We’ve all been there: You send a text to your partner and you’re left on read. On your end, you think “what’s so hard about answering a text?” On the other side, your partner might think, “I’ll respond later,” and think nothing else of it. If this sounds familiar, chances are you have a textual compatibility problem.
“Textual compatibility means you have similar texting habits and preferences,” Heather Shannon, LCPC, CST, licensed professional counselor and certified sex therapist, tells Lifehacker. “Maybe you both like a ‘good morning sexy’ type of text, or maybe you both like updating each other throughout the day as to how things are going. It could also mean texting isn’t your preferred method of communication and you’re on the same page about it being a minimal part of your relationship.
Since texting is a main form of communication these days, a lot hinges on how we text each other — including when, how often, and what we text. If you’re not textually compatible with your partner and don’t look to resolve your communication problems, then your relationship will likely suffer.
How do you know if you’re textually compatible in a relationship?
According to Shannon, you’ll know there’s incompatibility if either of you starts to feel frustrated with texting instead of enjoying it. “Pay attention to your emotions,” she says. “Do you send a text and then start getting anxious when you haven’t gotten a reply? Do you feel obligated to reply quickly even though you have other things you’d like to be focusing on? Do you find that you’re getting into emotional topics via text and trying to resolve arguments that way and things are only escalating? If so, there’s a textual compatibility issue.”
On the other hand, if texting with your significant other feels smooth, stress-free, and puts a smile on your face, Shannon says you’re fine. “You may even feel closer and more connected through your text exchanges. In that case, no change needed — just enjoy,” she explains.
Why do some couples struggle with texting compatibility?
At the root of texting incompatibility are issues with attachment styles, communication preferences, stage of dating, clarity of communication, and even work schedules.
“With attachment styles, one person might be more anxiously attached and therefore want more connection and reassurance in the relationship, and text is one way to get that,” Shannon explains. “Someone who is more avoidantly attached tends to want more space and independence, so they may become resentful if someone is blowing up their phone with messages.”
In terms of communication preferences, you might prefer connecting via phone, video, or in-person communication where you receive tone of voice, volume, and non-verbal cues while your partner might prefer the convenience of text and being able to have an asynchronous conversation, which can cause issues between you.
When it comes to clarity of communication, Shannon says, “I think we’ve all experienced people who text us and we wonder what the heck they were trying to say and aren’t even sure how to respond. It seems like they’re assuming we are inside their brain and understand their typos, omitted words, unique phrases, abbreviations, and incorrect idioms.” In these cases, it can be hard to clarify what was meant due to the limitations of the texting format.
Lastly, couples might have different types of work schedules and work environments. “Some of us work for ourselves from home and have a lot of flexibility in our day. We may get bored and want a distraction and texting is perfect for that,” Shannon notes. “Others are in an office environment, working face to face with customers or in meetings all day where texting is frowned upon or not even possible.”
Fixing your texting compatibility
Ironically, Shannon recommends turning to technology. “One solution I love when one person wants a convenient, asynchronous conversation and the other wants to hear tone and inflection is something like WhatsApp audio messages or Marco Polo videos,” she says. “We are so lucky to be existing in an age where there are technological solutions for so many of these issues.
But first, you should talk about your issues in person. “When there’s a conflict of any kind, you want as much communication data or feedback as you can possibly get,” Shannon says. “In-person allows you to look into each other’s eyes, maybe even hold hands and talk from a place of compassion and understanding for each other. If that’s not feasible, Shannon suggests at least get on a phone call to discuss how you feel.
When you do connect, Shannon says it’s key to say what you want, but don’t make the other person wrong. “One of the things I’ve started telling my couple clients when they disagree is that they’re both right and their job is to see how their partner is also right. When we stop blaming or condemning our partner and try to really understand their perspective first, amazing things can happen…when we understand deeply, I think that gets us 90% of the way towards a solution.”
But texting isn’t everything in your relationship
While it certainly helps to be textually compatible, Shannon points out that it’s important to remember what compatibility means for you and your relationship. “For some people, texting might be their primary mode of communication and therefore very important,” she says. “If you’re only seeing someone once a week and phone calls aren’t your thing, then texting is going to take on greater importance. On the other hand, if you’re seeing each other several times per week and talking on the phone here and there, texting may only be for logistical purposes or the occasional flirty sext.” Bottom line? Decide what works for you and your partner.
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