Couples-Texting: Why and How It Can Be Problematic

When upset with your partner about something, do you ever engage in couples-texting? Otherwise known as communicating to your special someone things that can easily get misconstrued? If so, I just ask that you consider the following.

It wasn’t so long ago that I found myself regularly advising clients to avoid using the phone when needing to have sensitive discussions with their romantic partners. I also advocated writing letters versus emailing. Even better? Be face to face, I’d say, preferably in as neutral a setting as possible.

Although I still believe the latter is true, times have changed—and rapidly—so that now emailing actually seems fine. It’s at least preferable to texting—but now it’s texting that’s all the rage. Texting one’s issues to spouses, partners, boyfriends/girlfriends, just-met’s—including disagreements—is just too appealing.

Wait til you can see each other in person, or use the phone or email if you have to, but not texting, I might as well save my breath about.

So, why is it that I and many other therapists flinch over this kind of couples-texting?

Here’s one main reason. Therapist Michael Halyard, as quoted on “Unlike telephone or face to face communication, it is nearly impossible to know how the other person is reacting emotionally to what is being communicated.” And that leads to problems.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you say, but I’m in a hurry.

So you text, and things get worse instead of better. Halyard: “Often fights and arguments ensue because of misinterpretation of text messages. It’s impossible to tell the difference between emotions like anger, sadness, sarcasm, sincerity within a text message. A person might be joking with their partner, and he or she interprets it as their partner being angry. Then texts have to be exchanged to unravel the miscommunication.” There goes your precious time.

Some other problems with couples-texting noted by Halyard:

  • Many texters expect instant replies when this isn’t always possible.
  • The technology can be unreliable.
  • Auto-correction. Need I elaborate?

Other reasons not to text during or after an argument includes the lack of specificity common to such brief communications.

Many people will continue, of course, to use couples-texting for all kinds of reasons no matter what anyone says about it. And, well, maybe it’s not that bad after all, if you listen to clinical social worker Robert Weiss, co-author of Closer Together, Further ApartThe Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships (source: The Huffington Post):

…(M)y coauthor Jennifer Schneider and I note that in today’s world the best communicators are those who are willing and able to engage other people in whatever venue is most appropriate and useful at the time. They neither avoid nor insist on a particular mode of interaction. Instead, they work hard to make sure their message is fully understood by the intended audience no matter what. In other words, they embrace the idea that they need to live and communicate fluently in both the digital and analog worlds. As technology evolves, so do good communicators, and they do so without forgetting or discounting what has worked in the past, remaining constantly aware of the fact that some people may prefer the older methodology, while others prefer the new.

One thought on “Couples-Texting: Why and How It Can Be Problematic

  1. I find it hard to believe that anyone would use texting, email, or facebook messaging to address issues, problems, and concerns in a relationship (love or friendship). Maybe it’s just a way to avoid conflict. I have used text messages as a follow-up to a difficult conversation (e.g. thanks for talking, sorry we fought, etc.), but couldn’t see my relationship working if we used this as a main vehicle for hashing out our problems. But I do like to text my partner sometimes during the day to let her know I’m thinking about her!!

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