Texting has now become our way of communicating with each other, often taking the place of face to face dialogue. Many of us may see this as a good thing. After all, it’s efficient; we no longer have to answer the phone and interrupt our work or activities, we can just look at the phone at a time that’s convenient, and respond when it’s convenient. However, texting has some impactful downsides.
How can texting be harmful?
Without the benefit of tone of voice or body language, meaning can often be misconstrued or lost. Also, we might use a text as an opportunity to say something that we would never say in person. Effective communication is challenging enough without these added complications.
Another issue with texting is our use of it in an argument. A lot of people argue through text, making it even more challenging to have a fair argument. Most of us have not learned to argue in a non-inflammatory way, and texting can further inflame the discussion. And, with texts, we might keep them and then use them as a weapon later, saying things like “remember when you texted this to me?!” Some people may even break up via text, which most of us can probably see is a pretty horrible way to use electronic communications.
An additional misuse of texting is when we use texting to say something that we are afraid to say in person. Whether that is setting a boundary or sharing feelings, we might feel that we are able to say it more easily from a safe distance. However, if we don’t learn how to work through this fear and learn to share in person, then we not may feel as emotionally fulfilled and may be missing out on effective communication within our relationships.
Texting instead of relationship-building
Most of us would tell a stranger that our family and close relationships are the most important things in our lives. However, we don’t always act in such a manner. For instance, it’s all too easy with texting to have an ongoing conversation with a partner, child, or parent, and then, when we arrive home at night (tired, spent, and ready for the television), we no longer have anything left to say to the other person.
We might even feel that if we didn’t have the ability to text with the other person during the day that we would never get a chance to talk to them at all, that perhaps texting is the only way that we can get that person’s attention, whether that is our partner or our children. But this could be a major red flag for us. Whoever it is, whichever relationship we are referring to, we need to create the time to be together every day (more on this below). Because when we say that texting is our only option, this is merely a rationalization. Every person has fifteen minutes in their day to devote to loved ones; after all, we find time to eat ever day.
Learning to text better
The issue with texting is not really an issue of the text itself, of course. Texting can even be a useful tool, especially if we are using it in a positive way as opposed to a negative one! For instance, if someone is learning how to communicate more effectively, texting or emailing might even be useful, giving us that extra lag time we need in order to compose something that is heart-warming and positive for the other person. However, it’s still best that we learn how to communicate well in person.
According to Dr. Thomas Lewis, an expert and researcher on emotions, humans need the emotional responses that we see in another’s face when we speak with them. From his research with babies and mothers, we have learned that a baby will become immediately distressed if a reaction is withheld, even for only a few moments. For adults, this also holds true; we need that primal interaction of facial cues. Dr. Lewis says that in regards to texting and other electronic communications, "….no matter how much we practice communicating through text, the brain still finds it stressful…".
We want to strive for really effective communication, not mediocre communication. And the most emotionally healthy way of communicating is in person. This doesn’t mean that we must eliminate texting, but that we can use it as a tool in our ongoing healthy communications with our partner. For instance, something like “Looking forward to spending time with you tonight!” may go a long way in setting the right emotional tone for a relationship.
Ideas for better communication: (most applicable to relationships with partners, however can be used in any relationship)
- Have a ten minute meeting when you get home with each other to discuss the day. Practice using active listening skills here – let the other person really get out whatever they need to say, and then repeat back his/her words to ensure you haven’t missed anything.
- Schedule chat time during the day. Take perhaps fifteen minutes at lunch, or ten minutes at ten. Whatever time works for both of you, try to talk over the phone – or even better, via Skype – and really check in with each other.
- Don’t argue via text. This advice seems like it’s easy, however it takes a commitment from both people in the relationship to not follow up with arguments via text. Both people need to commit to a later discussion time.
- Learn to argue. All couples argue. The ones that seem to be able to weather the storm are those that have learned (either through instinct or hard work) how to state a disagreement without becoming mean or insensitive. For more tips on arguing, see our article on this topic.
Sometimes, it seems as if there is no way out of the tension that we’ve built into our relationship, and texting is just one more additional way to fuel the fire. Therapy, either for both people in the relationship or just one, can be of real benefit here. A trained psychotherapist will help you to see to the heart of the problem, and then help you learn how to communicate your true needs and feelings.
At Nassau Guidance and Counseling, we have worked with many couples and individuals on better communication and interactions, helping couples and families become happier and more emotionally fulfilled. We welcome you at any point in your emotional journey.