As she does for so many affairs of the heart, Lorde speaks for all of us when she sings about the intricacies of texting: “I overthink your punctuation use,” she confesses on “The Louvre,” maybe the best song on her new record. “Not my fault,” she adds; it’s just something her mind does.
In one sense, it’s reassuring to think of a pop star fretting over her iMessage in the same way that anyone who’s dated anyone in our smartphone era may do. There is, according to both psychological research and clinical practice, good reason for that concern: Last week I was shocked to learn something that later made perfect sense, when a new study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that perceived similarity in texting styles was linked to relationship satisfaction. Among the 205 young Americans recruited for a survey, the more someone felt that they and their partner had symmetrical rhythms of texting—messaging to say “hey, what’s up” and the like at similar intervals—the better they felt about how the partnership was going.
Texting has become the way that we keep in touch: between WhatsApp and SMS, some 77 billion messages are sent per day globally. Texting is weirdly intimate yet distant: like a call, it shows up right there on your phone, which is likely on you, yet it’s also what communications scholar call “asynchronous”—like email, you can choose to view and reply to message at your own convenience. It’s also low in “richness”: you have body language when you’re face-to-face, facial expressions over video messages, and tone of voice on a call, but over text, it’s just typing and a smattering of emoji, meaning there’s (perilously) lots to interpret in length of messages, speediness of replies, and like. This quicksilver combination means that texting in relationships can be convenient but baffling. Especially when you just started seeing someone.
Humans are constantly sizing up one another’s behavior, and texting is a primary one through which we start making evaluations early in a relationship, says Katherine Hertlein, a psychologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Did they respond, did they not? How many texts? Did they check in?” says Hertlein, who has a couples’ therapy practice and also studies technology’s impact on relationships. “Once that dance has gotten started, if you slow down to a pace where you’re comfortable, that change is going to be interpreted as a lack of interest,” she tells Thrive Global. If it speeds up there might be questions around why, too: “Is this person all of a sudden interested,” she asks, or are they getting a little overbearing? “You have to make sure that whatever cadence you start with is a cadence that you can be comfortable with and that feels authentic for you in the moment,” she says.
One of the blessings—or burdens, depending on your perspective—of technology is that it allows for what psychologists call “social presence,” or a feeling of closeness, from afar. Key to this, Hertlein says, is immediacy. That’s one reason it’s easy to get miffed at a partner who doesn’t respond promptly. “You’re supposed to be immediate, and now you have a device that makes you so,” she says of the logic of the aggrieved. “Couples have problems when a partner doesn’t respond because you have now violated the contract in the relationship.”
There’s good reason to believe that we treat our texts—and the phones that contain them—like we treat our relationships in general. Leora Trub, who runs the Digital Media and Psychology Lab at Pace University, has sketched this out under the framework of attachment theory, which is perhaps psychology’s best model for understanding what’s really driving our relationship dynamics. In short, people learn how to love from their primary caregivers, most often their mother, and those patterns then transfer into their romantic relationships in adulthood. If their mom was dismissive of their emotions as a child, they’re liable to become disconnected from their own (and their possible partner’s) feelings in adulthood, in what’s called avoidant attachment. If they needed to act up or stay close to mom to get the care they needed, they’re likely to bring anxious attachment into their grown-up relationships, meaning they’ll be what’s tactfully called “proximity seeking” in the literature and better known as clingy with potential partners. And guess what: we treat our phones much the same way.
A 2015 Pew study found that 70 percent of smartphone users surveyed thought their phone offered them freedom, while 30 percent thought it felt like a “leash.” And in a paper published last year, also in Computers in Human Behavior, Trub found that people tend to see their phones as both a refuge—they felt safer with it and distressed without it—and as a burden—an obligation to communication that they carried with them wherever they went. Respondents scoring highly on anxious attachment measures were more likely to endorse statements like “I feel naked without my phone” or “I need my phone with me at all times,” meaning the phone was something of a security blanket keeping you close to the reassurances of the social world. People high on avoidance were more likely to agree with statements like “I feel burdened by my phone.” It’s almost as if the phone is “this intrusive entity that’s taking away from their capacity to enjoy things,” Trub says. “They need to feel free of it.”
The attachment is happening with the device, as well as the people behind them. “Am I attached to my phone because I’m attached to the people on the other side of it? Or am I attached to my phone for what it is?” Trub asks. “It’s a great question. Of course, it’s a both/and question.” This reveals something of the deeper mechanics at work for why matching texting styles signal a more general compatibility: someone with avoidant attachment might be alarmed by lots of messages (hence the dangers of “double texting,” or sending consecutive texts without a reply), while someone more proximity-seeking will be made nervous by not getting a reply all day.
In her practice, Hertlein will see couples who have problems when one texts the other with an urgent message, saying they want to talk, and their partner doesn’t reply right away. “You have now violated the contract in the relationship,” she says, expressing that vexed viewpoint. “You didn’t respond. You’re supposed to be immediate, and now you have a device that makes you immediately available.” Put into media studies language, the aggrieved party was in a synchronous mode, while the other was acting more asynchronously. Hence why texting style can be so important: “If both people have a more asynchronous style then that would be a fit,” she says. “And if both people have a really proximate synced up style that would be a fit.” The opposite will sometimes come to a head in her therapy practice: Hertlein recalls a client who would text her husband, who was in meetings all the time, and he wouldn’t respond. “ But that wouldn’t stop her from keeping texting him going, ‘Where are you, where are you, where are you?’” she says. Clearly, attachment issues were getting inflamed.
To Hertlein, who’s working on a book about smartphones and dating, all of it comes down to suiting the medium that works with the task at hand. Asynchronous methods are better for problem solving, she says, since they give you more time to digest the information you’ve received from other people and compose your thoughts. (In her practice, she’s had a couple who, if they got into a fight, would go into separate rooms and start writing emails to each other—she lauds that as a way of getting the problem solving going.) Synchronous methods, like a voice or video call, or a dedicated couple of minutes for back and forth texting, are better for providing support—that “social presence” of instantaneous interaction provides a virtual shoulder to lean on.
And while you wouldn’t want to have the conversation on the first date, Hertlein encourages couples and couples to be to articulate what their preferred messaging style would be, given workloads, preference for alone time, and other needs. “Part of what creates satisfaction is when you use the technology well without knowing you’re using it well, and part of what creates dissatisfaction is when you don’t know what you’re doing with it,” she says. “Just because you have a phone and you know how to navigate the phone doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to do anything with technology in your relationship.”
- Texting Do’s and Don’ts in Relationships
- Utilize Emojis
- Express Emotions in a Healthy Way
- How Much is Too Much?
- How Much is Not Enough: Read Receipt Deceit
- Giving and Getting Digital Space
- Navigate Text the Healthy Way
- Miscommunication: The Problem with Texting
- The Disadvantages of Email and Texting in Relationships
- Grammar rules are an invention. It’s time to stop taking them so seriously.
Texting Do’s and Don’ts in Relationships
79 Shares Written by Writer’s Corps member Cara Mackler
We’ve all been there: we get that text that says “k” and enter into a full-blown panic. Why does this one letter give us so much anxiety? That letter, especially paired with the abrupt punctuation, says more than an entire paragraph. It is the universal code for ‘pissed 👏🏼 off 👏🏼. Regardless of what that text really means, the damage has been done.
It is extremely difficult to convey tone over text. This is how so many messages are easily misconstrued, often leading to an argument. When we communicate face to face, we can pick up on people’s tone of voice and the emotions behind what they’re saying. When we communicate via text, a lot of that gets lost in translation.
So, how can we communicate in a healthy way through text? Here are some helpful tools and tips:
Texting seems like it should be very simple, but it can actually be complicated if we don’t know simple etiquette or if we tend to over analyze. Emojis can be a very useful tool in texting; sometimes all you need to send is an emoji, or two, to describe your mood. Since tone is audible, we need to find a way to replace it with a visual. We can also use punctuation to emphasize how we feel, without using it passive-aggressively like in the aforementioned “k.” Ultimately, though, emotions are not electronic.
Express Emotions in a Healthy Way
We have all had that experience of getting into an argument over text when our fingers can’t type fast enough to express our anger or frustration. Believe me, I know the feeling. Anger is a heavy emotion and sometimes we say things we don’t necessarily mean in the heat of the moment. The same can easily happen over text. However, texting gives us the unique opportunity to process our conversations in more time than we can when we’re face to face. This is useful when it comes to anger.
So, just like you might do in the middle of an argument in person, walk away from your phone if you think you’re too upset to respond right away. Take a minute to cool down and think, rather than responding in the heat of the moment. Unlike in person, you can draft, edit, delete and change your answers before you press send. Take advantage of the opportunity you have to take the time to process your response to assure you’re expressing yourself in a healthy way. If this is just too difficult to do, this may be a sign that this conversation should be had in person. Some things just need to be said face to face, but also in a healthy manner.
How Much is Too Much?
In today’s world, we text more than we do just about anything else. So, how many texts are too many texts in a day? What’s healthy and what’s too much? The answer is actually very simple: it all depends on what you’re comfortable with. Some people are avid texters and others will respond three days later with “oops sorry, thought I responded to this!” I fall into both categories, depending on how busy my week is. The important thing to remember is that you decide what you’re comfortable with and not comfortable with.
What’s not okay is when your partner decides this for you. If your partner gets mad at you for not responding right away, they’re not respecting your boundaries and time. Sometimes in a relationship, there are expectations that you have to be in constant contact with your partner. This pressure is not healthy (especially if it’s coming from your partner themselves), and it also takes away from the moments you have in real life with the people in front of you.
If your partner is texting you too much and you’re not okay with it, communicate your boundaries with them. We obviously don’t want to hurt our partner’s feelings if they don’t realize they’re texting too much, so try suggesting to them that you prefer to share the details of your day with them when you see them in person. Or, give them specific times of the day that you can text so that they know when to leave you be and when they can check in and say hey. Sometimes people are unaware of what they’re doing. If they’re texting you constantly on purpose and it feels controlling or harassing, this is not healthy.
How Much is Not Enough: Read Receipt Deceit
I don’t know about you, but it stresses me out when I’ve sent a really deep or emotional text about something important to someone and I don’t hear back. I stare at my phone waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then, the type bubbles appear. Then disappear. More stress. If this has ever happened to you, then you can probably relate to the stress that I’m talking about.
To minimize this stress, try to start by managing expectations and being mindful and respectful of the other person. It’s not healthy to be constantly glued to our phones or expect our partners to be as well. So if you know you want to have that important conversation, manage your expectations of how that might look over text. If you know that person is busy and can’t respond right away, maybe pick a different time that you can both set aside to give each other the attention you both deserve.
And if you find yourself constantly staring at that read receipt time stamp, knowing full well your partner is intentionally ignoring you, that is not necessarily healthy communication. That kind of ‘read receipt deceit’ can be a form of manipulation and control. It is as if they want you to know they’re upset, but won’t communicate with you. In person, we’d call this the cold shoulder, which is certainly not a healthy characteristic in a relationship.
So, what happens if you’re the one who’s upset and don’t want to respond yet?
Giving and Getting Digital Space
If you’re upset, busy, or want some time to yourself, you are absolutely entitled to your digital space. A healthy way to let your partner know this is simply by telling them. It is a lot easier to ignore a text and forget about it than to ignore someone in person. But remember that there is a person on the other end of that phone waiting for a response, wondering what happened. No one likes to be ghosted. Let them know exactly what you need.
Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “I need a few to myself to think. I’ll text you so we can talk about it. I’d appreciate some space at this time.” If your partner replies back angrily with demands or sends constant messages because you said you wanted space, they are not respecting your boundaries.
Respecting your right to space also means your partner is using social media to make you feel guilty. For example, if you post a picture with your friends and your partner comments, “oh I see this is what you meant by space” in an attempt to guilt you. Space in a relationship can be tricky when our lives are shared online, but remember that both you and your partner are allowed to take your space if you need it. The healthiest way to get that space is to clearly and kindly communicate it to our partners.
Texting is one of the wonderful conveniences of technology that have given us so much to be grateful for: pizza emojis, group chats with our BFFs to make plans (but mainly to have pointless and endless convos), and no more waiting to share the funniest thing you just saw at the store. Much like all new aspects of our relationships, it’s important that we have conversations about how to navigate texting in a healthy way.
Miscommunication: The Problem with Texting
Texting creates—and, by nature, almost encourages—poor grammar habits. It also makes communication much less formal and can even make genuine statements seem insincere. Here are some of the problems with texting:
- Students who use text adaptations of words tend to have trouble with basic grammar and subject–verb agreement.
- Using text abbreviations, such as “u” for “you” and “r” for “are” means that texting has a negative influence on students’ writing, both inside and outside the classroom.
- Text speak encourages the greater misuse of homophones, such as “there” and “their.” It also means that more abbreviations, such as “gr8” for “great” or “h8” for “hate,” are being used, which negatively impacts students’ writing.
- Because text messaging cannot accurately convey tone, emotion, facial expressions, gestures, body language, eye contact, oral speech, or face-to-face conversation, it is likely messages will be misinterpreted or misunderstood. The real meaning of your message gets lost through the medium.
- All too often, relationships go sour due to miscommunication via email and text messages. To keep this from happening, simply avoid using these mediums to have important conversations. Instead, request the kind of communication you prefer, whether that’s face-to-face or over the phone.
- Texting and using abbreviations for words means that we are losing our ability to have—or are at least avoiding—the traditional face-to-face conversations that are vital in the workplace and in personal relationships.
- When people communicate primarily via text, they’re much less likely to have meaningful conversations.
- Texting can have a negative effect on interpersonal development among teens.
So how can we—especially students—use texting to communicate better? To get your message across clearly, try your best to use full words and proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. A few extra seconds can make a world of difference when it comes to your message being understood the way you intend it to be. Keep texting to a minimum, and use it only for logistical purposes. Try to meet up with your friends in person or talk to them on the phone instead of only texting them. This will increase your communication and interpersonal skills and help you avoid getting used to text speak instead of full words and sentences.
Image source: Stocksnap.io/.com
The Disadvantages of Email and Texting in Relationships
Texting and emailing are convenient, but using them to avoid confrontation can lead to communication problems within a relationship. Firing off e-mails is satisfying, allowing you to cross tasks off your to-do list at warp speed. But increasingly, women are turning to the keyboard for more than setting up meetings. Technology makes it easier to bring up thorny topics while avoiding confrontation. And in our busy world, typed-out messages are fast becoming a substitute for the meaningful conversations that keep people connected. So if everyone is doing it, does that make it OK?
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Not really. There are, in fact, several disadvantages of email and texts. “E-mail and texts have become safe havens for escape artists,” says Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist and 13-time author. “You can ignore messages, don’t have to answer questions you don’t like, and you never have to see how much you’ve hurt someone. We’re missing the valuable lessons in-the-flesh talks can teach us.” By exploring three women’s digital dilemmas (we’re sure they’re not the only ones wrestling with technology!) Newman reveals why in matters of the heart, letting your fingers do the talking often leads to more harm than good. Follow her fail-proof strategies for healthier communication.
Example #1: Texting shortcuts can turn a friend into an frenemy.
After a friend moved to her town, Erica Taylor, 25, was doing all she could to help her pal get situated, letting her crash at her apartment and landing her an internship. But Erica got miffed when her friend ignored the air mattress set up for her, making the futon (a.k.a. living room couch) her bed instead. Erica’s friendly text (complete with smiley face) requesting the futon mattress be returned to its frame triggered a series of snippy back-and-forth messages. Over the wires, anger escalated until Erica’s friend typed that she’d be moving out and axing the internship. The two haven’t talked since.
Essentially Erica used texting shortcuts to make a request of a friend. What’s wrong with texting shortcuts and leaving voice mail messages?
“Ultra-abbreviated texts offer few clues on the tone of a message or what a person is feeling as she’s typing it,” says Newman, “leading to confusion and misinterpretation.” A few misread words can trigger knee-jerk-reaction replies that quickly get out of hand. Those emotionally-charged texts can be reread ad-infinitum, adding stinging permanence to hurtful jabs.
What to Do Instead:
The first time you get a text message that sounds snippy, resist the urge to respond in kind. Instead, pick up the phone, suggests Newman, and say, “We’ve been friends for so long. Clearly we’re not seeing eye-to-eye. Let’s talk about this.”
RELATED: How to Heal a Broken Friendship
Go to page two for more how-to’s for healthy relationships.
Example #2: Relying on voice mail messages to deliver bad news.
Joanna Riedl, 27, adored the longtime friend she was dating but felt no romantic vibe. Unable to face him with the news, she ended the relationship via voice mail. It wasn’t that she wanted to treat her guy badly; Joanna feared he’d feel emasculated if she told him in person.
Soon after she hung up, texts flooded into her cell phone: “You broke up by e-mail?” and “How could you?” Turns out her tech-savvy boyfriend’s voice mail-to-text tool delivered the message via e-mail. He forwarded the breakup message to friends for counsel. It soon reached the couple’s entire circle winding up tacked to someone’s fridge. Joanna rebuilt the friendship eventually. Here, Joanna relied on voice mail messages to deliver bad news. What went wrong?
When you rely on technology to do your dirty work, you leave everything from the interpretation to the delivery of your message up to chance. “You may think you’re protecting the other person by allowing them to absorb the bad news privately,” says Newman, “but what you’re really saying is ‘I only care about myself. I’m ready to move on’.” You not only run the risk of hurting the person with a lack of sensitivity, your paper trail could lead straight to humiliation. In Joanna’s case, technology turned what should have been a private conversation into a very public matter and her reputation suffered.
What to Do Instead:
Break up face to face. Remember, heartfelt words can look callous in bold ink, but a warm voice and brush of the arm can do wonders to soften the “I’m crazy about you but it won’t work” breakup blow.
RELATED: 10 Ways to Get Through a Breakup
Example #3: Hacking emails to keep tabs on your guy.
It’s not only writing e-mails and texts that can make the relationship waters murky: Reading a person’s private messages when you suspect that a friend or lover is hiding something is akin to snooping in a locked diary a practice that can backfire. When 28-year-old Kim Ellis’s husband began acting strangely shortly after she gave birth to the couple’s first child, she decided to hack into his e-mail account. What she discovered were hundreds of steamy love notes between him and a co-worker (complete with declarations of ever-lasting love, explicit re-caps of “business” lunches and a detailed run-away plan). Kim demanded a divorce.
Kim resorted to hacking emails to learn what she wanted to know. What went wrong?
“Cracking password codes to sneak a peek at a partner’s private messages signals big trust problems,” says Newman. “While e-mail may confirm infidelity suspicions, it won’t reveal any underlying issues leading up to it. Maybe the relationship ran its course. Maybe the affair can be worked through in counseling. Without knowing the core problem, there’s no hope of resolving it.”
What to Do Instead:
Confronting a partner about dubious behavior is hard, says Newman, but before breaking into e-mail, it’s best to ask your partner face to face, “What’s going on?” Don’t fall prey to the technology trap. As we’ve seen in these three scenarios, where feelings are involved, technology is rarely the quick-fix to your relationship and communication problems that it may at first appear to be.
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It’s just too easy. Delayed on your way to a meeting, you text, “sorry running late.” You leave for work in the morning after a fight with your partner and spend the train ride typing a monologue of hurt and anger. You get a second invitation for Saturday night, so you text the person you originally made plans with: “Apologies, not feeling well, need to cancel.”
Our increasing preference for texting over email and phone calls creates a higher quantity of interactions, but it decreases their quality, harming our relationships.
On the surface, these texts may seem like an acceptable way to handle daily communication, but they actually are all examples of ways to avoid conflict, from making lying easier to dodging in-person confrontation. Our increasing preference for texting over email and phone calls creates a higher quantity of interactions, but it decreases their quality, harming our relationships. Indeed, it’s a far cry from paying attention and listening to the thoughts and feelings of another person, and it’s missing the human contact and learning that comes from true dialogue.
The problems with texting begin with the way it reduces conversation to words or photos on a screen; the way it converts the interchange of human connection to brief, stilted fragments. Even with a plethora of emojis and exclamation points, the absence of intonation muddles the communication.
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As a psychotherapist, I see this phenomenon almost daily, along with the unintended consequences it causes. Patients often read me text messages during therapy sessions in hopes that I can decipher them, since without facial cues and tone of voice, it can be challenging to understand the intention of the message.
Worse, it encourages passive — or more often passive-aggressive — behavior, what I call “hit and runs.” Typing on a screen invites impulsive responses. Absent the ability to see the reflection of pain or hurt on someone’s face, it’s easy for people to pound out anger or meanness. You don’t risk interruption or need to take a breath, but what may serve one person as a chance to clear the air often ends up overwhelming the recipient.
Grammar rules are an invention. It’s time to stop taking them so seriously.
Aug. 2, 201903:37
Lying is also easier with texting, since it doesn’t betray the motivation behind the message. Are you texting home to say you’re working late while out for drinks with a coworker? Is your cold really that bad, or is the prospect of another family dinner unappealing? Written words can hide a great deal of emotion, and if forced to leave a voice message or deliver news in person, your lie could come through because of weak intonation or guilt (or both).
And although texting enables more frequent contact, it also can be used to curtail conversation. The best example of this is the egregious way texts are used as preemptive apologies, as in the reflexive “sorrys” that accompany notes one is running late. But is the sender really sorry, or the apology merely a brush-off to keep conflict at bay?
Indeed, preemptive apologies are offered in hopes of not having to deal with the consequence of having offended someone. While I can hear that you are sorry, I also need a chance to say that I am hurt if we are really to resolve the incident. Without the chance to express my feelings, the apology will be less meaningful, as reconciliation is strengthened when both parties have a say. Do I appreciate a text from a patient that she is on her way and will be 15 minutes late? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t talk about why she was late, especially if it’s a pattern.
At root, texting is lazy, and our relationships suffer when we don’t invest in them. A “Happy Birthday!” text — even with cake and champagne emojis — will never bring the same smile as a card in the mail or a phone call. Such actions take time and planning. I’ve had patients show me the texts people have sent them to express condolences after the death of a loved one. No matter how many crying emojis are used, this is just wrong. A card and a stamp take effort that demonstrate the sender understands the importance of the event in the other person’s life. A conversation allows deep emotions to be shared, and the risk involved in opening up this way is not only worth it but necessary for real connection.
From multitasking to abbreviated, one-sided sharing of information that’s supposed to pass as conversation, text messages often leave the receiver feeling short-changed, confused or devalued. That people are in touch through texting with greater frequency and immediacy than ever before means that, ironically, the opportunity for disappointment is also greater. Recently, a patient told me of a text she received from her husband who was at home with her at the time but unwilling to come upstairs and tell her to her face how angry he was. She didn’t know whether to be more upset by what he said or by his behavior.
Our skills for conversing are getting rusty and will only get worse as more people use virtual assistants, online shopping and other apps that help us avoid actually talking to another human being. Texting breeds not just grammar and spelling illiteracy but, more importantly, emotional illiteracy as well.
Texting breeds not just grammar and spelling illiteracy but, more importantly, emotional illiteracy as well.
So if you’re running late, please text, but don’t think that exempts you from talking about it in person. If you want to send a heart emoji, go for it, but don’t forget to tell me you love me when you get home. If I’ve hurt your feelings, by all means text me — to arrange a time when we can actually discuss what happened.
The disappointment, anger and conflict that might arise in this and other authentic conversations don’t have to be scary. Conversations that allow me to hear your voice, see your expressions and support true dialogue are still the gold standard for bringing us closer. A good conversation is the best antidote to loneliness that I know. And for that to happen, please silence your phone and leave it in your pocket. Then, let’s talk.