All thriving couples attend to the equation of “separateness and connectedness.” Meaning, thriving love relationships require both a nurtured connectedness AND a healthy separateness.
For most people in committed relationships, the bulk of healthy separateness is built in: We go to work. We cast ourselves headlong into our vocation. Our job. Additionally, men and women nurture same-sex friendships. Guys Night Out, Girls Night Out. Alone time with children or extended family. She pursues a hobby or recreation that is of little personal interest to the man. He is mesmerized by football on television, while she retires with a good book or correspondence. And sometimes a man or woman retires within him/herself, for a restful solitude and aloneness.
In great relationships, there is an abiding respect for separateness, and, over time, a deep sense of trust in the “connectedness in separateness.”
But, in great relationships, there is, simultaneously, an intentional nurture of connectedness. Habits and rituals of connection. Hellos and goodbyes. The “good morning.” The “good night.” Kisses. Endearments. Passing touch. Flirtation. Seduction. The ‘check-in’ during the day at work – phone, voice mail, email, etc. When life gets chaotic or busy, when travel means extended nights apart, loving couples become even more intentional about nurturing connectedness, even if all you can do is connect to say you can’t connect for a while.
Love grows as a happy tree: we give it the food, water, and attention it deserves, while making sure it has sufficient space and light. We love to climb it. And we climb often. But we don’t climb on it all the time.
In the last 10-15 years, though, there is a new “fly in the ointment” of couples negotiating separateness and connectedness. Increasingly I find myself helping couples muddy through anxiety, insecurity, feelings of neglect and rejection, and outright conflict over (you’re not going to believe it) texting! That’s right. Cell phone texting.
The new age of cell phone texting is convenient. It’s tailor-made for quick exchanges of details and updates: “Traffic. Gonna be 10 minutes late” … “Where the hell ARE you?” … etc. It’s fun, too. There’s something deliciously surreptitious about sitting in a dull meeting and getting a flirty hello from your beloved. It’s a whiz to lift your head out of the fog of your work day and see “I love you” … “Thinking of you.” And, if you haven’t already figured it out, texting is a whole new playground for sexual courtship.
I know a wife who texts her husband bawdy, outrageous sexual overtures when she knows he’s in an important meeting. Makes him crazy. Decadent, devilish, and deliberate. This couple makes me smile.
But, as a means of convenient and instant communication, texting has emerged so fast that modern couples find themselves with no norms, no agreed-upon etiquette. In that vacuum is a ready potential for misunderstandings and conflict.
Cell phone texting has unintentionally created an artificial expectation for connectedness. It creates conflict that is reminiscent of 7th grade drama, not adult relationships. Say this sentence with a plaintive whine: “But I texted you and you never texted back!”
So, here are 3 rules for Texting In Couplehood:
• Swear on a blood oath NOT to become reactive to unanswered texts until you are face-to-face or voice-to-voice with your mate. Never fill the vacuum of unanswered texts with negative ideas about your mate’s love and commitment to you. Your mate might be busy. Your mate’s cell phone battery might be dead. And sometimes, for no reason at all, The Gods Of Cell Service just decide not to send your text.
• Likewise promise yourself not to become reactive to texts you DO receive from your mate. See, texts are, by nature, shorthand. They are decidedly without nuance, pace, and tone. The hope for brevity is interpreted as curt and callous. Attempts at humor are taken as insults.
• Never – and I mean NEVER – attempt to process a conflict via texting. It’s a recipe for disaster. When things get pissy, stop texting and call. Or agree upon a later time to connect and continue the conversation. Text arguing is a loser.
500 years ago, great love affairs thrived with hand written letters exchanged a couple of times each month across the Irish Sea. I’m thinking that we moderns can survive a couple of hours until we get a text back.
(Steven Kalas is an author, therapist and Episcopal priest. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)