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A warning to women: If you're texting your boyfriend a lot, he may think you're smothering him. And guys: If you're texting your girlfriend more than she texts you, that may be a sign you're unhappy in the relationship.
Those were the findings of a new Brigham Young University study, released Wednesday, that looked at the effect of texting on relationships. The study will be published in this week's Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy.
The results of the two-year study showed what we already know about the nature of men's and women's relationships in an analog world that women are typically seen as the pursuers and men are typically seen as the ones who more often want to withdraw, said Lori Schade, who just graduated from BYU in marriage and family therapy and co-authored the study.
"In some ways it's very intuitive, but we never really looked at any real relationship effect before," she said about why BYU conducted the study. "Males and females have different findings."
The study, which began in 2009, was based on a survey of 276 adults who were in a relationship. Of those, 38 percent said they were in a serious relationship, 46 percent were engaged, and 16 percent were married.
The adults then filled out an online assessment that included questions about their texting habits. Researchers found 82 percent of the respondents texted their partners multiple times during the day.
Scholars analyzed the texting patterns, including frequency and content, against relationships indicators such as satisfaction, stability and attachment.
What they found is that texting can get in the way of relationship development.
"Reaction to disappointment … occurs more quickly face to face," BYU professor Jonathan Sandberg said in a statement. "There is a narrowness with texting, and you don't get to see the breadth of a person that you need to see."
Their findings also show that if men text their partners more, it may be a sign that they are dissatisfied with the relationship. Meanwhile, women who text more may feel there is more stability in the relationship, and they use texting to reach out to their partner often.
But men may feel the frequent texts are intrusive, and it may threaten to push them away.
The silver lining: Schade and Sandberg learned that sending a positive text showing affection to your partner can reinforce the relationship. That seems to be true for men or women.
"The reality for a lot of people is that texting is more available, more pragmatic, and they are more likely to respond through text messages," Schade said. "It can be a tool to reach out."