Your partner’s ‘phone snooping’ can lead to a vicious cycle of resentment and revenge, study finds

Smartphones have become an integral part of everyday life. They are often seen as a positive tool used to increase communication, but they can also be detrimental to relationships by distracting attention from their partner. A study published in Computers in human behavior explores how “bottles” or phone snooping can negatively affect relationship satisfaction and cause the partner who feels snubbed to reciprocate.

The rise of technology has brought many significant challenges along with its plethora of advances. Communication has been enhanced but also depersonalized by the popularity of smartphones and social media applications. This can damage personal communication, especially when a person perceives that their partner is ignoring them for or being distracted by their cell phone while they are together.

This phenomenon is called “phubbing” and has been shown to be linked to negative relationship and personal outcomes. The new study sought to better understand the effect phubbing has on the partner who feels they are being phubbed, as well as how the phubbing partner responds behaviorally.

In their study, Tessa Thejas Thomas and her colleagues used a sample of 75 participants recruited through social media and word of mouth to serve as their sample. All participants had to be in a romantic relationship of 6 months or longer and living with their significant other. The sample was mainly female and heterosexual.

All participants were asked to complete ten daily diaries, with measures including demographics, daily perceived inflammation, daily relationship satisfaction, daily self-esteem, daily depression/anxious mood, daily anger/frustration, daily coping responses, and daily motivation to retaliation. .

The results showed that partners who felt they were being inflamed in their relationships had lower levels of well-being, were less satisfied with their relationship, and reported more feelings of anger, jealousy, and frustration. However, feeling that one’s partner was phubbing did not lead to lower self-esteem or higher rates of anxiety and depression, except that phubbing was associated with depression in couples married for more than 7 years.

The results also showed that phubbing was related to curiosity and resentment in the partner who felt ignored. When participants felt embarrassed, they were more likely to pick up their phones to engage in retaliation. This was motivated more by boredom than revenge, although there was no significant relationship.

“Although there may be various motivations for retaliation, the findings suggest that phubbing by partners operates as a vicious cycle,” the researchers wrote. “This may explain why, over time, phubbing is associated with many negative outcomes (ie, relationship dissatisfaction, increased anger, resentment, and retaliation).”

“It is important to note, however, that many effects of perceived partner phubbing were not detrimental to the phubbee. There was no significant effect on the personal well-being of the phubbees. Similarly, some people responded to partner phubbing by simply asking their partner what they were looking at. That way, they may have mitigated any conflict from occurring.”

This study made significant progress by better understanding the relatively new concept of phubbing and its relational effects. However, there are limitations that should be noted. One such limitation is that all measures were self-reported, which may introduce response bias and does not allow us to extrapolate causality from the results. Additionally, only the partner feeling confused in the relationship answered questions. future research could focus on perceptions and effects on both partners.

The study, “Phubbing in Romantic Relationships and Retaliation: A Daily Diary Study,” was authored by Tessa Thejas Thomas, Katherine B. Carnelley and Claire M. Hart.

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