How Texting Affects Your Relationship, According To Science
Moods can be illegible in written form, so predictably, the way we communicate these days — almost exclusively via text, what else is there? — can seed a lot of chaos in our relationships. But, at the same time, texting can also improve our unions. What do your texting habits mean for your love life? Research can help you make a few predictions. Do you and your partner have similar texting styles? Do you treat your phone as crutch to carry you through boring situations? Do you feel anxious without it, uncomfortably unaware of what's going on? Or would you prefer to turn it off and stash it in a drawer for a few days? Do you find yourself texting the hard things it's awkward to say in person? All of it says something, according to the literature.
Yet most people perceive texting as a low-impact form of communication, Leora Trub, PhD — an assistant professor of psychology at the Pace University Dyson College of Arts and Sciences — tells Bustle. Still, many of us lean on it for the majority of our exchanges. This can create sticky and strange situations.
"[Texting] is easy," Trub says. "You can do it while you’re doing other things, you’re expected to respond immediately, you’re not expected to use it mindfully and thoughtfully." Increasingly, however, people treat texting as "their main mode of communication with their significant others and important people in their lives, and there’s a tremendous amount of miscommunication and misperception that goes on" because of it. And that can hold course-altering implications for our relationships.
What does science have to say about how texting affects our love lives? Here are seven findings from studies.
1. Similar Texting Styles Make For Happier Couples
For one of Trub's studies, she and her team surveyed 205 coupled-up adults ages 18 to 29. She asked them about their texting patterns, their sense of emotional security, and their overall relationship satisfaction. People whose texting habits aligned with their partners were happier, regardless of their messages' content: Whether they bantered or exchanged sappy missives or even undertook larger relationship issues, they reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction than couples who approached texting differently.
This makes sense: Messages from a person who texts in ways you understand, who likes to catch up at the same rate and pace as you, will generally be a welcome when they pop up on your lock screen. A person who texts too often — or too little, for that matter — and uses different lingo may bamboozle or even annoy you.
2. Excessive Texting Can Be A Sign Of Other, Underlying Issues
According to research presented Trub presented at the American Psychological Association's 2018 convention, constantly tapping on our phones can signal loneliness or boredom, and ultimately lead to feelings of alienation. Or, it can help us maintain close connections with loved ones. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Trub and her team surveyed 982 adults ages 18 to 29, asking them questions to gauge possibly addictive phone behaviors, social anxiety, shyness, and other personality-based characteristics. They determined that check-ins with significant others and friends aren't problematic in and of themselves — indeed, the notifications give us little dopamine boosts — but become risky when we start treating them as escape routes.
In addition to the benign banter, "We also text to avoid dealing with relatives at the family party and to break up with someone," Trub noted. Texting can be functional; it can also be a way to pass the time in periods of boredom or discomfort, and in those situations, it may "become a crutch and eventually become a barrier to creating meaningful interactions," she noted in the release. "Texting all the time can also come from being lonely or bored, and that can lead to isolation and alienation.”
3. Attachment Styles Manifest In Phone Reliance
The way we rely on our phones may say something about the way we rely on other people. One pattern that has emerged in Trub's research, she tells Bustle, indicates that people with attachment anxiety — or, people who are more "preoccupied with their attachment to their relationship to their partner," Trub says, and who don't feel fully comfortable unless they are assured of their partner's presence and commitment — tend to lean harder on their phones. They may identify with sentiments like, "'I feel naked without my phone," Trub notes, or see the phone as a sort of security blanket.
Attachment-avoidant people, meanwhile, may "be excessively self-reliant," Trub says, "because they think [others] either are going to be unwilling or unable to meet their attachment needs." This camp would prefer to flush their phones down the toilet: They view their phones as burdens, or barriers to having a Nice Time, not because they dislike the people trying to communicate with them, but because the phone itself manifests stress.
4. Texting Is Not The Place For Relationship Maintenance
If you and your partner have a fight, do your best to work it out in person — resorting to text can leave you both unsatisfied, and degrade the connection. In 2013, researchers at Brigham Young University surveyed 276 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, 38 percent of whom reported being in a serious relationship, 46 percent were engaged, and 16 percent were married.
When these young couples used texting to sort out major issues or to get on the same page about things, they reported lower relationship satisfaction. The women in the study tended not to appreciate apologies delivered over text or big decisions made in this format, while the men involved disliked sending and receiving too many messages. Everyone was fine with affectionate or planning-related missives, so perhaps the takeaway is: Use texting just for off-the-cuff fun, and not to hash out your problems.
5. Texting Your Partner Nice Things Improves Your Relationship
Just to quickly belabor that last point, we have more evidence that sporadically sending your partner positive/loving/kind/funny texts does good things for your union. In one 2015 study, researchers tried positive texting two ways: First, they rounded up a group of couples and sunnily scripted the first messages participants sent their partners (who also participated, although neither party knew about the other's involvement) every day for two weeks. These couples did not report a change in disposition, but those involved in study two — which operated the same way, except participants penned their own messages — did. In that group, the kind words seemed to contribute to relationship satisfaction. So, moral of the story: Tell your partner nice things and don't lie!
6. Hyperactive Sexting Can Signal Trouble
A little sexy texting can add zest to a relationship, one 2018 study found, but too much can portend bigger problems in the relationship. Researchers at the University of Alberta looked at the sexting habits of 615 people, and found that those who sent sexual messages and/or nudes a few times per week (frequently), or even daily (hyper-frequently), reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction in their relationships — but that's it. Heavy sexters also tended to experience more relationship conflict, and were more likely to be ambivalent about the relationship's long-term potential. Additionally, they reported lower levels of secure attachment and commitment. Also! They were more likely to conduct themselves suspiciously on social media, leading the study authors to conclude — damningly— "sexting doesn't seem to be a feature of a healthy relationship."
Certainly, that's debatable, but one salient feature of the hyper-sexting set was their phone reliance: Their phones were their thirds in quality time spent with a partner.
7. We Share A Lot Of Text Pet Peeves In Common
For a respite from all that science, we turn to the 2016 Match Singles in America Survey, which offered some insights into what really annoys people in texting a new date. Turns out, everyone hates spelling mistakes and incorrect grammar: 36 percent of men polled identified this as their top turn-off, versus 54 percent of women. Proof those texts before you hit send, friends.
Short answers also irked people — 36 percent of men and 37 percent of women — so please, elaborate and let someone get to know you.
Meanwhile, 37 percent of women reported annoyance at a barrage of personal questions, while 39 percent of men did not respond well to caps lock. SORRY.
There you have it — the ways science says texting affects your love life, so you can prevent miscommunication and add to relationship satisfaction.