Texting is a very wonderful thing. It allows us to send quick ideas and comments to our friends and families without having to catch each other at the right time. It’s great for adding to the shopping list at the last minute or reminding each other of an appointment. It can add all kinds of useful benefits to our relationships. And, of course, as with any tool, texting can be seriously misused and can be a real detractor from relationships as well. Let’s look at some of the ups and downs of texting as they relate to your relationships. Certainly this applies to marriages and other romantic relationships; it is also perfectly relevant to platonic and familial relationships as well.
How Texting Can Help
The strength of texting as a mode of communication is that it’s quick, easy, and convenient. Many people’s nerves have been saved by being able to chat back and forth in a nonsynchronous text conversation when connecting for a verbal conversation is difficult. Forgot to send your wife a reminder about the change in dinner plans, but she’s on the subway and out of cell phone range? A text serves the purpose. Meeting running late and you won’t be home on time? A quick text serves the purpose without having to excuse yourself from the meeting. These practical applications can make a big difference to busy couples and families (and who isn’t way too busy these days?) who need to pass around important information?
The real value of texting to a relationship, though, is the ability to generate a feeling of being connected even during the busy times. For the husband and wife whose lives permit them fleeting moments of personal contact during the workweek, a consistent flow (or even trickle) of fun, thoughtful, or cutesy texts can make a real difference in their sense of togetherness. Brief notes like “hope your presentation goes well today!” or “thanks for the sandwich!” keep us anchored to each other even as we can’t necessarily be in each other’s presence. After all, relationships are built on many small moments as much as they are on shared values and deep conversations. Adding more small moments to our hectic schedules is not an insignificant comfort.
How Texting Can Hurt
Note that the benefits mentioned above are essentially simple and superficial interactions. When it comes to anything beyond that, texting is a very poor substitute for face-to-face conversation. If you take one thing away from this post, it should be this: do not use texting for serious conversations!
The major drawback of texting as a way to communicate is that it occurs in a medium devoid of context. There is no vocal inflection, no tone of voice, no facial expressions, no body language. It is so easy to misunderstand the intention behind a few words on a tiny screen. Everyone has had an incident in which a text they sent was misinterpreted as a joke when it wasn’t mean to be one, or vice versa. Was that comment meant ironically or angrily? Are they really interested in meeting up tonight, or just being polite? These are the kinds of questions we intuit automatically when speaking to someone in person and registering their nonverbal communication, or, failing that, at least on the phone where their tone says as much as their words. When all you see is the words, it’s often anybody’s guess what the true meaning is. That is a disaster for healthy communication.
I have encountered couples who have engaged in major discussions-cum-arguments via text about everything from parenting problems to festering resentments to breaking up. Your wants and needs, your empathy and anger, your love and hurt cannot fully come across in a text message. And I assure you that these are the essential elements of relationship problem solving – far more than the actual nuts and bolts of whatever solution will be arrived at. Don’t do it.
Hand in hand with the problem of the lack of nonverbal cues is the practical limitations of texts. If you are trying to have a serious talk about the future of your relationship, and you are limited to a couple hundred characters at most, you are naturally going to be missing out on an awful lot of important pieces of the conversation. And no matter how fast you can text, you’re still having a much slower dialogue than you would in person. Emotional conversations that drag on for hours, while each party waits on tenterhooks for the next message, can be awfully draining.
Yes, having difficult conversations face to face can be uncomfortable and challenging. If this is a skill you don’t feel proficient at, a good therapist can help you learn it. (Contrary to one prevalent misconception, therapy – whether for an individual, couple, or family – is not about solving your problem and sending you on your way; it’s about helping you learn to solve your own problems. Any therapist who leaves you still needing them to solve your problems isn’t doing their job.) But trying to avoid uncomfortable discussions by carrying them out through text is an ineffective and possibly risky alternative. Miscommunication and misunderstanding is inevitable. Damage to the relationship is too real a possibility.
For most of us, texting is for better or for worse part of the fabric of our daily lives. Like all technology, it has the power to help us if used properly and harm us if not. To ensure that your relationship is benefited by texting, remember to use it for the quick and easy and never try to substitute it for in-person interactions for the deep and the important.
Do you have any suggestions about ways to use or not use texting in your relationship? Let us know in the comments below!
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