Phubbing and the Importance of Values vs Rules in our Relationships


In this article, we’ll explore what phubbing is and consider strategies when our friends or partners are spending more time on their phone than with us.

“Without ​technology​ humanity has no future, but we have to be careful that we don’t become so mechanised that we lose our human feelings.” – Dalai Lama

Recently, I was “phubbed” by a friend which was very upsetting. For those not in the know the definition of “phubbing” is the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention.

On face value phubbing is a funny word but unfortunately research suggests that using our phones constantly when with loved ones can have a huge impact on our relationships and lead to conflict. Research is also indicating that it can have an impact on the mental well being of the person who is being phubbed. Why? Studies suggest that being phubbed is a threat to our sense of belonging, self-esteem, meaningful existence and control.precio viagra farmacia

I think most of us would agree that relationships are based on connection, reliability and communication. We love to spend quality time with our loved ones. However being constantly on a phone often means delays in responding to conversations and then responding in a way that does not match up with what is being said. This often leads to the other person feeling ignored and emotionally distant and resentment and distress often begins to build.

So what can you do when somebody is phubbing you?

When I researched this question I discovered a number of strategies to manage the situation. Most of them were about agreed rules. For example, to make an agreed rule about phone usage including phones not being at the dinner table or in the bedroom.

In his book “ACT with Love” Dr Russ Harris talks about the “land of rules”. He encourages us to focus on values rather than rules. Rules he suggests generally have a sense of heaviness about them, a sense of obligation and burden. Values tend to include words like “want”, “choose”, “important” “matters”. Rules tend to include “should “have to”, “ought to”, “wrong”, “good”, “bad”.

In essence, Dr Harris is inviting us to think about the type of friend/partner we would like to be in the relationship. He suggests we explore these questions:

  • What sort of personal qualities do I want to bring into play in my friendships/relationships?
  • What character strengths do I wish to employ or develop?
  • How do I want to behave or act on an ongoing basis?
  • What do I want to stand for as a friend/partner?

What I like about this shift in thinking is we can apply it to any issue that arises in any relationship. It also encourages to reflect on our ability to control someone’s behaviour. If we focus on trying to change our partners or friends we run the risk that we start to behave in ways that are not aligned to ​our​ values and the type of partner/friend we would like to be. We can start to withdraw and not communicate our needs and wants in an assertive manner. We can get so stuck on the rules we lose sight of what is important to us. We can also demonstrate very little self compassion and resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms as we become more and more distressed.

Changing from rules to values encourages us to accept:

  • We can’t always get what we want
  • There is no such thing as a perfect partner/friend.
  • We can’t control our loved ones but we can control ourselves.
  • We often get stuck on the rules we made rather than our values. In doing so we often become a partner/friend we don’t like.
  • We often have a level of awareness that we are distressed however rather than being kind to ourselves and expressing how we are feeling we go straight back to old coping mechanisms which inevitably makes us feel worse and disappointed in ourselves.

Try it. Next time you have an issue with a partner or friend about the amount of time they spend on their phone or phubbing reflect on your values rather than the rules. You will know if you are focusing on rules as you will hear yourself say “should”, “ought to”, “right” and “wrong” rather than expressing what is important and matters to you. Be kind to yourself as these conversations are often not easy.

Attuned Psychology offers support to both individuals or couples so if you would like support with any issue that is impacting on a friendship or relationship contact us here.

The Attuned Psychology Team

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