That request would’ve sounded crazy twenty-five years ago.
Now it’s the way most of us communicate; it’s easy and convenient. It opens time in your day to be more productive. Or to binge on a little Netflix.
And yet, there can be problems Big problems.
Let me count the ways…
You can irrationally or wrongly interpret the “why” of no response or a delayed one..
What’s fascinating is that dopamine is released by your brain when you’re awaiting a response — and what does dopamine do? It’s known as the seeking neurotransmitter. It’s released when you anticipate something being pleasurable. The more dopamine, the more you seek.
So, what happens when a reply doesn’t arrive? No more dopamine. And you can convince yourself that you’ve been abandoned, forgotten, or ghosted. Even worse, a few minutes can lead to imagining a catastrophe — that the absent sender has been abducted.
It’s even worse when you see those three flashing little dots, only to see them disappear. Theories spring into action. And you can blow things way out of proportion.
And there’s the dreaded one word response. And let’s not forget the drunk texting late at night.. not usually a good thing.
Texting ignores those around you..
Think about how much innate power the act of texting in front of someone else has on that relationship. See it in your mind’s eye. You’re hunkered over your phone, head down, privately giggling or rapidly moving your fingers over the keys. You’re not in the moment at all, or certainly not completely. No wonder it leads to problems with distrust.
And then there’s texting as a replacement for real, live conversation.
I had a young patient who was miserable here at our local university; I’ll call her Lisa. Lisa was from another state, and complained to me, “Everyone already has their friend groups.” I asked her what she did as she walked between classes.
“I usually text my mom.”
“I wonder if the person right next to you, walking up the steps and going into the same classroom, might be someone to say hi to?”
“I’d never thought of that.”
Texting can serve as an escape or become a way to avoid intimacy…
There’s a poignant sadness in seeing a family or a couple, supposedly out for dinner, and all are on their phones.
Are they uncomfortable? Unhappy? Is there nothing to talk about? Do they not realize that time is a gift? Is the game they are playing, or the scores they are checking, that important?
Texting can make betrayal far too easy…
“She used to have her phone out, just laying around. I noticed that wasn’t happening anymore. She took it with her everywhere. When she took a shower, I picked it up.”
“I was using his phone to Google something, and saw their texts.”
Discovering texts has become a prevalent way for people to find out about affairs, whether sexual or emotional. Maybe you’re having a teasing or flirty relationship with someone else that spices up your daily life but feels otherwise innocent. But it’s a secret; you don’t share the conversations with your partner, because you know it would hurt them. This is deceit by omission. And talk about dopamine…
So what can be done about this?
Rules of thumb for healthy texting for couples.
- If you wouldn’t show what you are writing to your partner, then it’s better not to write it.
- If you’re actively doing something together, and you get a text that needs a response, or you think of something you want to text to someone else, explain to your partner who you’re texting. Let them in on what’s happening – so it doesn’t feel like such an intrusion.
- If you get an inappropriate text from someone else, show it to your partner. Talk together about how to handle it.
- Use texting as a way of reaching out every now and then in a loving way. Don’t only have fun with your friends via text, then only use it with your partner to ask them to pick up a dozen eggs. Send them funny memes… let texts between you feel fun as well.
- Recognize that if you show someone else a text your partner has sent you, then that can feel like an invasion of privacy. Think about how that would feel to you.
And now…. parents and kids.
- Establish times when technology takes a back seat; maybe a no-tech Tuesday, phone-free Friday, or perhaps phones are put away at dinner time.
- Put away your own phone when you’re with your kids, at least as much as you can. They’re watching and learning from you. My toddler son used to hide my beeper (now quite a gadget of the past). But the message was clear. “I need you here with me, present and in my world.”
- Have age-appropriate discussions with your kids about what you expect if you text them. By having these agreements followed, trust and respect are built.
- With apps like Life 360 in heavy use, how does texting fit into that picture? Again, what’s expected? Talk about it.
- Remember that reading your child’s texts is like listening into their private conversations. And the older they get, it’s important they have their own identity, away from you. Unless you suspect that your teenager is getting into trouble, don’t read them. Or tell your kids ahead of time that occasionally, you’re going to read them as a safety precaution.
- Make sure your kids understand that even if they think the messages they’re sending are private, it only takes a screen grab for that conversation to be shared with others – and not necessarily in a fully truthful way. The safest thing to do is never write something to someone, no matter who it is, that you wouldn’t be okay with the entire world seeing.
You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
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This post was originally published on November 15, 2015 and was republished on December 8, 2018, and then again updated on March 21, 2021.