Text disconnect

Texting (sending messages via the “sms” short message service using your smart phone) is a popular way of communicating these days but we are still working out the etiquette that surrounds it. For instance, is it alright to text that you will be away from work due to sickness via sms to your manager? Can you text someone to ask them out on a first date? Can you end a relationship via text? Can Christmas wishes be sent via text and what about funeral commiserations? Could you text someone to tell them that they had a piece of tuna on their face left over after lunch? These are all vexing social conundrums and they do not even begin to consider how the act of all this texting might be affecting people. The “text effect”, thank goodness, is however prime fodder for earnest psychologists beavering away in their white coats in university laboratories and the results of a particular instance of this beavering have turned up some alarming findings for couples heavily reliant on texting.

The couples taking part in this study were all university students but none of the relationships were casual. Of the couples 16 per cent were married, 46 per cent were engaged, and 38 per cent said they were in a serious relationship. Every participant completed a detailed relationship assessment that included questions about their use of technology in the relationship.

It emerged that as well as messages like “I <3 u” (which incidentally would make the romantic poet Keats turn in his grave) many couples use texting for relationship maintenance. The problem with that is that too much texting of a certain type can damage relationship quality.

The survey showed that for women using texts to apologise, work out differences, or make joint decisions was associated with lower relationship quality. For men too frequent texting was associated with poorer relationship quality and that applied whether they were on the receiving end of a flood of texts or of they were sending them. The researchers conjecture that this might be because as men emotionally withdraw from a relationship texting is a safer form of communication.

While it might be safe, the researchers say this research highlights the limitations of the text. There is a “narrowness” of communication with texting that does not exist with face to face communication. When a person is in front of you it is easier to gauge disappointment or positivity regarding what you are saying. When it comes to making decisions as a couple doing by text just might create a sense of distance.

The good news is that both men and women said that expressing via text enhanced the relationship. So perhaps a well placed heart emoticon is where texting is at its best. Perhaps the text is the “Hallmark card” of the digital era. For decision making, apologies, and all other communication involving complexity it might be best to put down the phone and engage in some actual, physical face time. If you don’t make the time for that physical togetherness, the technology that promises to connect us all might actually disconnect you.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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