The Danger of Texting

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I recently met with a couple for a couples therapy session. They were fighting a lot around money issues. They were earning more money – which was great but they were both making a lot of assumptions about what the other expected or felt. This stress added to the changes they were having to adjust to as a couple. When I asked them about how they spoke to each other, it turned out that they were texting each other half the time! So it wasn’t what was actually said that was the problem it what was left out when they didn’t take the time to talk in person.
As ambitious New Yorkers we are all busy making the life and work happen. But we need our family and friends to get us through and support us.

Technology has developed in ways that allow us to remain in contact more than ever. There is, however, nothing that can or should replace relating to each other in person. While using technology can sometimes make coordinating busy schedules easier, overreliance on these means has been eroding communication and causing more problems than necessary in many relationships. Texting is the most commonly used of these technologies probably because of its convenience. People are using voice calling less and less often. Text messaging has become the norm in how people share information in their intimate relationships. The technology marketing targets this – some phone plans now even come without any voice calling options! There are always going to be good arguments for the benefits of sharing of information through technology, but texting as a means to get to know someone or for trying to resolve a conflict in a more established relationship is dangerous for a number of reasons.

Here are some things to think about when using texting to communicate:

  • You can be anywhere and doing anything when writing and sending a text message. You can be talking to another person, engaged in any activity, or actively distracted by any number of factors.
  • There is no commitment involved in sending a text and it doesn’t involve much time. The content tends to be abbreviated and the action of texting is out of convenience.
  • If you believe that texting is true communication, you are not fully invested in developing a relationship with another person. When you text, you don’t have to make the challenging but important decisions about who to spend your time on. This can lead to feelings of emptiness for everyone.
  •  Texting is simply sharing information and is always going to be out of context. Even if the people who are sending you texts try their best to describe in the most detail their surroundings or other fleeting thoughts, there is nothing to substitute for what you can learn from nonverbal communication in real time.
  • Texting to try to communicate feelings is often a form of instant gratification. You have a thought, you send it and the person is forced to see it right away. Often the assumption is because it’s easy to compose, it should be easy to read. It becomes an intrusive expectation for a response. Developing tolerance for difficult feelings or thoughts is part of developing a healthy sense of self and having good emotional boundaries. When you have texting at your disposal during a conflict or when you have a fleeting feeling, you are robbing yourself of a true processing of your own feelings and potentially contributing to a disconnect in expectations.
  • There is no way to convey sarcasm and genuineness when you text. In other words, be sure that if you share information, there will always be miscommunication and assumptions made. When you text, you are expecting an easy response. Chances are you may be misunderstood. Of course miscommunication also comes up during in-person communication – but this is much easier to fix when you have made the commitment to sit face-to-face and have a conversation. With in-person talking, you will be more likely to catch the subtle nuances in a discussion.
  • How can you really learn about other people if you have unintentionally (or purposely) misled them through a series of text messages? When you send texts to others, you never know how they were interpreted. Why make your relationships more difficult? Texting cannot help establish trust. If anything it can erode the process. Texting is a recipe for conflict avoidance in communication. It’s easy to text, so therefore it’s easy to send something to someone that is negative and hurtful instead of facing them directly. By choosing to use texting as a medium to approach conflict, you are effectively doing the opposite of the initial intention. Again, you are also not giving yourself the opportunity to garnish courage, face difficult feelings and build emotional tolerance, which is essential in emotional and relational health.

Think before you text. The next time you consider texting someone, wait a minute, and consider: would this be something I would want to have a conversation with this person about? If it’s sharing something other than planning a meeting or event, reconsider. What would it be like to wait to share this information until you spend time with the person? If you can’t tolerate the feeling of thinking it through or communicating to that person, then this may be a warning flag that there are other issues that need attention. Texting could actually make the problem worse. So put down your phone and try spending more time on the people who matter to you in your life.