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Too much texting can disconnect couples, research finds

Couples shouldn’t let their thumbs do the talking when it comes to serious conversations, disagreements or apologies.

Brigham Young University researchers Lori Schade and Jonathan Sandberg studied 276 young adults around the country and found that being constantly connected through technology can create some disconnects in committed relationships.

Here are a few highlights from the report they published this week in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy:

  • For women: Using text messages to apologize, work out differences or make decisions is associated with lower relationship quality
  • For men: Too frequent texting is associated with lower relationship quality
  • For all: Expressing affection via text enhances the relationship

“Technology is more important to relationship formation than it was previously,” said Schade, who earned her Ph.D. from BYU in August. “The way couples text is having an effect on the relationship as well.”

The study participants weren’t just casually dating – 38 percent said they were in a serious relationship, 46 percent were engaged and 16 percent were married. Each participant completed an extensive relationship assessment that included questions about their use of technology in the relationship.

About 82 percent of them traded text messages with their partner multiple times a day. And it’s not always “I <3 u!!!” or “Where do you want to go for lunch?”

Many of the couples used texting for stuff scholars call “relationship maintenance,” or the kind of conversations that help couples get on the same page. Ordinarily having these conversations is a good thing, but texting can get in the way and makes things worse.

“Reaction to disappointment and reality testing occurs more quickly face to face,” Sandberg said. “There is a narrowness with texting and you don’t get to see the breadth of a person that you need to see.”

For men, more texting doesn’t necessarily mean a better relationship. And they don’t just get tired of receiving texts; their relationship satisfaction is also lower when they send a lot of texts themselves.

“We’re wondering if this means men disconnect and replace in-person conversations with more texting,” Schade said. “Maybe as they exit the relationship, they text more frequently because that’s a safer form of communication. We don’t know why, that is just a conjecture.”

The good news is that saying something sweet in a text works universally for men and women. In fact, sending a loving text was even more strongly related to relationship satisfaction than receiving one.

The bottom line is that if you don’t have something nice to text, better not text at all.

BYU professors Roy Bean, Dean Busby and Sarah Coyne co-authored the study with Schade and Sandberg: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15332691.2013.836051#.Um7n0fmsh8E

Story Highlights

  • For women: Texting is linked to lower relationship quality when it's used for serious subjects
  • For men: Texting a lot is linked to lower relationship quality
  • For both: Expressing affection via text enhances the relationship
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