Doing This With Your Phone Can Save Your Relationship, New Study Says
A major breakthrough is coming your way.
There's lots of mixed advice when it comes to how your phone should be involved in your relationship. Some experts say it's best for you and your partner to have time to connect sans technology, while others claim cell phones are a valuable tool for boosting communication and staying in touch throughout the day. If you're in a relationship, you've likely developed your own methods of using your phone to connect with your partner, whether that's a lunchtime phone call or a text before leaving the office. But according to a new study, there's an unexpected phone habit that could actually save your relationship. Read on to learn what the findings say and get therapists' reactions to this recommendation.
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A new study found that texting can improve your relationship.
A recent study published in the journal New Media & Society looked at the way Generation X (those born between 1965-1980) conducts their relationships via text (or, in the study's case, WhatsApp, due to the fact that it was directed in Israel). The researchers found that how this group digitally argues mirrors their style of doing so in person, whether that pattern is avoidant, emotional, or rational.
"Correspondence over WhatsApp not only offers another venue to conduct the relationship, but it can also help save it," the researchers said in a media release. They note that this offers "another place to fight and make up." But why is having one more place to unleash our frustrations a good thing? According to therapists, arguing over text presents several conflict-resolution tools that couples wouldn't benefit from otherwise.
Therapists agree arguing via text can be helpful at times.
No, rage texting your significant other your stream-of-conscious thoughts after a disagreement will never be productive. But there are times when you can use a text conversation to your advantage.
"This type of communication can allow people to have some time to cool down before responding, and it can also allow for a more considered response," says Ketan Parmar, MD, psychologist and mental health expert at ClinicSpots. "It can also be helpful for people who find it difficult to express themselves in the heat of the moment." For those types of people, texting lets them gather their thoughts and communicate more effectively. In other words, they can say exactly what they need to with the assurance that they can edit their response as many times as they'd like.
Texting can help you work through major disagreements.
While many of the therapists we chatted with noted that couples should avoid having major disagreements via text, they did add that there were some exceptions.
"If people are in perpetual cycles of heightened tension in arguments, and often find themselves reverting to crying, yelling, criticism, interrupting each other, or name-calling, this is too charged [of] a topic to discuss without some guard rails up," says Chelsea Johnson, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Horizons Marriage & Family Therapy.
In that case, a text or letter might be helpful. "I encourage my patients to write out all of their thoughts virtually they wish to share with a partner, and then go back and edit out anything 'editorial' like name-calling or emotionally charged language," explains Johnson. Avoid "you" or blaming statements to ensure your correspondence reads factually like an essay.
So, when is texting most helpful? "This may work best for disagreements about making a certain decision, financial topics, or any topic that feels very stuck," says Johnson. "The nature of a back and forth text exchange also encourages partners to not interrupt one another and take turns sharing their perspectives." If you need help employing this strategy, schedule an appointment with a couples therapist.
Texting can also be used for small disagreements.
On a more everyday basis, texting can be used to solve low-risk issues and problems, says Kimber Shelton, PhD, licensed psychologist and owner of KLS Counseling & Consulting Services. "For example, one partner texts, 'Hey, it hurt my feelings today when you left and didn't say goodbye,' and the partner responds with, 'Oh, sorry; I was rushing to a meeting and didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I hope you have a good day,' the issue is resolved," Shelton says. "Now both parties can go about their day without carrying emotional weight from an unintended emotional slight."
You can use a similar strategy for small disagreements about household chores, schedule changes, and more.
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However, this is not for every couple.
It's important to note that because everyone argues differently, not every couple can employ a text-message method for their disagreements.
"Resolving conflict over text messages would be best suited for couples who have already a conflict resolution strategy outside of text messaging," says Katie Borek, MSW, a therapist at Aligned Minds Counseling and Therapy. "This includes couples who understand each others' attachment styles and are responsive and empathic to any anxieties that may arise; also, couples who understand the difference between minor conflict and major conflict will have high success in deciphering which conflicts are appropriate for text messaging."
Finally, you'll also want to have healthy boundaries in place with regard to communicating via text. "This means if one partner expresses their inability to participate in a dialogue via text, the dialogue ends immediately, and the couple can agree to readdress the issue later," says Borek. "Boundaries could also include topics which are off limits completely. A simple example of this could be discussing calendar coordination so the couple can arrange to see each other because one party gets overwhelmed trying to coordinate and would prefer to discuss this in a phone call."
With these tips in mind, your phone can help you work through your differences in a healthy, controlled manner so you can go back to your usual messaging habits.