HERZLIYA, Israel — Could chatting on WhatsApp end up saving your relationship? A new study finds couples, Gen X couples to be specific, benefit from having another place to take their arguments.
Researchers from Reichman University in Israel note that people from Generation X (generally born between 1965 and 1980) are more likely to be “late-in-life” tech users. While millennials and Gen Zers likely grew up in a household filled with smart devices and the Internet, many Gen Xers likely grew up before speedy internet access became a common resource worldwide.
With that in mind, study authors focused on how Gen X couples have adapted to using digital means of communicating with their significant others, since they are “digital immigrants.”
The study finds that the way couples conduct their relationships offline mirrored their behavior on WhatsApp. In fact, partners used the app as a new place to both fight and make up — without the rest of the world watching.
Moreover, the team found that WhatsApp conversations followed the same three patterns of conflict management observed during real-world arguments by clinical psychologist and mathematician John Gottman.
Study authors say “avoiders” cut their interactions on WhatsApp and tried to avoid interacting with their loved one during a conflict. Just like couples who avoid each other and do separate activities while they’re having a fight, couples using WhatsApp display the same “avoidant” behavior and are more likely to engage with other people on the app.
During the study, researchers interviewed 18 couples between 35 and 50 years-old who have been in a relationship for more than five years.
“At home we don’t fight, we go to sleep… and, in parallel, on WhatsApp it’s a cold peace,” one interviewee named “T.” says.
In the second category from Gottman’s findings, couples who usually “have it out” with an emotional display the entire neighborhood can talk about often end up blurring the lines between digital and real-world arguments.
“When I fight with L. face to face, I shout and scream for the whole world to hear, and on WhatsApp I just don’t let go… I can send endless messages and quite a lot of exclamation marks,” an interviewee named “H.” admits.
Researchers found that emotional couples can even see their WhatsApp arguments spill over into their family group chats. Meanwhile, other fights started online and still spilled over into the couple’s face-to-face interactions.
For couples who often engage in rational conflict management, the study authors found that WhatsApp often gives partners a chance to “listen” more closely to their significant other’s point of view.
“Our correspondence via WhatsApp is a language we have developed, and it helps us find a way to resolve things… sometimes by laughing at the fight with the right emoji, or at least putting it in proportion,” an interviewee named “A.” explains.
“Sometimes re-reading the correspondence (during a fight) helps me understand my partner’s motivation,” adds “R.”
In these cases, there’s a good chance couples will use the app during their attempts to make up.
The study is published in the journal New Media & Society.