Texting: The De-Evolution of Human Communication

With many of the couples that I work with, one of the primary themes is miscommunication. Couples will often come to therapy for that very purpose: to learn how to better communicate. And while I definitely have some higher-level tricks up my sleeve to deal with conflict, decision making, and parenting (among other things) there is one very basic rule that I often ask couples to start using: stop having important conversations via text. In fact, stop using texting to do anything more than the simplest of things: last minute grocery items, checking in during the day, the occasional dirty text to keep the flame alive- you get my drift.

So many of the essential pieces of human communication are completely lost in text. Tone, intonation, emphasis, and often little mistakes (like grammar or punctuation errors) can change the entire message behind a text. For example, you could interpret the following sentence seven different ways depending on which word you emphasize:

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I don’t know about your phone, but as smart as my phone is, it still can’t underline, italicize or embolden my texts, and if it could… well, that sounds like a lot of work, and still misses the point. If one brief sentence can be interpreted seven different ways, imagine how much room for misinterpretation there is in all of the texts we send each other on a daily basis. Many of the arguments I hear couples get into involve at least one or more misinterpreted text messages. This goes back to a topic I’ve discussed in my earlier blogs: assumption and ascribing intention. If you shouldn’t make assumptions about your partner’s feelings or intentions from what they say verbally, then you absolutely should not be doing it with what they say in text.

I’m guessing that each of us can probably think of at least one (or many) time(s) when something that we have said in text has been taken completely differently from how we intended it, and we had no idea how that happened. And I bet that at least a few times, that’s led to an argument- probably not about the thing we were actually texting about, but about our “attitude” or “tone.” Some of my more high-conflict couples will actually whip out their phones in session to prove to their partner (or to me, but this is rather irrelevant and will result in me redirecting the conversation) what was said. When it’s in text, all bets are off; you don’t get to win an argument based on your assumption of what was meant in a text message that to anyone else in the world might look completely benign.

I understand that texting is a convenient and quick way to communicate with one another, but we live in a society where texting has replaced the art of verbal human conversation, and that’s a problem, especially in long-term relationships where there are more important things going on that deserve more time and energy than texting. Take the time to have those important conversations in person. Agree as a couple what issues should never be discussed via text, and if you’re in a particularly rocky place in your relationship, maybe take texting off the table altogether for a while. Focus on rebuilding communication through genuine human connection, rather than technology.

And no, just because you use emojis doesn’t mean you are conveying your message effectively 🙂

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