Who could have predicted that a website that restricts posts to 140 characters each would become a top-tier social media property? Twitter’s success has a lot to do with how it shapes our communication styles. Couples seeking to polish their communication skills would do well to examine what makes tweeting so compelling.
Keep It Simple
With only 140 characters at your disposal, there’s no time to beat around the bush, to qualify, or to put much “spin” on a tweet. In almost every kind of communication, it’s far easier to bury meaning under a mountain of words. More than once, I’ve sat at the tail end of the 140-character runway and been forced to go back and rip out words and phrases that were important but not crucial to what I was trying to tweet. Brevity requires discipline and effort. Even Mark Twain struggled to write concise prose, as he commented “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
Tweet Early and Often
Because tweets are so small, they seem to invite frequent updates. One or two serious blog posts seem intimidating for most, but ten tweets a day is no sweat. Couples would do well to remember that frequent, small communications are far easier than one or two giant outpourings of meaning, and it may be more satisfying as well. It is my own experience that not hearing anything from someone for a time raises my anxiety level and I begin to ask questions of the “what could be going wrong?” variety. Like the familiar hum of a well-tuned car engine, a few words exchanged frequently can serve as a near-constant “I’m OK” signal to reassure those with an anxious streak.
No Space for Grammarians
Long-form blogging feels, to me, like a scholarly exercise. I can’t help but stop and think whether my verbs agree with my nouns or whether I’ve used active tense where I can, or any of the legion mandates for good writing. Tweets seem to hold grammatical rigor at bay. In Twitter, even gross grammatical and spelling mistakes are forgiven under the iron rule of the 140 character limit. That freedom leaves plenty of head space to focus on meaning and intent. As relaxed as we may become about the syntax of our tweets, the content remains deadly serious — as Gilbert Gottfried learned when he tweeted insensitively about the natural disaster in Japan. In relationships, focusing on the picky details of what someone says over the intent and overriding meaning is an easy road to misunderstanding and alienation from our partners.
Here and Now
With the focus of tweets on meaning rather than form, tweets aren’t expected to be statements of universal truth. On the contrary, Tweets invite descriptions of personal status. The question “What’s happening?” stands at the top of the Twitter homepage and invites you to answer it. When someone asks “How are you doing?”, and they actually want to know, many tweets provide an ideal answer. Here are a few of mine, pulled at random:
“Taxes filed. End-of-month reports complete. I am a productivity monster!”
“Out with the fam for dinner. Life is good.”
“Going to the polls after the morning rush dies down. Never have I had so few people to vote for and so many to vote against. Sad.#Election”
“Is there anywhere in ne atlanta u can get a fast oil change w/o being offered unnecessary BS? Seriously!”
In therapy, we say these “status” tweets describe the “here and now.” Rather than getting lost in a story of what happened long ago, or an imagining of what might happen in the future, these tweets anchor a moment in time to an activity, a thought, or a perception. Without training and attention, these statements tend to be few and far between. Here-and-now messages have a unique power to connect people to themselves and to each other, which is why they’re valued both in therapy and in intimate communication.
Tweets Without Twitter
I hope it has become evident that it isn’t Twitter itself that is good for couples’ communication but rather the habits it encourages. Twitter isn’t appropriate for a lot of communication because tweets are, by default, public. Yet there are plenty of other channels where Twitter-like communication habits do apply. If, as a child, you ever found a hand-written note in your lunch, you can remember how great just a few words made you feel. There’s no reason why these notes can’t endure into adulthood. And as adults, what we lack in box lunches, we can more than make up for in cell phones. Texting someone dear to you using the properties of a good tweet — short, frequent, casual, meaning-focused, and in the here-and-now — can still create a closeness that’s hard to equal. Notes left around the house or on the family whiteboard are equally effective. Finally, if you can infuse the good qualities of the tweet into your everyday conversations, I think you’ll be surprised at how much better you’ll connect with friends, colleagues, and lovers.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by