PhotoThe smartphone has become one of the most common consumer products in use today. It's a communications tool, entertainment platform, and fashion accessory.

Walk down the street and notice how many people are looking at their phones. Step into a cafe or coffee shop and you'll see more of the same.

Now, notice how many of those people with their eyes glued to their phones are part of a couple. If one or both halves of the couple are engrossed in their mobile devices, a Baylor University study suggests there's trouble ahead.

Researchers James A. Roberts and Meredith David have published a study with the impossibly long but highly descriptive title – "My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners."

They conducted two separate surveys that involved 453 adults in the U.S. in order to learn the relational effects of "Pphubbing" - or "partner phone snubbing." Pphubbing is a newly coined term to describe the extent to which people use, or are distracted by, their cellphones while in the company of their relationship partners.

Source of conflict

"What we discovered was that when someone perceived that their partner phubbed them, this created conflict and led to lower levels of reported relationship satisfaction," said Roberts. "These lower levels of relationship satisfaction, in turn, led to lower levels of life satisfaction and, ultimately, higher levels of depression."

Not to mention, one would assume, failed relationships.

Roberts and David used the first survey to develop a "Partner Phubbing Scale," a nine-item scale of common smartphone behaviors that respondents identified as snubbing behaviors.

Pphubbing behaviors

The behaviors include:

  • 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.
  • My partner glances at his/her cellphone when talking to me.
  • If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his or her cellphone.

By developing the scale, the researchers try to show that "Pphubbing is conceptually and empirically different from attitude toward cellphones, partner's cellphone involvement, cellphone conflict, and cellphone addiction."

The second survey dug a little deeper. It measured Pphubbing effects on romantic couples. This was done, in part, by asking couples to respond to the nine-item scale developed in the first survey.

Here's what it found:

  • 46.3% of the respondents reported being phubbed by their partner
  • 22.6% said this phubbing caused conflict in the relationship
  • 36.6% reported feeling depressed at least some of the time

Tough on relationships

The inescapable conclusion is that this ubiquitous consumer product is very tough on relationships.

"In everyday interactions with significant others, people often assume that momentary distractions by their cell phones are not a big deal," David said. "However, our findings suggest that the more often a couple's time spent together is interrupted by one individual attending to his/her cellphone, the less likely it is that the other individual is satisfied in the overall relationship.”

Fortunately, there's a pretty simple solution. When spending time with one's significant other, the researchers say, be cognizant of the interruptions caused by cellphones. And when you're trying to have a conversation, just turn them off.

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