Couple Text Messaging –
Gains and Losses in Romantic Relationships
Couple text messaging is an almost ubiquitous feature of most marriages and cohabiting arrangements. But what does it do to the couple’s emotional connection, and sense of partnership?
Is couple text messaging an adequate substitute for face-to-face communication? Is couple text messaging better than talking and sharing in real time? Does couple text messaging avoid conflicts and bad feelings or does it mask underlying problems in the relationship that later blow up and kill the partnership?
Couple Text Messaging – when it’s safer than talking face-to-face
Cory a thirty-seven-year-old researcher in a science enterprise rarely spoke to his to 38-year-old wife Linda, a manager at a home for the elderly. He had given up telling her that he wanted to be included in her decision making about family gatherings, babysitters and the diet of their six-year-old twin boys. But she ignored him constantly, provoking anger and frustration. It reminded him of his father who never seemed to want to hear his point of view. Even when Linda appeared to be listening, she didn’t seem to hear where he was coming from, and what he really wanted to get through.
Linda usually felt pressured when she felt Cory wanting to talk. She imagined him going on-and-on, never getting to the point. So, she’d tune out, although nodding and saying “yes,” every now and then, but not taking anything in. Cory felt unheard and dismissed, which made him even more determined to get through what he felt was Linda’s impenetrable wall. He made up elaborate explanations in his head to provide authority behind his words and gain credibility – but Linda’s reaction was contemptuous, put off by his elaborate wrapping of the nub of the issue. She’d continue to function in her own way, further inflaming her husband.
Couple Text Messaging Avoids The Humiliation of Being Dehumanized Face-to-Face
Cory didn’t like his wife’s way of addressing him – he experienced her as aggressive, demanding and disrespectful. It was as if he was a pawn to do her bidding in an effort to prove that he was a loving and supportive husband. He felt dehumanized and asked to be spoken to as if he were an integral part of the family, but of course he couldn’t get past her wall – he retreated and went about his business as a separate person. The couple were no longer a couple!
Couple text messaging offered Cory and Linda a chance to communicate about the transactions that they needed to attend to as a household with children.
They began texting while in the same house in different rooms – with no fear of being dismissed, kept out or disapproved of.
- Words in a text carry no facial expression, body language or emotion. Linda could ask for things without having to face Cory’s disapproval and requests for her to change her style of addressing him.
- Linda could get the text out any time she liked without waiting for ‘a good time to talk,’ without leaving her bedroom or bathroom.
- She didn’t have to hold onto thoughts and needs until they had alone time – she could get it out as it came, relieving her of stress.
- Cory could get his stuff out and make sure it got inside Linda’s brain because she couldn’t put up her wall or kick it back to him.
- Couple text messaging ensured Cory satisfaction that he could express exactly what he wanted without worrying about her emotional state and her availability – at last it could be only about him.
- They could take their time responding to each other, being as wordy or short as they pleased. Cory could press his points repeatedly without getting attacked, beaten down or mocked.
- Texts asking questions of each other could be ignored and claimed that the receiver never got the text or that the battery was dead!
- Verbal fights and conflict were avoided, taken into the arena of texts, where either could ooze out their rancor, accusations and blame and the other could read it or not.
- Both kept their texts to ‘prove’ something unreasonable and nasty about each other when conflict arose, showing the texts to others in order to get someone on their side or show the other one up.
Couple text messaging – what are the losses for Linda and Cory?
They miss out on eye contact and taking into account body language, tone of voice and engagement that adds depth to communications. It makes it harder to get a good sense of whether you are being ‘heard’ and understood, and it makes it more likely that you fill in the blanks with inaccurate and crazy stuff that fits your mood!
Cory and Linda demonstrate a tragic message to their twins about how adults communicate, never mind their own parents who chose to live together. The boys get no appropriate role model of how to listen, empathize, express a range of emotions or compromise. This couple never get to be curious about their partner and learn to make room for one another. Life is a continuous battle that no one will ever win.
Couple text messaging works against the hormone Oxycontin from flowing – which is vital for bonding, trust, empathy and protective instincts.
Couple text messaging to manage the fear of intimacy
As he approached his 40th birthday Phil, a recording engineer longed for affection and playful intimacy with his permanently exhausted 37-year-old wife Asha, a make up artist for an entertainment show. She wanted to know that everything was okay in the marriage and acted in a more dutiful way, making Phil feel that she was just playing lip service to intimacy in their relationship. But the truth was she didn’t feel safe in face-to-face interactions. She felt emotionally naked, inadequate, and fearful of being invaded by Phil’s huge need to be inside her mind and body. Asha worked herself ragged with her three children – feeling burdened. When Phil tried to help he felt criticized, as she did when he took on certain parenting roles on his own. They basically acted as one parent families taking turns with who the parent was.
Phil wanted proof that she wanted him sexually but when she offered to have sex he interpreted it as just doing her duty and refused. When she wanted sex after a tiff in order to make up and put everything back on a normal footing, he rejected the offer, wanting to punish her for not seeing his side of the argument – he wanted to hold onto his anger and not give in, no matter how badly he wanted the sexual contact – emotionally he wasn’t into it. Both suffered from personal insecurity.
The only way Phil and Asha communicated successfully was via couple text messaging!
Couple text messaging – the advantages of remote emotional intimacy
- Asha felt safe to say “I love you” on couple text messaging, because she didn’t have to see Phil’s face, or have any physical contact.
- She was much more concerned about Phil’s welfare using the psychical distance of couple text messaging. She’d text several times from her work place to make sure he was okay, especially if he was in a bad mood when she left home, or if he was sick. The distance and lack of face-to-face contact emboldened her to be more emotionally intimate and available.
- Couple text messaging gave Asha the perfect vehicle to be ‘close’ but without the fear of being engulfed, swallowed up or found wanting.
- Couple text messaging offered Phil the chance to feel ‘remembered’ through the day when he got Asha’s texts. He had some proof that she held him in her mind. He could respond and play with her via couple text messaging without the fear of being rejected, criticized or blown off.
- Phil was able to hold onto the few good feelings of care and affection via the couple text messaging, to fill himself up.
- Couple text messaging allowed Phil to stay connected with his otherwise emotionally unavailable wife, imagining that their affectionate texts might turn into a reality when he got home.
- Couple text messaging made emotional intimacy a little bit more palatable for both parties because they could hide parts of themselves and show parts of themselves as they wished – they had control and didn’t have to fear being completely exposed, and taken advantage of.
- Couple text messaging created a ‘virtual’ emotionally intimate relationship for Asha and Phil that they couldn’t realize in the real world.
Couple Text Messaging: What did Phil and Asha Lose Out on?
Couple text messaging prevents Asha and Phil from working on trust issues in real time and in the real world. They also deprive their kids from learning about trust and safety in relationships. The biggest loss for this couple is never living in the same emotional and mental world where they see, feel seen and accepted and tolerated. They then have to be on constant alert that one spouse may hurt the other – a tense and unhappy relationship that leads to stress and stress related disease. In addition, they don’t come together as parents to give their children a sense of togetherness and safety, making the kids more likely to act out and make life even more overwhelming and exhausting.
Individual Counseling for each of these partners in necessary to make them feel seen and heard in a safe way that is reliable and consistent. Then couples counseling may have a shot at improving emotional intimacy and face-to-face settings.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2019
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