Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Relationships and technology

We're on our way to the ATT store to upgrade our phones and change our plan to one with less talking and more texting. Actually, we're currently charged for our texts individually (at about 20 cents each!) because we've got the only two teenagers in the world who don't like to text. But that's changing because Boo's friends like to text, leaving her little choice, and because my clients are increasingly choosing to contact me that way.

That reminds me of something I've been noticing more and more. I am amazed at how much delicate relational work couples are doing through texting. I actually watched one couple negotiate at least half of their decision to divorce through text messages, back in the days before qwerty phones, when they had to do it all with their thumbs.

One thing I'm noticing now is how one or both partners have the expectation that their spouse should be immediately available by phone 24 hours a day. This is a common scenario: the wife will text her husband something innocuous like "how r u?" but doesn't hear back. This makes her anxious so she starts sending messages questioning his love for her, expressing her insecurity and eventually her fury. By the time he gets back to her to tell her that he was in a meeting or on a phone call or (in one case) laying carpet, she is feeling so abandoned and angry that repairing the damage seems impossible. Although it's sometimes the husband and not the wife, I am seeing this pattern on at least a weekly basis.

I also see couples who bicker by email (or now texting) all day long, leaving them both emotionally exhausted and angry by the end of the day when they reconnect. Understandably, they're just so tired of all the negativity that they want to end the marriage without even noticing the toll that technological accessibility is taking.

More and more often, I'm prescribing no texting, no cell phone calls and no emailing for couples during the work day, making them earn back the privilege with "good behavior." Twenty years ago when I started this work, I never imagined!


Electric Monk said...

I'm a rabid texter, but my significant other won't have any of it. She thinks e-mail is a very poor substitute for verbal communication, and texting is right out. Except for the most basic of communications ("in a meeting," or "buy milk"), she won't use texting.

Which again proves she's smarter than I am.

Cara said...

You are so dead on! This has been our biggest struggle in our first couple of years of marriage. It has taken a while for us to both understand that if the other person doesn't respond its because they are busy with thier work. And we have also learned not to work anything more emotional than who is stopping by the store on the way home for milk via e-mail, which can be a challenge when one of us is the kind that needs immediate resolution. We have learned to draw a hard line because the repair work over a misunderstood text or e-mail is far more exhausting than waiting until we can be face to face to discuss something, but this is such a relevant topic!

Anonymous said...

Tone is something else that is hard to understand in an email/text message. I have problems enough properly verbally communicating with my spouse. I tend to analyze every little word to try and infer the "real" meaning...perhaps I need to remember he probably typed the real meaning, and get on with my day.