While dating his last girlfriend, Andrew Nahmias found that the only alone time he had with her was in the pool.
“One time we were in the pool so she couldn’t have the phone on her, and we were in the pool for three hours and I was like ‘You know what? This is the longest conversation we have ever had. You know why? Because there’s no phones involved,’” Nahmias, a sophomore psychology major, said.
The third wheel that always separated Nahmias and his girlfriend was nothing more than a phone. And even after pointing that fact out to her, he found that nothing changed.
This act of paying more attention to your phone than your romantic partner is called “phubbing,” and it has put human relationships in difficult and uncertain circumstances.
A Baylor University study conducted by James Roberts, Ph.D., and Meredith David, Ph.D., concluded that 70 percent of married couples fight over their partner’s smartphone use.
“I believe partner phubbing is right up there with the ‘big three’ (money, sex, and kids) in causing conflict in relationships,” Roberts said in an email.
Roberts teaches marketing at Baylor in Waco, Texas. His research is primarily focused on the psychology of consumer behavior. He became interested in the obsession with smartphones after watching his teenage daughters.
“They were totally immersed in their phones and it really was a case of, ‘Together, but alone,’” Roberts said in an email.
It is not only his teenage daughters who experience this obsession. Senior biology major, Sam Richards, finds phubbing annoying, however she said she realizes that she has done it subconsciously to others.
“I didn’t notice I was doing it, and when I stopped, I realized the guy was watching me, just waiting for me to stop doing it,” Richards said. “I think [phubbing] can be harmful in terms of relationships because you’re distracted by something that is not there when the person is right there.”
Roberts suggests couples make a social contract with rewards and consequences to combat phubbing. Katie Gregory, a senior marine science major, is trying just that.
“[Phubbing] bothers the heck out of me, so I have a rule with my boyfriend that if we’re at dinner or something or out and having a conversation, both of our phones are away, face down, not looking at the screen unless it’s like ‘oh, want to see this funny meme?’ because that’s modern romance right there,” Gregory said.
28-year-old Annette Kawire manages phubbing by having designated times for her boyfriend and the phone itself.
“I have my time with him and he gives me my time with my phone,” Kawire, who is taking a Stony Brook leadership class, said. “And now it’s getting easier because there is basketball happening, so he’s on his basketball and I am on my phone and we are very happy.”
Communication is a vital component of successful relationships, Stony Brook sociology professor, Norman Goodman, Ph.D. said.
“Relationships are based upon trust and communication, and if you break down either one of those, it makes the relationship much more difficult,” Goodman said. “How would you like to be talking to someone and they suddenly say, ‘well wait you’re not important enough. I have something over here to do’?”
Goodman teaches two classes, Intimate Relationships and Social Psychology, and he believes that phones have become an issue for relationships now more than ever. Cell phones allow users to constantly stay up to date, but they’re getting in the way of human relationships.
“I think this is a quantum leap to what might have been a minor problem before,” Goodman said. “My wife and I were at a restaurant. It didn’t cause a problem, but before I left work I had some emails sent out and I wanted to see if there was a response, and she said ‘why are you doing that here at the restaurant? Why are you looking at it?’ It was annoying to her.”
Goodman is not a fan of social media when improperly used. He recognizes that the world is becoming more technologically immersed, but he hopes people will limit its use.
“As long as they have the phone, they feel committed to look at it,” Goodman said. “There is almost an insatiable desire to keep up to date… I think it will damage relationships.”