Zack Carter Ph.D.

Clear Communication

Texting May Destroy Your Marriage

An emotional detachment from your spouse can occur long before a sexual one.

Posted Jun 06, 2017

When I was young, I never liked it when my mom and dad would close the bedroom door at night after saying goodnight. Being all alone in a large bedroom provided the opportunity for my imagination to run wild, letting all those monsters and villains rage in the privacy of my room. As I grew older though, a closed bedroom door at night provided me privacy to let my introverted self relax and decompress from the day’s stresses and demands.

We all have different privacy needs based on our personalities. However, I probably don’t have to tell you that too much can be dangerous—especially privacy with someone other than your spouse or partner.

Ask yourself: If you were at home and your spouse was not, would you invite another person to have a conversation in the privacy of your bedroom? Especially in the privacy of your bedroom with the door locked and window shades drawn? Most likely—and hopefully—your answer is a firm, “No.”

But if I were to ask if you regularly texted with anyone in particular, the answer may not be the same.

Texting and a Doorway to Infidelity

It's no secret that text messaging has become the social norm for communicating. Its ease of use with hardly any effort allows us to be in touch with anyone from anywhere at any time. We’re texting with our bosses about why we showed up to work late, sending messages to our co-workers about the next meeting, and messaging with our friends about this weekend’s barbecue. We text without thinking. We text because the world we live in says text messaging with others is perfectly acceptable communication.

Unfortunately, there is a false sense of security that exists in cell-phone text messaging: It almost always feels as though the words sent and received in a text will not venture into dangerous open waters. The reality is a text message is open water. There is no shallow end to stand on or wall to grab onto. What is sent and received in a text-based world can easily trigger our deepest, darkest feelings and desires, surfacing them in a conversation that began harmlessly.

Too often in text messaging, insignificant words are sent that are either consciously or unconsciously linked to more significant emotional or sexual roots in the heart; roots that are intended to remain deeply rooted in a marriage instead of outside it, to prevent emotional or sexual detachment from a spouse.

There are many instances of married men and women texting outside their marriage, then resulting in an extramarital affair. Most often texting was innocent in nature; infidelity wasn't in sight. They largely discussed topics about their kids’ school or their spouse’s new job, however, quickly transitioning to, for instance, a conversation about how their spouse doesn’t want to talk about their feelings, or that they noticed the other at the gym, commenting on how they're attracted to their physical appearance.

These disclosures most often lead to emotional confiding and discussions of sexual fantasies. What seems to occur in all of these participants' accounts, are descriptions of communication blind-spots: that is, negative marital consequences based on emotional and/or sexual confiding through text-messaging with the other person that seems to come out of nowhere.

Affairs Don’t Begin With Sex

Men and women were designed physically and emotionally to have sex and talk about deep feelings. However, talking about sex and feelings with another person through texting can quickly detach a married person from his or her spouse emotionally and/or sexually in the real world. Let’s be honest: Many married men and married women text others innocently without ever falling into this trap. There are many who respect their spouses completely, stewarding their texts, never venturing into discussing feelings or sex in a text.

But the research is thorough and sound. I think the slope is too slippery to ignore; many individuals walk text-message communication like a tightrope, sometimes without even knowing it. An extensive body of ever-growing research supports that social media and digital media (texting) is associated with violations of fidelity and decreased relationship satisfaction.

Marital relationships experiencing one spouse communicating emotionally or sexually with another person through text report feeling the exact same feelings as those spouses whose spouse committed a face-to-face extramarital sexual affair (not beginning through text or social media). These feelings include betrayal, rejection, abandonment, loneliness, jealousy, humiliation, loss of trust, and anger. Most alarmingly, the large majority of extramarital affairs beginning through social and digital media end in divorce.  

As social and digital media communication grows and evolves, so do the opportunities for those who are married to commit extramarital affairs. Text messaging itself is not the culprit. The culprit is the heart of the person text messaging. It can be argued that each communication medium in history has had its own potential relationship perils. This medium, however, is consuming, maintaining, and altering the human mind to such a hyper degree. It's affecting marital relationships so drastically that we cannot not discuss it.

Here’s the important thing to realize: Safeguarding your marriage against infidelity should extend beyond the bedroom. Infidelity occurs well before having actual sex with someone, and in today’s culture, the smoke can potentially be fanned into a fire during text messaging.

When a large amount of cognizant, fantasizing, emotional, and/or sexual effort is placed consistently on another person outside of a marital relationship, it is difficult to maintain full, consistent levels of spousal emotional and/or sexual attachment. Text-messaging only increases the speed it takes to progress an affair, as self-disclosure is more readily shared in a seemingly private, proverbial, closed-room setting.

How to Handle It

I’ve put together some suggested guidelines you and your spouse can consider when it comes to texting:

  • Avoid giving your phone number to the other person. If it is necessary to keep in touch with them, have your spouse give their number to them.
  • If you already have the phone number, treat it as just that: a phone number (not a text number). 
  • If you receive a text message, choose to respond by calling them immediately instead of responding through text. Making a phone call communicates to them that you would prefer speaking over the phone instead of via text. 
  • Treat your private email like you would a text message. It’s understandable that you might not be legally permitted to CC your spouse on a work email to a co-worker, but when you are communicating from your private email, copy your spouse. This provides transparency between you and your spouse and also communicates your desire to keep communication public. A joint private e-mail account with your spouse may work well, too.
  • If you are feeling an emotional or sexual pull to a particular person, especially during text messaging, immediately stop this behavior. In person, let this individual know your desire to respect your spouse, even with text messages. Discuss this behavior with your spouse, and begin the healing process. If you don’t stop, though your spouse may never discover this communication, the emotional and/or sexual detachment from your spouse will continue to broaden as you continue in communication with the other person. 

We must be cognizant that the definition of privacy now extends from actual private spaces, to social-digital-text messaging spaces as well. The goal should be to respect the spouse to a degree that may extend higher than the expected cultural norm.

References

Fitzgerald, J. (2017). Foundations for couples' therapy: Research for the real world. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Wysocki, D. K., Childers, C. D. (2011). Let my fingers do the talking: Sexting and infidelity in cyberspace. Sexuality & Culture, 15, 217-239.