"I Luv U :)!": A Descriptive Study of the Media Use of Individuals in Romantic Relationships

By Coyne, Sarah M.; Stockdale, Laura et al. | Family Relations, April 2011 | Go to article overview

"I Luv U :)!": A Descriptive Study of the Media Use of Individuals in Romantic Relationships


Coyne, Sarah M., Stockdale, Laura, Busby, Dean, Iverson, Bethany, Grant, David M., Family Relations


In this study, we address the communication technologies individuals within romantic relationships are using to communicate with one another, the frequency of use, and the association between the use of these technologies and couple's positive and negative communication. Participants consisted of individuals involved in a serious, committed, heterosexual relationship. The Relationship Evaluation Questionnaire instrument was used to assess a variety of relationship variables. The majority of individuals within the study frequently used cell phones and text messaging to communicate with their partner, with ''expressing affection'' being the most common reason for contact. Younger individuals reported using all forms of media (except for e-mail) more frequently than older participants. Relationship satisfaction did not predict specific use of media but predicted several reasons for media use. Additional analyses revealed that text messaging had the strongest association with individuals' positive and negative communication within their relationships. Specifically, text messaging to express affection, broach potentially confrontational subjects, and to hurt partners were associated with individuals' view of positive and negative communication within their relationship. Implications of the results are discussed.

Key Words: communication, media, romantic relationships, text messaging.

Every day, over a billion text messages are sent through mobile phones around the world (Bargh & McKenna, 2004). In the past, the "digital divide," or the gap between higher socioeconomic groups and lower economic groups' access to new technology and media, was a reality in the United States, but the last decade has provided an ever-shrinking gap between these groups (Strasburger, Wilson, & Jordan, 2009). The majority of American households have access to the Internet creating the possibility of communication through e-mails, instant messaging, chat rooms, and other sites (Bachen, 2007). Social networking sites such as "MySpace" and "Facebook" are growing in popularity and reach (Sheldon, 2008). More public libraries, schools, and businesses are providing access to the Internet, shrinking the digital divide even further. It seems that the majority of Americans have an endless array of communication possibilities and outlets within their grasp.

According to the sociotechnological model, to understand the impact of new communication technologies on the family, researchers must address the characteristics of the new technology, individual traits of the users, family factors, and extrafamilial influences (Lanigan, 2009). The combination of these factors provides a more complete understanding of the effects of both verbal and nonverbal communication technologies on the family. Although several studies have examined the use of newer forms of technology in parent/child relationships, little research has focused on couple relationships, arguably one of the core components of most families. Accordingly, in this study, we examined how individuals in romantic relationships use different types of newer forms of technology (both computer mediated and noncomputer mediated) to connect with their romantic partner.

COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION

Recently, researchers have focused on the effects of computer-mediated communication (e.g., email, social networking sites) on friendships and relationships. For example, Walker, Krehbeil, and Knoyer (2009) found that the majority of communications done through MySpace were friendly inquiries or greetings and expressions of affection and encouragement. Frequent Internet use has been associated with increased sociability across multiple cultures and contexts (Räsänen & Kouvo, 2007) and closeness in friendships, particularly among shy individuals (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007).

Although little research has placed computermediated forms of communication in a family context, a few studies show that such communication can have mixed results. …

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