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Phubbing: a marriage-wrecking habit?

“Nigel Farage may be a lipless old populist with a face like a crapulent axolotl, but you can’t take away his bank account just because… Oi! Are you even listening? You’re not, are you? You’re playing with your damn phone like a teenager… There’s me trying to have an important topical conversation and you’re totally phubbing me.” 

Phubbing – snubbing or ignoring someone while you look at your phone – was all over the papers last week, said Giles Coren in The Times, because of a new study showing that it’s bad for relationships. Researchers had interviewed 712 people, with an average age of 37, and found that couples who phub each other (always have their phones out, interrupt conversations to check messages, scroll through Instagram at mealtimes, watch YouTube videos in bed instead of having sex) experience “more conflict and less intimacy”.

‘Anything goes as long as expectations are aligned’

To which my response is, “Oh my god, look at this Reel of a dachshund throwing a tea party for all his dog friends!”, said Polly Vernon in the same paper. It’s fun when scientists confirm things we already know about the way we live; but I don’t agree with this study’s findings. 

Phubbing has been going on for ages (the word was coined 11 years ago) and I don’t see that it has to be a marriage-wrecker. Surely it’s like sex: anything goes, provided your habits and expectations are aligned.

‘Couples have always found ways to avoid talking to each other’

I hate phubbing, but there are times when it can be acceptable, said Michael Hogan in The Guardian. Arriving early at a big meeting, say, there may be a tacit agreement that you can swerve the small talk; and even at a social gathering, a quick phub, well managed, can be forgivable. But generally, it’s just incredibly rude, with its implied message that the person you’re with is less interesting to you than your online friends or the latest Twitter spat.

Yet haven’t couples always found ways to avoid having to talk to each other, asked Jane Shilling in The Daily Telegraph. Before people could lose themselves in cat memes, didn’t they retreat to the golf club or the shed, sit glued to the cricket, hide behind a newspaper, or lavish attention on the dog? All these things could surely be as much the cause – or symptom – of a stressed marriage as a phubbing habit.

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