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So have you ever had a discussion or conversation with your spouse by text messages? Was it something positive, neutral or was it to settle and argument?

According to Pew Research Center, 97% of smart phone users use texting. And as of 2015, nearly two-thirds of Americans own smart phones. So it is very likely that you communicate with your spouse via text messages. So what kinds of things are you communicating?

In my work as a marriage therapist, one of the things I see happening a lot, are couples trying desperately to work through conflicts using their smart phones. And that is a big mistake!

Now I am a lover of my smart phone and have it with me most of the time (just not in sessions). It is so easy to send someone a text because it seems less intrusive for one and secondly it does not require an immediate response. But to try and have a detailed, involved conversation by texting is just a mistake! The same would be true for couples that might try to argue or have “heated” conversations. The problem is that so much communication gets lost. It also creates a lot of emotional distance which is one of the main killers of having a healthy marital relationship.

Eighty percent (80%) of face to face communication is non-verbal. Certainly the words we use are important, but what we pick up on first in our communication as human beings are all the non-verbal cues. The tone and body language are what most people pick up on first. If we say something to someone in a demeaning tone it sets the stage for defensiveness by the other person. But if something is said with a tone of curiosity, it totally changes the meaning behind what is being asked. With texting, there is no way convey the tone or non-verbal communication well. It gets lost in the translation!

Handling conflicts through texting sets a couple up for failure…

Every couple will have conflicts at one time or another. It is just the nature of human relationships. Sometimes we will hurt each other or step on each other’s toes. One of the warning signs of poor conflict management in a marriage is when a couple starts turning to texting to try and work through conflicts. Handling conflicts through texting just sets a couple up for failure.

I always tell people that one of the greatest conversations any couple can have is to discuss how they prefer to handle conflicts with each other. And do this at a neutral time when you are not in the middle of an argument. In other words, if you have problem with something that your spouse is doing, what is the best way to bring that up with them so that they can hear it? A big part of that conflict conversation should be to both people agreeing to take texting off the table when it comes to working through conflicts.

So, how can texting improve your marriage? Here is my list of some simple guidelines when it comes to texting with your spouse:

The Do’s:

1. Text your spouse love notes- often!
2. Only use texting for non-crucial conversations.
3. Texting is great for grocery lists, when you will be home, when to get the kids or what’s for dinner…
4. Sending each other pictures of fun stuff (only appropriate stuff!).
5. Sending affirmations, “warm-fuzzes” and “just thinking of you” are always okay and encouraged.
6. Only handle conflicts face to face; take texting off the table when it comes to disagreements about things.

The Don’ts:

1. Never use texting to settle the argument from the night before, or anytime for that matter.
2. Never send criticisms, jabs or hateful messages.
3. If it takes more than a sentence or two to say what you want to say, you should probably call or wait until you are face to face.
4. Never complain about your spouse to others in a text message or pull someone else in to help you “win” the argument.
5. If you have saved text messages from past arguments, never use those as future ammunition. That is just not fighting fair! Delete them.
6. Never use texting to have deep or intimate conversations. Save it for when you are face to face.
It goes without saying, a healthy marriage has to have healthy communication. Texting is not all bad, but leave the heavy stuff for actual person to person communication. A healthy marriage is always built on true emotional intimacy and being able to always treat each other with kindness and compassion. Even when we hurt one another.

Be quick to love and make haste to be kind… That is the simple formula for a happy marriage!

By L. Gordon Brewer, Jr., MEd. LMFT – Gordon is the President and Founder of Kingsport Counseling Associates, PLLC. He is also a consultant and business mentor at The Practice of Therapy.