Managing marriage by text message

By Adam Earnheardt

My wife and I are good at relationship maintenance.

While navigating work and home schedules, managing four kids with active social lives, and unpacking the occasional argument, we have persevered with competent communication skills – one of the hallmarks of a successful marriage.

However, when it comes to the use of text messaging for communicating, we often veer off course. Like most couples, when there’s a communication breakdown, I blame her and she blames me.

Ironically, the blame game is usually played when we’re talking face-to-face.

Last week I sent her (what I deemed) several “very important” texts over the course of a few hours, all random and all focused on different topics.

She didn’t respond to any of them. Was it information overload? Was she ignoring me? Or was it something worse?

Three hours later, she responded. “Wow, that’s a lot of texts.”

She was right. “Yeah, sorry ’bout that,” I responded.

Our texting habits are getting better and, more importantly, our relationship is intact. But other couples struggle with marriage maintenance via text messaging, to the point of break-ups and divorce, signaling deeper relational communication flaws.

A friend once asked me (when referring to her boyfriend), “What happened to picking up the phone and talking?”

Touche.

Of course, there’s almost always an easier solution to these communication breakdowns, and it almost never involves texting.

It feels like we’ve always known that talking about expectations leads to healthier relationships, but we sometimes avoid it, hoping things will get better on their own. We know that when we talk, problems often get resolved. The same is true for having a conversation with your partner about texting habits.

If you’re a couple who argues about the lack of communication or miscommunication via text messaging, there’s evidence to suggest you’ll be happier if you talk about it now. A new study suggests that we actually get more satisfaction out of our relationship if we think our romantic partner has texting behaviors similar to ours.

Jonathan Ohadi and fellow researchers at Pace University explored the use of text messaging for ongoing maintenance in romantic relationships. In the January issue of Computers In Human Behavior, Ohadi’s group explained that something as simple as perceiving similarity in how we text may lead to greater levels of satisfaction.

Using a sample of 205 adults in romantic relationships, they also found that we tend to feel more satisfied if we think our partner is initiating contact with us more frequently (“I miss you”). Sending a quick, unexpected text to a partner has the potential to set off similar kinds of endorphins we feel when someone likes something we’ve posted online.

Of course, initiating this contact is only a start. When all else fails, talk about how you text each other and set communication expectations for building a fulfilling relationship.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn. Have a column idea? Email him at acearnheardt@gmail.com.


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