Naysayers have often warned that resorting to communication by smartphone would be the end of close, personal relationships. For couples, new research shows that keeping in touch by keyboard has quite the opposite effect.
Catalina Toma, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, analyzed the feelings and communications behavior of couples and found that texts help “maintain an emotional connection and [the feeling] that your partner is psychologically close,” Toma said in a University interview. “It might seem trivial, but it’s really relationship maintenance.”
Rather than looking at couples in long-distance relationships—like most studies of communication by text or email—Toma looked at how couples who are close to one another use technology to stay in touch.
Granted her sample was young—200 undergraduate students—but the goal was to see if the frequency and quality of high-tech communication use was associated with an increase in relationship satisfaction by boosting partner idealization, an important factor in all love affairs.
A main goal of the study was to examine whether media use was associated with an increase in relationship satisfaction by boosting partner idealization, “Research shows that idealization [holding and extremely positive view of your partner] contributes substantially to the satisfaction individuals derive from relationships, Toma says. “Idealization is necessary in romantic relationships. If you don’t think your partner is more special than everyone else, you won’t be as satisfied.”
Study participants were asked to respond to questions such as “my partner and I understand each other completely” and then asked to answer on a grade scale. They were also asked how much their partner met their needs.
“The survey shows that high quality communication through mobile media fostered partner idealization, which in turn increased relational satisfaction. Mobile media use contributes to relational satisfaction and can be a practical way to contribute to satisfaction in dating relationships,” Toma said.
The most frequent communication methods revealed by the study were texting first, then phone calls, Facebook, instant messaging, Twitter, email and video chatting.
Study participants spent up to two hours a day texting with their partner, the average was 60 minutes. While many people may view all that texting as a waste of time, Toma said: “it’s not. It signals, ‘I’m thinking about you,’” Toma said.
So even if you don’t have an hour to invest, the next time you’re thinking of sending your beloved a steamy, midday message, go for it.