Texting and sexting in relationships: they bring us closer or drive us apart


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New research investigates how texting behavior influences relationships.

In one study led by Leora Trub, a psychologist at Pace University, researchers surveyed 205 adults aged 18 to 29 who were in a romantic relationship. The participants were profiled on their texting habits, relationship, and emotional satisfaction.

Interestingly, the results suggested that partners who had a similar texting style to one another reported greater relationship satisfaction, regardless of whether the content of the texts themselves were lovey-dovey messages or complaints. These findings mirror previous research that found that couples who communicate similarly, regardless of the medium, are happier with their relationships.

“How couples texted was more important to the satisfaction of the relationship than how frequently they texted,” said Trub in a statement.

The takeaway seems to be that as long as partners are in sync with their texting styles, things are more likely to go smoother between the two.

This makes sense when you recognize how ambiguous, disembodied, short, and asynchronous communicating over text can be. A simple “K” can mean so many different things and can be easily interpreted in a negative way.

In another survey, Trub and colleagues questioned 982 adults between the ages of 18 and 29 about their motivation for texting. The questions were meant to gauge the participants’ level of social anxiety, their general personality traits, and mobile phone usage.

The researchers uncovered some interesting patterns. For instance, besides texting for its functional sake, people would also choose to text to avoid having to deal with a potentially intimidating situation. Additionally, people also text simply because they’re bored or because they find it to be a better way of expressing themselves than over the phone or in person.

“Texting can become a crutch and eventually become a barrier to creating meaningful interactions,” said Trub. “Texting all the time can also come from being lonely or bored, and that can lead to isolation and alienation.”

A second study focused on the hotter part of texting — sexually explicit messaging or “sexting”. The research team surveyed 615 American and Canadian adults who were in committed relationships at the time. The participants were asked about their sexting behaviors, self-esteem, relationship satisfaction, commitment, conflict and pornography use, among other topics.

Most people didn’t sext at all and were found to be just as satisfied with their partners as people who did sext. Sexters, on the other hand, reported higher sexual satisfaction than non-sexters. People in same-sex relationships were particularly likely to be frequent or even hyper sexters.

Frequent sexters, defined as sending ‘steamy’ messages several times a week, were more likely to report conflict and ambivalence in their relationships. They were also more likely to behave unfaithfully to their partners over social media and watched more pornography.

“Sexting may help couples with intimacy and to spice things up, but we definitely did see the negative side of too much of a good thing,” said Michelle Drouin of Purdue University Fort Wayne, lead author of the sexting study.

The two studies were presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

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