Do digital technologies compromise intimacy and relationship quality? No! They seem to make relationships better!

Lucia F. O'Sullivan, Ph.D.

In a recent study, Andrea Boyle and Lucia O’Sullivan had 359 young adults (18-24 years) report in detail about their technology use when communicating with friends, families, and dating partners. Our interest was really about the dating partners and whether communicating a little or a lot using digital technologies during the course of the day would replace face-to-face communication or supplement it (that is, make it better). 

Participants rated how much and what type they had disclosed intimate (such as, “You know what really turns me on…?”) vs. non-intimate information (such as, “I’m finished with that book I borrowed if you need it back”) over the prior three days, as well as relationship intimacy and communication quality.  It turns out that any self-disclosure (even the non-intimate type) is good for relationship quality, and as you might guess, positive as compared to negative (complaining, whining, critical of self, partner or others) communications were really important to relationship quality. 

Also important to note:  Those who used a lot of digital technology to communicate with their partners (e.g., texting tons each day) still had as much face-to-face communication as those who didn’t use digital communication all that much.  Use of these technologies to send messages back and forth just added to the communication quotient overall—it wasn’t a way to avoid or escape seeing each other, as many in the media have worried. 

We concluded that digital technologies provide opportunities for partners to stay connected through the day and truly help to improve the overall quality of their intimacy and communication—as long as you keep it positive folks!