Texting and Relationships
How does the age of texting affect the nature of dating? What are the uses and rules of texting in a serious relationship? Is frequent texting detrimental to healthy communication or can it be a new path to closeness? There is a segment of research suggesting that texting is damaging to romantic and other relationships, but observers and users also report “texting enhances their relationships.” Not many contest that this particular technology has introduced potentially overwhelming changes to the manner of communication and thus to our relationships with friends, family, as well as other professionals. It would be helpful, then, to think about these changes from several angles.
Starting from my own experience, I recall that when I moved to Chicago in 2001, I was clueless as to the nascent world of texting. And then, when I did step into the modern world, my less than smart phone at the time was more trouble than it was worth. I relied on the old-fashioned phone call and found this to be quite satisfactory. In the present world of 2014, however, the phone call, while not yet obsolete, is being relied on less and less as a way to communicate. While I have improved my texting skills and count on it in a variety of contexts, I find myself reflecting on it as both a useful tool and an impediment. It is doubtlessly efficient for operations such as sending groceries lists and little notes that one is running late. But what about more complicated and substantial items such issues at work, or an unresolved conflict with one’s spouse?
Precisely in a delicate and charged situation, texting can reduce the anxiety of a direct encounter. This may indeed allow for a way of avoiding an uncomfortable situation or conversation and permit a gradual easing into the issue. But the respite from an uncomfortable situation may be only temporary and entering such a situation may at the end be necessary for achieving a resolution. In this respect, harmful effects of texting that I observe directly in my practice tend to happen when couples rely almost exclusively on texting as the method for relationship-shaping conversations. Indeed, researchers have found that the condition of couples, who used texting as a way to apologize, settle disagreements, or make major decisions correlates with a lower relationship quality, for women; for men, lower relationship quality was correlated with too much texting simply. On the level of dating, even without the emergence of substantial issues, I observe that texting seems to create confusion for many of my clients, and precisely for those who are well-versed in the art of texting and assume it can be used in all instances. In fact, if one does a web search for “dating and texting etiquette,” there are a number of articles and rules that crop up, the first of which is “8 Signs You Are Doing This Texting and Dating Thing Right” immediately followed by “The Do’s and Don’ts of Cell Phone Dating Etiquette.” I imagine that this proliferation of sometimes-contradictory advice is daunting for my dating clients who might have thought that texting is a natural or unproblematic way to communicate.
In today’s society, becoming aware of the various ways in which texting infiltrates relationships—sometimes as an efficient instrument and sometimes as a stumbling block — is a necessary part of broader reflection on the requirements of healthy and clear communication in relationships of many types.
Vanessa Bradden, LMFT