Dear Readers,

For many of us nowadays text messages have replaced the human voice.

On the one hand, research has shown the benefits of this communication. Text messaging increases confidence and interaction in shy and lonely people. It also can be relatively unobtrusive if a person can respond at a later time.

On the other hand, it has also created new challenges in communication. Without face-to-face interaction, it is hard to tell how someone is feeling. MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle writes that when you speak to someone in person, “you get to see that they’re uncomfortable, and with that, the compassion response kicks in.” Too much texting may lead to a deficiency in interpersonal development, or one’s ability to form relationships and communicate effectively.

The lack of inflection in tone, sarcasm or joking can cause serious misunderstandings. Without non-verbal cues it’s hard to tell how someone is feeling or how important the topic is to them. Worse is when you expect an immediate response and it is not forthcoming.

Take this exchange of a husband checking in on his wife.

“Are you there yet? I saw traffic was backed up.”

No response.

“Are you OK?"

Again, no reply.

"Is something wrong?!" He adds an exclamation point for emphasis.

Still no reply.

Becoming frantic, he texts again: “WHAT HAPPENED?!”

He’s all worked up, imagining the worst, when several minutes later, he gets a response, "Sorry, I left my phone in the car. I'm fine. You OK?"

Or, suppose you spend a lot of effort compiling a carefully thought-out text message on something that’s important to you.

You get back the response: “K”.

How do you feel? It would be normal to feel, I just put so much effort into this relationship and you respond with one word—actually one letter?!

This week is the wedding anniversary of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin. There is so much that can be learned in terms of interpersonal relationships and marital advice from their example. I hope you read and enjoy A Model of Love that we featured this week.

But one thing has stood out for me in all the stories that I have heard about their consideration and kindness to one another. It stood out because it is such a simple practice, but has the potential to create such strong repercussions.

According to two aides who assisted in the Rebbe's home, Rabbis Shalom Ber Gansburg and Chaim Baruch Halberstam, they never heard the Rebbe calling for his wife, the Rebbetzin, when he needed something. Rather, he would approach her and speak directly, face-to-face.

Can you imagine the change in environment due to this small act? There are no raised voices or screaming from one end of the home to the other. There are no misinterpretations if the spouse doesn’t reply because he or she is engaged in something important, or on the phone. There are no misunderstandings due to not seeing the person’s non-verbal cues and know exactly what they meant and how important it is for them.

Text messages may be a useful tool that most of us won’t be giving up any time soon. But this one example speaks volumes about how a small change can totally alter a relationship. After all, there’s nothing like face-to-face, loving communication.

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW