “be honest with each other. Speak up. Do it with love. Say, ‘Honey, I really love you and I want to stay close to you and I’ll be able to stay close if you do this instead of that.’ Lower your voice, use a softer tone.”
And put the dang cellphone away.
“Have a phone-free evening,” he said. “Snuggle. Watch television.”
Scary? Just try it, Real said.
“I routinely see people wake up like they’re waking up from a spell,” he said. “It is really kind of a spiritual experience to be with couples in a moment like that.”