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Have you ever encountered a moment with your partner when you are trying to talk to them but they are unable to take in anything you are saying, because they are glued to their phone?

Apparently this has a name – ‘phubbing’! So have you been ‘phubbed’ or have you ‘phubbed’ your partner? Dammit I have. It is almost a daily occurrence in our house. My partner tells me that the hardest part of it is when I make noises like I can hear what he is saying, but actually have NO CLUE when he asks me to repeat it. It feels awful when you are not being heard. Some have even described this feeling as ‘emotional infidelity’.

Sometimes it might feel like it’s an almost impossible task to be one person asking for their partners’ attention versus an entire industry built to keep you on your phone for the longest time possible.

As a human – particularly one who is tired at the end of the day – we can never hope to supply our partner with constant streams of interesting news, new recipes, fun facts around different hobbies or health groups, erotic images of other people, the up-to-the-minute weather forecast or reviews on the latest cinema releases. On top of this, when the phone starts to get tired, they can just be plugged in and, waahay! Off we go again! No partner can live up to that.

The author Anthony T. Hincks said this:

“We have all become addicted to mobile phones. They have become our family, our friend, our confidant and to even some they have become our lovers. But at what cost have they taken over our lives? …When people start to marry their apps, we will suddenly realize that technology has gone too far.”

Addiction to our phones can drive a wedge between couples. Over a period of time, we can lose the ability to be really present with each other, to remember what it was like to lean-in, to truly focus on listening to our loved one and hearing what they are saying. To feel loved we must be heard. All the time the phone is present and the face of it turned upwards, it sends the message to the other person you are with, that you are available for anyone at anytime, regardless of the fact that you are in the room with just one person, and that person might like to talk, or to listen to you talk.

This book: ‘You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters’ was published in January and has received rave reviews. Kate Murphy talks about this very problem of phubbing, but also promises to help us to fix it. This chapter on ‘addicted to distraction’ in particular stands out and is worth a read, even if you don’t have time for the whole book.

Of course there are many positives to phone use – you may have met your partner through an App on your phone; if you’re in a long-distance relationship then the phone will be your way to really connect; there may be apps you enjoy posting to or browsing on together. ‘Everything in moderation’ is a great philosophy to have, but the sad reality is that most of us do not use our phones ‘in moderation’.

Photo credit

So what can we do in the face of this?


  1. Start by recognizing the control that your phone has over you.
  2. Then take some time reflecting on how important your relationship is to you. If you have children, they can be included in this thought process too.
  3. Think back to times when someone hasn’t listened to you. You know those conversations when you are talking to someone and they keep looking over your shoulder – hoping to see someone else they’d rather be talking to. That. How did it feel? That’s probably how your partner feels when you are on your phone and they are in the room with you.



  1. Plan a good time to sit down together for an intentional chat about phones and technology. (Best done over food on a date night).
  2. Set out the ground rules of honesty and vulnerability. If you need to you could bring in the ‘hanky technique’. This (unfortunately) is not what you’d expect, its simply that whoever holds the hanky is the only one talking. You then pass it to the other to respond.
  3. Ask each-other if you think you spend too little/too much/just right amount of time on your phone.
  4. Ask each-other how it makes each of you feel.
  5. Decide together what a healthy screen time would look like for your relationship and when this time in the day would be best.
  6. Plan how this could be helped and supported by each-other, both in keeping to the time commitment, but also in allowing space for that time to be enjoyed without interruption if possible. (There are many ideas for curbing phone time on the internet, e.g taking off the social media apps so you can only access them on your computer).
  7. Plan what activities you would like to do together to replace the individual phone time (bonus for those who have been on our retreat as you can look back to the values exercise and remind yourself of some themes there). Even watching another screen – the TV – is a joint activity that can be shared and enjoyed together.

Susannah Baker

After giving up a senior nursing role spanning 14 years, and moving to North Devon, Susannah is now a founder and trustee of The Pickwell Foundation, the owner of a holiday business; an interior designer, partner to Steve and a mum to two teenagers.

Keeping her hand in with the nursing side, she works as a Community First Responder for the South West Ambulance Service.

The question of 'what makes relationships great', together with a real curiosity of how people stay together for a lifetime, has always caused much fascination.  

On a search to discover some answers for herself, One:Retreat was born.

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