It seems that everywhere you look, someone is texting, checking e-mail, or playing with one of the latest apps on his or her cell phone.
And while cell phones have brought us closer with our social networks in many ways, some married couples are now finding it’s doing the opposite for their relationship.
“Texting has made things more complicated between my husband and I,” admits Ali Hayman, of Canada. “It causes a lot of fights simply because there are no facial expressions and, therefore, I always misread his tone and he does the same.”
Robert Epstein, Ph.D., a distinguished research psychologist and former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today magazine, believes that texting can both help and hurt marriages. “It can help when it allows two busy people to keep in touch when they otherwise could not; for example, when each person is at work.”
As in Hayman’s case, “It can hurt because, like e-mail, it is somewhat impersonal and a poor substitute for face-to-face contact. With some married couples, it’s used as a way of avoiding contact—say, when both people are home and they text from one room to another.”
Related: The Secret To Staying Married
In an effort to avoid becoming disconnected from each other, my brother and his fiancé actually implemented a policy wherein cell phones are not allowed at the dinner table. This way, they said, they are able to focus on each other and learn more about what is going on in their daily lives.
GalTime’s Love Doc Jane Greer, Ph.D., a nationally known marriage and family therapist as well as the author of numerous books on relationships, thinks couples can benefit from following this type of policy. “If you are together out to dinner or in your bedroom, that’s the time to make texting totally off limits so you make certain to preserve your closeness and intimacy without letting anyone else get between you,” she says. “If you put these checks and balance limits in place, you will guarantee preserving a healthy emotional balance in your marriage.”
Limiting the time spent on texting—not just when and where you text—is also recommended. Excessive texting can negatively impact a marriage because it can interfere with a couple’s quality time together, Greer explains. “When one partner is texting, they are involved in their text, not in the moment with their partner. Everyone wants to feel that they are important and come first in each other’s life. So if you’re attention is in your text and not on your partner, you are there with them but not really ‘with’ them.”
Still, in some marriages, both partners find themselves texting often and aren’t bothered by it. “I have a spouse who texts constantly, but I text a lot too,” admits Diana Young, of Alabama. “It has no effect on our marriage, especially because I am free to look at his phone whenever I want!”
Stacie Ikka, founder of the dating consultancy Sitting In A Tree, said that if the constant texting does eventually become a problem for a married couple, they might want to consider implementing some “blackout periods” when texting is off limits.
Like Greer, Ikka agrees that at dinner is a good time to start. However, “if one person is more of a texter than the other, this may be met with some resistance. So, it’s important for the person pushing for it to come to the table prepared with some stimulating discussion topics that will engage the other person,” she says.
If this method doesn’t help and the constant texting continues to be an issue, Ikka suggests that the couple sit down to discuss the matter in a constructive manner. “As with any other marital challenge, communication is key in its resolution and identifying the actual root of the problem will ensure a more sustainable solution is achieved.”
Ikka also believes that in cases where texting seems to be a problem in a marriage, it’s actually more likely to be a symptom of something more profound, rather than the root cause itself. In today’s society, “Texting is definitely affecting communication and having an impact on relationships, but whether that impact is positive or negative depends on the couple,” Ikka explains. "If a couple is happy and fulfilled in their marriage, texting is just another mechanism for them to communicate, which can easily include flirting and maintaining intimacy.”
Fortunately, “On balance, I think texting is probably helping marriages more than it hurts them,” Epstein adds. “Any contact is better than none at all, and texting is unique in allowing people to stay in touch under almost any conditions.”
Just remember, Greer says, “When you’re doing something together, like going to dinner, the movies, an event, etc., unless it is staying in touch with the babysitter or something else really essential, it’s time to turn off to texting and turn on to each other.”
Dr. Epstein, author of Making Love: How Couples Learn to Love and How You Can Too, recently conducted a study of more than 10,000 people that shows that communication is the most important relationship skill married couples can have and that good communication is essential to a happy marriage. Those who are interested can measure seven important relationship skills, including communication, at his website: MyLoveSkills.com. Compatibility can be measured at his other website: AreWeGoodTogether.com.