PROVO — People in relationships may need to be wary of what type of texts they send to their partners or run the risk of becoming disconnected, according to a new study from Brigham Young University.
Researchers found lower quality relationships when women used texts to apologize, work out differences or make decisions and when men texted too frequently. Expressing affection, however, was always good for the relationship, according to the BYU study published in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy on Wednesday.
“What you do electronically matters in a very real way in a relationship and sometimes people can be disconnected from the real consequences,” said Lori Schade, a recent BYU Ph.D. graduate who co-authored the study.
Schade said they wanted to determine how texting can affect a relationship's quality. The study spanned two years and included 276 young adults from around the country. Of the participants, 38 percent said they were in a serious relationship, 46 percent were engaged and 16 percent were married.
Participants filled out extensive relationship assessments thoughout the study asking about their use of technology in the relationship. Eighty-two percent reported texting their partner multiple times during the day.
Often couples would use texting for relationship regulation, such as apologizing or talking about controversial issues, they found. While these types of talks can be healthy, they can be limited by texting because vocal and emotional cues are missing.
“We found that women’s texting frequency was actually associated with higher levels of stability in the relationship, but men’s texting frequency was actually associated with lower levels of stability and satisfaction,” she said.
Schade speculated men may use texting as a substitute for in person conversations when they are looking for a way out because it seems safer.
"What you do electronically matters in a very real way in a relationship and sometimes people can be disconnected from the real consequences."
“As a couples therapist there’s a very common pattern that occurs where women tend to be relationship pursuers, or they tend to detect distance in a relationship more frequently and try to fix that situation, and men often tend to be withdrawers,” she said.
What is written in a text can have a lasting impact, she said.
“I’ll have a couple, or part of a couple, come in and they’ll pull up a text message they’ve got days, and I’ve even seen months earlier, which was a very painful message at the time, and they’ll actually be able to re-experience that negative emotion,” she said.
Texting is a really different interpersonal experience from face to face or even vocal communication because you don’t get immediate feedback on how your messages are affecting the other person, Schade said. Sometimes this will lead to people thinking they aren’t having an impact when they are.
“You need to be very mindful of that, and when you are feeling escalated you might need to slow yourself down or realize this may be something that won’t necessarily be erased and can be brought up over and over again and can destabilize the relationship,” she said.
However, texting can be used to enhance a relationship when used in the right way, Schade said.
"The positive aspect of this is a lot of times technology is presented in a negative light and seen to be very disconnecting in a relationship, and part of the findings were it can be used in a very positive way; it can be very connecting," she said.