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Not Your Grandpa's Courtship: Navigating Relationships in the Age of Instant Communication By Sierra Young, MAC, CIT

“Dear DeLoris,

I guess you think I am not going to answer your card, but I did not get it until today…”

The year was 1942. My grandfather, Paul, who was just seventeen years old, was in love with my fifteen-year-old grandmother, DeLoris. Paul lived on a farm with his 8 younger siblings in the tiny town of Bloomfield, Missouri. My grandmother was living 155 miles away in Maplewood waiting in anticipation for every promised letter. From 1942 to 1944, written in cursive with a pencil, my grandparents religiously sent letters back and forth during their courtship. “Sealed with a kiss” was abbreviated to S.W.A.K. on the back of each envelope. They were married in 1945 just before my grandmother’s 19th birthday.

Can you imagine the patience? The endurance? The agony of waiting for that letter to arrive?

I could never.

Today almost all communication is instant. When communication is not instant, our anxiety spikes and we assume the worst and jump to conclusions within an hour of sending a text. Whether it is my own experience, or what I see with my clients, relationships are so hard to navigate through the nuances of today’s technology.

As a form of communication, sending text messages emphatically has its pros. But when it comes to communicating emotions in the context of dating or intimate relationships, a lot of things can be missed. When a text message is sent instead of talking face to face when issues come up, connection and resolution of the issue can be overlooked.

When we text big things that we feel about the other person or the relationship, we risk misinterpreting what is communicated. It is impossible to communicate our tone of voice and body language.

Text messages can also lack emotional depth. Even if we feel we have effectively communicated our emotions, the depth of the emotion is missed when it is not accompanied by attunement with the other person.

Texting with a partner about big emotions can also set us up for a false sense of intimacy. What we might feel on one side of the text message might not be what the person on the other end feels. Intimacy is all about the feeling of closeness. If both sides of the relationship are not feeling that closeness, then the relationship can be stunted.

Texting can also allow us to avoid being vulnerable and confronting uncomfortable emotions within the relationship. Avoiding vulnerability within our relationships stunts the growth and potential within that connection. Relationships grow and are strengthened by the vulnerability that comes when we have face-to-face tough conversations. True emotional intimacy.

So what should we do instead the next time we feel the impulse to send our partner that emotionally charged text about how we’ve felt like he hasn’t been paying enough attention to us?

Set communication boundaries within your relationship. Maybe make it an expectation that when you want to communicate with each other about your feelings, set a time to do that in person. If in-person conversations are logistically difficult within your relationship, I would encourage some form of video communication and at the very least, a phone call.

Prioritize in-person communication in the relationship. When you are the receiver of an emotionally charged text, point that out to your partner. With sensitivity, suggest that conversation be handled in person. If you are the sender of the emotional text message, give yourself grace and take it a few steps back. I have caught myself many times typing out a text while tears were streaming down my face. Maybe those tears should be saved for your partner to see them.

Be mindful of the attunement happening within your relationship. Emotional attunement is the process of recognizing and responding to the emotions of another person in a way that validates and supports their experience. It involves being present and attuned to their emotional cues, whether they are expressed through words, body language, or facial expressions. You cannot attune with another person over text.

As technology continues to morph and grow, we will need to continue to fight for the raw intimacy and attunement that happens when we are face-to-face within our relationships. Slow down, notice your feelings and what's happening in your body. Trust what you feel and engage in the tough conversations. Face your emotions and face your partner. It is so hard, but you got this.

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