A few years ago, my husband and I went into couples therapy. Between the demands of jobs, school, and kids, we barely had enough time for ourselves, much less one another. Neither of us wanted to split up, but we both knew that’s where we were headed if something didn’t change.
One of the first things the therapist asked was, “How often, and in what ways, do you communicate throughout the day?”
The short answer was: we didn’t. Maybe a quick conversation as we rushed around in the morning, getting the boys ready for school — things like “did you remember to pack a lunch?” or “Have you seen his left shoe?” In the evenings, we would take turns venting about our days — talking at, rather than with, one another. In between, there was a total communication blackout.
At the time, I was a student and was in class most of the day. He worked at a busy mechanic shop. Phone calls between us were unheard of. And yet, we realized that what each of us wanted was just to say “hi” sometimes.
Now, I’m no Luddite, but I must admit a hesitance to join the texting revolution. Despite being a writer, I have always preferred face-to-face communication. We did not have smart-phones then, and were resistant to the change.
But when we tried it, everything changed.
The first message between us was “love you,” just to remind the other of that. Eventually, we moved up to jokes, grocery lists, appointment reminders, and explanations of what we had meant to say if misunderstood in our real-life talks.
Some warn about the dangers of texting in a relationship, saying that it is impersonal, and can be used as a psychological shield.
For us, though, it is a valuable tool in our relationship. It keeps us mindful of the other and helps with daily logistics.
Texting should never be a substitute for conversation, but rather a compliment to it. The hard work that goes into relationship building and maintenance must be done in person. Deeper conversations have no room on a screen, and no phone will ever be smart enough to look at you and know that you need a hug.
It is important to establish boundaries and mutual understandings about texting, just as with other areas of communication. Work together to decide what works best for you.
Here are the rules my partner and I came up with:
- If what you have to say exceeds 140 characters, call instead.
- Do not use texting to complain or place blame.
- Follow up in person on any messages of importance.
- If you get an ambiguous or confusing message, ask for clarification. Do not assume anything.
- Similarly, if you do not get a response right away, don’t jump to conclusions about why. The other person may be busy, or just not have heard the notification tone.
- If you are waiting for the “I Love You” message, go ahead and send it yourself.