Phubbing affects romantic relationships most: Poll
Two weekly dinner dates with her boyfriend of seven months are all that a woman, who wants to be known only as Miss Chua, 22, can afford due to her hectic schedule. She eagerly looks forward to them - only to see him glued to his iPhone screen as they eat in awkward silence.
Phubbing, the act of ignoring one's companions while using mobile devices, affects romantic relationships the most, compared to that of family and friends, found a recent survey of 785 Singaporean and permanent resident respondents, aged 15 to 35 by Singapore Polytechnic.
A victim of her boyfriend's phubbing, Miss Chua told The New Paper: "My presence is taken for granted and that hurts my self-esteem. I don't initiate conversations with him any more since he pays little attention to me. That is evident from his short, superficial replies."
She said her career-minded boyfriend usually spends about a third of their 90-minute dates messaging bosses and peers on WhatsApp, and claims to have "urgent matters to attend to" when confronted.
Now, she prefers messaging because his text replies are "more substantial than his face-to-face ones".
Counsellors TNP spoke to said they have seen an increase in phubbing-related conflicts between couples aged 17 to 35 in recent years.
Olive Branch Counselling Services counsellor Sam Roberts said a client once left the restaurant during a date with her boyfriend of four years as he was too engrossed in his mobile game. He became aware of her disappearance 45 minutes later.
Mr Roberts suggests that frequent phubbing occurs when partners become "too comfortable in their relationship" and begin "taking it for granted" by prioritising friends over each other at times.
"A romantic relationship requires deep connection between individuals, which is affected when a partner is neglected and phubbing is among the growing causes," he said.
"This creates an emotional gap between the couple and results in a lack of communication. If unchecked, arguments from miscommunication will make partners physically distant."
According to counsellors, people with sociable personalities, low self-esteem or who express and interpret love through quality time are more likely to be affected by their partners' phubbing. Feelings of rejection and unworthiness follow.
Sexologist Martha Lee has observed that auditory people who interpret love via words of affirmation tend to multi-task and not engage in eye contact.
She said: "As a result, this can be disturbing for non-auditory people with other love languages (who require these to feel loved)."
Partners may turn to infidelity to satisfy their need for emotional connection when passion and intimacy in their current relationships decline, warned Mr Eugene Chong, a counselling psychologist from Seeding Minds.
He said: "The temptation for extra-marital affairs strengthens when partners have less opportunities to connect emotionally, (a process) that is hindered by being constantly glued to their devices."