Warning: Texting May be Hazardous to Your Relationship

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Texting has taken off as a means of communication. However, communicating by text to one’s significant other is risky due to the ease of which texts are misunderstood. This is primarily due to not being able to convey tone, but is also due to delays in responses or receiving messages. San Francisco psychotherapist Michael Halyard, MFT offers suggestions for texting while in relationships.

The last thing you want to do is communicate by text in the middle of an argument. Just one bad misunderstanding coupled with intense emotions can lead to irreparable damage to a relationship.

In our busy world where everyone is in a hurry, texting is quickly becoming a preferred means of communication, but for many couples it also creates problems in their relationships.

“For a lot of couples, texting is now the most common means of communication while apart--but it can also be a source of conflict. Unlike telephone or face to face communication, it is nearly impossible to know how the other person is reacting emotionally to what is being communicated,” says San Francisco therapist Michael Halyard.

Halyard is a San Francisco Marriage and Family Therapist and can be found on the websites http://www.sftherapy.com/ and http://www.sanfrancisco-psychotherapy.com.

Although texting is a convenient technology and it's usually faster and easier to send a text than to make a telephone call, you’re not getting the context of what’s going on at the other end--and that can create miscommunication.

"With telephone communication, you can tell how the person feels, through their tone, a pause, whether they are laughing or crying. With texting, you get none of that and it’s impossible to know how your significant other is reacting to what you’re saying on an emotional level," adds Halyard.

Text messages can easily be misunderstood. “It’s amazing how upset people can get when they get a text and think it means something, but their partner meant to say something totally different. Then the person has to call their boyfriend or girlfriend and explain what they really meant,” says Halyard.

“Often fights and arguments ensue because of misinterpretation of text messages. It’s impossible to tell the difference between emotions like anger, sadness, sarcasm, sincerity within a text message. A person might be joking with their partner, and he or she interprets it as their partner being angry. Then texts have to be exchanged to unravel the miscommunication,” explains Halyard.

The irony is that we see texting is a fast way to communicate, but when it leads to a misunderstanding in our relationships, it can take hours to undo the damage.

Another problem is couples texting during an argument, or couples continuing to text when a text message has created an argument.

“Couples in the middle of an argument can end up sending dozens of texts rather than doing the sensible thing and picking up the phone or meeting in person. Trying to resolve by text is easy to do, because it’s normal to be hopeful that you can clear it up in the next text, but it usually isn’t! Couples can end up spending hours texting back and forth when they should really just pick up the phone or meet in person,” argues Halyard.

“The last thing you want to do is communicate by text in the middle of an argument. Just one bad misunderstanding coupled with intense emotions can lead to irreparable damage to a relationship,” warns Halyard.

Moreover, using text messages to avoid conflict is also a dubious endeavor. “Sometimes people are afraid to talk to their partner on the phone or meet in person when their partner is angry, because they think that will make things escalate, but texting often makes things worse,” adds Halyard.

Another scenario is when a partner is upset about a text, but not mention it, and instead when the couple gets together he or she is distant or in a bad mood. "When the person asks what is wrong and the misunderstanding comes to light, things get resolved, but the partner has already spent the whole day harboring negative feelings towards his partner," says Halyard.

The other problem with texting is expectations that a person’s boyfriend or girlfriend--or even someone they’re casually dating--will respond immediately to their text.

“Now the expectation is that is that we’re supposed to be available 24-7 to our significant others, and respond immediately to their text messages. People get angry or think their partner is upset with them when a text isn’t returned promptly. ‘You didn’t respond to my text until an hour later!’ But we are not always available,” explains Halyard.

This is compounded by the unreliability of the technology, and the occasional text that doesn’t arrive until a couple hours later. There are some couples that like to stay in touch during the workday, but when there’s a delay in responding it creates conflict.

"My advice is to not text at all unless it is a short positive message that can create bonding. Instead at some point during the day pick up the phone and say ‘hello.’ For extremely emotionally reactive couples, I recommend to not text at all. It’s amazing how that alone can restore some stability in a relationship," argues Halyard.

"People have broken up over text messages! Arguments and fights between partners-- that led to huge problems or even ending relationships-- have often been started or exacerbated by misunderstood text messages. These can easily be avoided by just picking up the phone or meeting in person," warns Halyard.

Halyard says texting just offers too many opportunities for misunderstanding and the bottom line is that you need to take responsibility for your words and use good judgment about whether or not to text or talk on the phone.

Halyard adds, "It takes two to tango--if your significant other wants to text about important issues in your relationship, you can say ‘sounds important, let’s talk about it tonight, I don’t feel comfortable discussing this via text.’ Think before you text."


Michael Halyard, MS, MFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and specializes in LGBT issues, depression, anxiety, addictions and couples counseling in his San Francisco private practice. He can be found on the websites http://www.sftherapy.com/ and http://www.sanfrancisco-psychotherapy.com.

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