We all know that texting and driving is hazardous, though some choose to do it anyhow. Most people however don’t realize how dangerous it is to text during a significant relationship. You won’t die, but your relationship might.
Texting during relationship is more nuanced than texting while driving. Not every text has the potential to lead to relationship destruction, but some can. Here are factors to consider when choosing whether to engage in a text conversation with a significant other or a close friend.
Emotional content. Texting limits communication to words with an occasional emoji which gives a simplified view of emotional content. However a large percentage of human communication comes from non-verbal communication: facial expressions, tone of voice and body movement. If you are feeling strong emotion as you write a text, consider a phone call or face to face conversation instead. You will communicate much more effectively if you use the full range of tools your body offers.
- I have counseled many couples who describe disagreements expressed by text which escalate into major relationship-threatening conflict. There is a lot of room for misinterpretation when texting these kinds of conversations. People end up needing to defend both what they meant and what the other person thought they meant. If you catch yourself texting a concern or criticism to your partner, stop and give yourself a ticket for dangerous texting during relationship.
- If you are scheduling a time and place to meet, non-verbal communication isn’t essential. Keep texting.
- If you are thinking fondly about another person and want them to know, first consider what response you expect. If you just want to express your love or appreciation and don’t expect an immediate response keep texting.
- If you realize you will feel neglected unless you receive a quick affirmative response, give yourself a ticket. The spontaneity of texting can provide an enjoyable spark, but that spark can dim if you put pressure on another person who may be involved in important professional or personal engagements.
Full versus partial attention. When you are face to face you know whether or not the other person gives you his or her full attention. Giving full attention shows that you are the top priority for that person in the moment. Consider these examples carefully. Sometimes you’ll need a ticket, sometimes texting is fine.
- Texting a complex topic offers time to reflect before you share your thoughts. Often though, the topics that benefit from depth of thought also involve a fair amount of positive or negative emotion. (See above.) Consider writing your thoughts down, reworking them throughout the day, then sharing in person.
- There is a big difference in what you communicate when you text a passing “I love you,” while you are thinking about multiple things, versus stopping, looking someone in the eye and sharing the words from the depths of your heart. Both can be beneficial, but if you find yourself only sharing affection by text and rarely in person then give yourself a ticket.
The significance of the message you give. If you are talking about something that deeply affects you or the other person, say it in person. Though it might be painful to see the emotion in another person’s eyes as you talk about something distressing, or it might be hard to wait to share something exhilarating, nothing can replace your physical presence as you deliver that message.
- If you need to give bad news, for example, you or a family member lost a job or has a serious illness, delivering the message in person can be difficult, the room will be filled with emotion, but both you and the other person will benefit from being able to comfort each other with tears and touch. Don’t text.
- If you are sharing a funny story or interesting photo you snapped on your way to work or school, keep texting. It could brighten the other person’s day, but if they happen to miss the text it won’t affect the relationship.
- If you are tempted to begin a relationship by text, for example declaring you would like to be a couple, give yourself a ticket. This is an ominous start. Being a couple involves more than words. Nothing substitutes for your physical presence.
- Breaking up by text damages you as well as the other person. It combines all the categories of texting caution. There is emotional content, you need to give your full attention and to receive full attention from the other person, and this is significant news. If you find yourself breaking up by text give yourself a ticket and a huge fine. Standing in person to declare the end of a relationship says that the other person matters or has mattered enough that you will take the time and bear the discomfort of delivering the news face to face. Just as important, it also says that you are important enough, that your decision is valid, and that though you are ending this relationship there was some value in the time you had together. If you fear a violent response, please forgo this advice and seek outside help.
How to build on the strengths and limit the drawbacks of texting:
Early on in a relationship have a conversation with your partner or friend about the benefits and drawbacks of texting. Come to agreements about how and when you will use texting versus when you will talk by phone or in person. Ask your partner to gently remind you if you break the agreement and vice versa. Check back every few months to make sure your texting agreement is working well at this stage in your relationship. Adjust your agreements as needed.