R U more insecure coz U txt + IM 2 much?
How email, text and instant messaging is making insecurity in relationships worse
"I feel so insecure! All the bloody time! I keep on at him - if he doesn't text me back within 10 minutes I feel like I'm going mad. I know I'm crowding him. He tries to reassure me, tells me I've nothing to worry about, but my neediness and jealousy is driving him nuts and no wonder! He's only human." Sheila
"I love her so much, she's matters more to me than anyone I've ever had in my life. I can't even begin imagine going on without her. But I get madly jealous if she so much as looks at another guy's profile on Facebook. When I see her texting someone, and smiling, I feel sick inside. Who is she 'talking' to now? Sometimes I don't hear from her for hours, sometimes she ignores my texts altogether and then she says she was too busy with the kids!" Dave
As part of developing the overcome insecurity in relationships 10 step course I've been talking to many people who find emotional insecurity in relationships a major issue, both face to face and via email.
And what I've noticed is that instant messaging is part of the standard background of just about every story of relationship insecurity I've encountered. There are regular refrains:
"Why hasn't she answered my email?"
"Why hasn't he texted back by now?"
"What did he mean by that status update? Everybody can read it! Was he serious?"
In that same period, how we communicate has changed in unforeseen and quite dramatic ways. But have these changes put more pressure on relationships?
Why hasn't he texted me? (It's been fifteen minutes!)
In the 'old days' (we're talking 15 to 20 years back) it was much harder to get hold of people. If someone was travelling, you might not hear from them at all unless they made a special effort to get to a public call phone that was a) working and b) not being used by someone else. If someone didn't 'get back' to you, there were hundreds of good and perfectly valid reasons why. And we all knew that. Of course, we might still worry and fret, but heck - I remember a time when answer machines were the latest thing, and before they came on the scene you couldn't even leave a message unless it was with a... person! And we all know that people don't always pass on messages. So there were good and widely appreciated reasons why you might not hear from someone for a while. We all understood that you sometimes just had to wait for other people to get in touch. We all had no choice but to put up with the uncertainty.
How instant communication has driven up relationship anxiety
Don't misunderstand me, modern communication technology is amazing and I absolutely love it. For one, it enables you to read this (lucky you! ). Loved ones can stay in touch from far-flung corners of the world. We can converse in real time with people from Singapore to Seattle to the Seychelles.
However, if you are somewhat prone to anxiety and emotional insecurity, this blessing may sometimes feel more of a curse. And even if you're not the worrying sort, and generally tend to feel pretty secure in your relationships, you might still feel somewhat less secure because of the way these new modes of communication affect us.
Relationship insecurity merges into obsessive checking
Obsessive behavior has us repeatedly and often carrying out a certain set of actions. We obsessively check, or clean, or seek reassurance from a loved one - because we are trying to assuage our anxieties.
But it can also work the other way round.
If we repeatedly and often do something we can start to obsess about it. So you might have got into the habit of regularly checking your phone for messages from your loved ones. And because you have gotten into the habit of doing this so often, you start to feel anxious about it. Anxious obsession makes us check often, and checking often can in turn make us more anxious and obsessed.
The average person checks their phone 150 times a day, or once every six and a half minutes for every waking hour (1). Now couple that obsessive behavior with obsessive thoughts about a relationship, feelings of acute emotional insecurity and fears of rejection or being ignored, and you have a potent recipe for severe relationship angst.
The fact that we are so contactable may make us more anxious - because there seem to be fewer valid reasons why someone hasn't been in contact. Other than... they don't love me any more!
And there we have another problem.
"That's not what I meant!"
If we rely heavily on text and email and instant messaging rather than on actually speaking face to face with the object of our love, we are more likely to misunderstand and misinterpret the messages that are going to and fro.
We can assume someone is serious when they are kidding, or that they mean one thing when they really mean another. We might think we have picked up signs of anger or loss of interest when we "read between the lines" because we can't hear the tone of voice or see the smile on the lips or the glint in the eye. Emotionally insecure people misread, over-read and imagine all kinds of negative stuff about their relationship anyway, but this can be confounded by text and email.
Oh great, new ways to feel jealous
And if you can communicate instantly and in lots of different ways with the person you care most about then so, potentially, can other people. Technology may have given us a whole new way of feeling insecure and jealous. People can feel cheated on because their partner has an online relationship with someone they have never even seen face to face.
Relationship insecurity has always been around, of course, with its uneasy bedfellows of suspicion, pessimism and doubt. But texts, email and the rest, wonderful as they are, might actually be raising levels of insecurity for some people.
And that's why I'm so pleased that one of the most important things that the 10 steps to overcoming insecurity in relationships course does is help people relax with uncertainty and refrain from making negative interpretations without solid evidence. This will help them feel more confident in and optimistic about their relationships - and that's whether they are relating face to face with their lover or via any of the fantastic forms of communication technology that are so central to our brave new world.
- According to Nokia, who reported this at MindTrek 2010.