Martorella: Just text me
Recent studies on texting found that Americans as a group send over 26 billion text messages a day, with each person sending and receiving an average of 94 messages daily, up 23 percent just from 2016! Teenagers send and receive an average of 67 messages daily, and high school and college students spend close to 2 hours a day texting.
“Texting” is listed as the top way users use their smartphones followed by “phone” and “email”. And it’s not just used a little bit more. Americans spend twice as much time texting versus emailing, and this increases to three times as much for American Millennials. One study found text messaging is 3-8X more preferred than face-to-face communication across all generations.
As a relationship therapist who has practiced in the realm of domestic violence for over a dozen years, I have witnessed the negative impact of cell phone use on relationships, and texting is included in this. While it is certainly nice to be able to check in with a partner or send sweet notes any time of day, the expectations of constant connection can put a strain on any partnership, replacing the key element of trust with a monitoring system of sorts that may create conflict if a text or call is not immediately returned. Texting offers convenience but can also leave you with a written record of missteps and transgressions. What is said via text cannot be unsaid, but it sure can be shared.
In my career, I have spent countless hours working with couples on communication skills which are fundamental to a strong relationship like active listening, using “I statements”, avoiding insults and name-calling, asking rather than assuming the other’s intent or meaning, and being aware of non-verbal communication. I have always cautioned about using texting and email as it can be easily misconstrued without accompanying tone and facial expressions. But the reality is that texting is now a primary source of communication that needs to be considered as much as speaking.
Texting is easy, convenient, and fits with our modern on-the-go overscheduled lives. Adults are more likely to use texts for practical reasons, to schedule meetings, or relay information. Teenagers and
young adults are more likely to use texting for lengthy conversations, indicating that there will likely be even more dependence on texting as a primary form of communication in the years to come.
Emotionally, it can be easier as well. Even though tone is missing from the written word, some say they are more comfortable expressing their emotions via text, they prefer to be able to filter what they say before blurting something out. In my field, that is the ultimate goal.
So rather than discouraging or ignoring electronic communication in relationships, it’s important to consider how to use it in a healthy way:
Think before you text. If you are emotional, take a moment and breathe before you reply, maybe even jot down what you want to say on paper first. You’ll get it out, and the delay may help regulate your emotions so you don’t feel the need to reply at all. You can always decide to respond calmly, but you can’t take back an impulsive reaction.
Keep it short and informational. Save the long dialogues for a phone call or in-person visits.
Watch your tone. Avoid curse words, aggressive language, and typing in ALL CAPS. I recently read about an app called Tonemeter that checks for “emotionally charged sentences” in your messages. While I have not yet used this personally, I am intrigued about the idea of an “emotional” spell check.
Proofread before sending. (Consider turning off autocorrect as well as this can cause more trouble than it solves.)
Remember once sent, you can’t take it back, and it can be shared without your knowledge.
Be patient for a reply. Not everyone can answer (or wants to) right away.
Don’t text when you are engaging with others in person or when you are driving. Put your phone away if you are tempted.
Don’t text private, confidential statements or photos. You never know where the recipient will be when a text pops up and who they may share it with.
Don’t break up with someone or address serious issues/emotions via text.
Don’t send group texts if at all avoidable. People don’t always realize they are replying all, may not know all the participants, and may not want the bulk of texts that follow.
Words matter. Once said, you can’t take them back, but once written, you are forever beholden to them. They can be spread, shared, and even admitted into a court of law. Use them wisely - whether through your voice, or your fingers.
Rebecca Martorella, LMFT welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.