6 texting dos and don’ts for a healthy relationship

Couples are more (Photo illustration by Bella Torgerson/BYU)

Couples who use texting to express their affection report an enhanced relationship. (Photo illustration by Bella Torgerson/BYU)

When texting your significant other, listen to mom’s advice: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Couples who used texting to berate, discuss weighty matters, or even apologize reported a lower relationship quality than those who did not use texting for those purposes, according to new research from Brigham Young University. In fact, in serious relationships, there is definitely such a thing as too much texting.

BYU researchers studied 276 young adults around the country and found that being constantly connected through technology can signify trouble in serious relationships. In particular, the study found that the more men were texting, the lower they and their partners rated the quality of their relationships. This suggests that texting may be a way for men to withdraw emotionally from their partners, said lead researcher Lori Schade, who earned a Ph.D. from BYU in August.

“It makes us think that texting is a way that men can actually emotionally disengage,” she said. “They still respond to their partners and answer their questions, but they don’t have to tolerate the high level of emotionality of being in the room with them.”

The study, published in October in the “Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy,” also found:

  • Women who texted their partners frequently reported a high level of relationship stability.
  • Women who used text messages to apologize or work through problems reported a lower relationship quality than those who did not.
  • Both men and women who used texting to express affection said it enhanced their relationships.

Texting is a technology that is here to stay, said Schade, who now counsels couples at Suncrest Counseling in South Jordan. But texting is particularly dangerous because it’s both immediate and long-lasting, she said. With texting it’s easy to send off a quick, angry response in the heat of the moment. The problem is that those angry texts can be stored and reread over and over again by the recipient.

With that in mind, here are six dos and don’ts for texting:

1. Do use texting to express affection

“Couples can be purposeful about how they are using texting,” said Schade. “They can really use it in a way that builds up the relationship.” Writing quick love notes is an easy way to connect with your partner, she said.

2. Don’t use texting to discuss serious relationship issues

Relationship maintenance is a good thing, but not when it’s done via text. There is narrowness to texting that makes it harder to see a breadth of emotions, Jonathan Sandberg, a professor in BYU’s College of Home, Family and Social Sciences, said in a news release. For example, although it’s easy to recognize disappointment face to face, that emotion is harder to identify via texting.

3. Don’t make important decisions through texts

When you’re trying to make a big decision, leave the smartphones out of it, said Sherri Mills, a Helper author who writes relationship self-help books. “It’s imperative that these matters be contemplated in person,” said Mills, whose latest book, “Marriage 101 for Men: Why Taking out the Trash is a Turn On” (Plain Sight Publishing, $12.95), debuted in May 2013.

4. Do slow down

If a text from your significant other is making your blood boil, slow down, breathe and really think through your response, said Schade. “Most of the problems in a relationship are from people being too emotionally reactive and too rapid in their reactions,” Schade said.

5. Do make sure the positives outweigh the negatives

If you simply must include something negative in a text, make sure to follow it up with an abundance of positive communication, said Schade.

6. Do take it to the real world

Sometimes what starts as a quick message can turn into a complicated discussion. “If a conversation is taking more than a handful of texts, that should be a cue to have that conversation later, and not through texting,” Schade said.

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