8 Tips for Texting with Your Partner
Marriage Counseling | Couples Counseling – Matone Counseling & Testing – Smart Talk About Texting
By: Daniel Stillwell, Ph.D., LMFT & Daniel Crow, MAC, LCMHCA
When modern couples fight, texting is often part of the problem. Behind many disputes there often lies some cold or cryptic text, untimely or tactless text, passive-aggressive or openly belligerent text, abandoned or avoidant non-text, that either started the argument or made it worse. As counselors, part of our job is to help couples get to the bottom of their most heated disputes. In this digital age, this involves processing harmful texts that have already been sent and teaching couples to communicate better in the future.
Texting has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages can be summed up in one word: convenience. Unlike the old-fashioned phone call, you don’t have to sync schedules with your partner to have a text exchange. You can text on your schedule; they can respond on theirs. Furthermore, texting is convenient because it’s quiet. It needn’t be any louder than the sound of your thumbs moving across your screen. Thus, you can text in an office full of coworkers without bothering anyone. Texting is thus well suited to stay connected when partners spend the majority of their days in different locations.
Yet for all its convenience, texting has drawbacks too. One of these is suggested by its name: text. Text is just words and words are often ambiguous. In live conversations, we have the advantage of facial expressions and prosody (tone of voice) to discern the deeper and hidden meanings of words. According to one prominent study, 55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice, and only 7% comes from the bald words. When we text, we lose up to 93% of our ability to get our whole message across. And that doesn’t even consider being able to change our message on the fly with non-verbal cues the listener is likely giving—another advantage of a face-to-face conversation. No wonder misunderstandings are so frequent.
Texting is dangerous for its combination of convenience and ambiguity. Because it’s so easy to text, we often do so when we should really wait to talk in person. To help you improve your texting patterns, we have drawn up some simple tips to help you text better.
DO text compliments and expressions of affection.
We are freest to enjoy the convenience of texting when we are least likely to be misinterpreted or be accidentally hurtful. And we are on the safest ground when we are complimenting or expressing genuine affection to our partner. “I [heart emoji] u!” is the kind of text that is unlikely to sow discord. Even if a partner does misconstrue a compliment, this is an easier rupture to repair. Keep it simple and positive.
DO read your text aloud.
We tend to write and send texts faster than our brains can process them. That’s one reason why texts include so spelling errors and autocorrect fails. By reading the text out loud, you force yourself to slow down. This increases the chance you’ll catch typos and be more mindful of the likely emotional impact on your partner.
DO use emojis to your advantage.
The rise of emojis and gifs is surely an attempt to bring to texting some of the interpretive advantages that facial expressions bring to live conversations. Research shows that emojis are helpful in this regard. In a study by researchers at Ball State University, emojis were shown to increase the speed and accuracy with which recipients of text messages discerned indirect meaning (such as sarcasm). So if there’s any worry that your text could be taken the wrong way, sprinkle it with a few friendly emojis to show that you come in (peace sign). J (heart emoji) (wink emoji)
DO text to schedule a conversation.
If there’s something big, meaningful, or difficult, you might have the urge to bring it up now. We strongly advise you to resist the urge to hash it out in that moment. If you must get the matter off your chest, you can text to schedule a time to talk about the issue in person. It doesn’t have to be formal, but giving each of you some time to process the hard thing will likely increase comfort and decrease reactivity.
DON’T drunk text (or at least be very careful).
When you are inebriated (or so sleepy that you are also not thinking clearly), texting is both tempting and extremely dangerous. Skillful texting actually requires good judgment, which is not what the cognitively impaired are most known for. Keep it short and simple, avoiding emotional hot buttons. Maybe put the phone in a different room or turn it off. If someone else starts the text while you’re tipsy or falling asleep, let them know it’s not a good time and you’ll reach out tomorrow morning.
DON’T treat texts like sacred scripture.
Your own or your partner’s careless texts should not be treated as absolutely true. Give your partner a chance to clarify a confusing text or retract (with due apology) an outright hurtful one. When we say things in person, we can start over or change our minds or language completely. Be just as generous with texts.
DON’T text to avoid a heated issue.
The new Showtime series Couples Therapy (which depicts real couples counseling sessions) shows an instructive example of this. In Episode 2, we learn that one tense issue for Evelyn and Alan is that Alan stays out late partying when Evelyn wants him back home. When he stays out, he always texts to tell her—thus avoiding the direct discussion of the issue. While this kind of avoidance is understandable, it is an indication that a longer conversation is necessary. And if the conversation doesn’t go well…well, that’s what couples therapy is for.
DON’T text when you think you can’t talk in person.
A study conducted by Joshua Novack, a Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Auburn University, demonstrates that couples who often text about confrontational topics also perceive their partners as more “conflictual.” What seems to be going on in these relationships is that couples are resorting to “text fighting” because they believe they can’t manage the disagreement in person. While this could be okay every once in a while, the pattern is an indication that you should try couples therapy to learn more effective communication. Matone Counseling and Testing is here to help.
Daniel Crow, MAC, LCMHCA , is a mental health counselor and staff writer with Matone Counseling and Testing.