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Relationships: When did relationships become electronic?
Published on February 1, 2017Email To Friend    Print Version

By Dr Edrica D. Richardson

Email, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, blogs (of course), and many, many others – are all part of the new and wonderful ways we can now connect with one another electronically, each with its own culture and unique set of rules. In one sense, the planet has never been more interconnected. And yet, this interconnectedness, while wonderful, has come with a cost.

Dr Edrica D. Richardson is Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in multiple states in the US; and an AAMFT Approved Supervisor. Her clinical specialties include relationship issues, stress management, family conflict, and life coaching, to name a few. She works with adolescents, couples, and families in The Bahamas and the US. Visit her website at
How many of you are in text-ships; relationships that only exist through some electronic device, whether it be a cellphone, computer, or tablet. To build a successful relationship you need more human contact than text messages can give to a relationship. You will need some good old fashion QT (quality time) to learn about each other. As we know, there are many forms of miscommunication that happen via electronics; because at some point we've all had text remorse, wishing we could take back a message, but we pressed send.

Text-ships can become game-like. Many people also use text-ships to play games in relationships when they have no intention of actually taking responsibility for the feelings they arose. If you're in a good relationship, the only playing that should happen should be in the bedroom.

Can you see an immediate problem that we may encounter with your electronic relationship as opposed to your offline ones? The biggest problem is perception. "Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of sensory information." So perception is about sorting and processing the information that we receive through our five senses: touch, sight, hearing, taste, smell (we can also insert a sixth sense if we want to – intuition).

Unlike the offline world where we use all five senses to gain information, when online we can only primarily use one sense to gain information with – sight. We are also very limited in our use of our sense of sight, because we can't benefit from the normal cues we pick up through non-verbal communication. We can see words that are typed, we can see someone’s avatar if they choose to post one and we can watch video or see someone through a webcam.

So clearly most of our perceptual equipment cannot be utilized in our electronic relationships. Consequently, we miss out on huge chunks of information about other people that we would normally have. Various studies have been carried out to explore how much of our communication is verbal as opposed to non-verbal.

The major disadvantage of electronic relationships and communication is that there is no body language to read. One study shows that 93% of communication is through non-verbal means (including body language) and only 7% down to verbal communication. So online, we're stuck with having to try to do all of our communicating (both listening and speaking) with 7% of the tools we would normally use.

Some Disadvantages of Electronic Relationships

1. We often don't make the effort to "check things out" properly. For instance if we're having difficulty with someone in the work place we may check out if they are having a personal problem that is impacting on their behaviour. People online rarely do this – why bother when there are a billion other people you can talk to instead?

2. There is a huge potential for misinterpretation of what people are saying and what people "mean" when they type.

3. Many people are better at expressing themselves verbally than through the written word and so are at a disadvantage electronically.

My aim in writing this was to help us all develop our awareness and understanding of the kinds of psychological hazards that we can experience in our electronic relationships, and through this awareness, either have a chance of averting problems before they arise or be able to see them for what they are afterwards.

Stimulating a person takes more than just a device; it should start between the ears. So let's start courting the mind first.
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