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COUPLES’ USE OF TECHNOLOGY

IN MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS

Xiaolin Zhuo

ABSTRACT

Purpose  This study aims to understand the role of technology in rela-


tionship maintenance among romantic partners.
Methodology/approach  It takes a qualitative, inductive approach and
collected data from in-depth interviews with 20 individuals who are mar-
ried or in cohabiting relationships.
Findings  This study supports the extension of relationship mainte-
nance typology derived from face-to-face relationship studies to
technology-mediated communication, but highlights how technology use
transforms the implementation of maintenance behaviors. Technology
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helps couples coordinate tasks and keep in touch with friends and
families. Although technology-mediated communication cannot replace
face-to-face interactions in relationship talk and sharing in-depth feel-
ings, it plays an important role in redefining the ways in which couples
interact positively, maintain mutual understanding, and secure the
future of the relationship. Moreover, this study identifies a new mainte-
nance behavior, communication coordination. These maintenance beha-
viors reflect a tension between maintaining connectivity and managing

Communication and Information Technologies Annual: [New] Media Cultures


Studies in Media and Communications, Volume 11, 3160
Copyright r 2016 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited
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ISSN: 2050-2060/doi:10.1108/S2050-206020160000011013
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32 XIAOLIN ZHUO

the boundary between work and home and between the public and pri-
vate spheres.
Originality/value  This study builds on previous work on technology
use and relationship maintenance, but takes a different qualitative, induc-
tive approach to address the limitations in the survey research dominant
in the literature. It helps us understand the advantages and challenges in
maintaining relationships in the digital age and also explores the factors
that influence the patterns of technology use in relationship maintenance.
Keywords: Technology; communication; romantic relationships;
relationship maintenance

INTRODUCTION
I was amazed that [Winston Churchill] wrote letters. He and his wife wrote letters to
each other over a dozen a day from upstairs in the house to downstairs in the house. […]
it’s like texts or emails today. My wife is downstairs. I’ll forward her an email, “do you
think we can go to this party,” so we do communicate by texts and emails while we are in
the house, which is what Winston Churchill used to do on paper.
 Adam, age 48, consultant

Interpersonal communication has historically taken place via a variety of


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media in addition to face-to-face interactions. Yet, the fast growth of the


Internet and always-on mobile phones has augmented the role of mediated
communication (Rainie & Wellman, 2012). Within the household, it used
to be the case that the entire family and sometimes neighbors share a land-
line telephone. Today, couples have multiple personal media at their dispo-
sal and sustain a virtually constant connectivity when they are apart. As
technology alters the ways in which couples stay in contact and coordinate
activities, how does this affect the emotional intimacy and relational main-
tenance between couples?
This study aims to understand the role of technology in relationship main-
tenance among romantic partners. Relational maintenance involves “actions
and activities used to sustain desired relational definitions,” such as trust, lik-
ing, and commitment (Canary & Stafford, 1994, p. 5). It has generated vast
scholarly interests in identifying typologies of behaviors that preserve rela-
tionships (Canary & Yum, 2016; Dindia, 2003). The relationship mainte-
nance literature provides a useful framework to examine the impact of

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
information technologies annual : [new] media cultures. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 33

technology on personal relationships. However, it operates under the


assumption of face-to-face interactions as a necessary component of relation-
ship building and overlooks the role of mediated communication (Stafford,
Kline, & Dimmick, 1999). This study builds on recent research that inte-
grates relationship maintenance behavior typologies with technology use,
but takes a different qualitative and inductive approach to understand how
technology both facilitates and complicates maintenance behaviors. Through
in-depth interviews with individuals who are married or in cohabiting rela-
tionships, this study shows that although technology-mediated communica-
tion cannot replace face-to-face interactions in conducting relationship talk
and sharing in-depth feelings, it plays an important role in redefining the
ways in which couples interact positively, maintain mutual understanding,
and secure the future of the relationship. Moreover, this study identifies a
new maintenance behavior, communication coordination, which emerges
with the diffusion of digital media. With multiple media at their disposal, it
is critical for couples to negotiate and develop an integrated system that
accommodates both partners’ communicational styles and ensures effective
communication. The descriptions of maintenance behaviors further help us
understand the factors that may explain the choice of technology use in rela-
tionship maintenance. The desire to maintain connectivity and, at the same
time, manage a work/home and public/private boundary influences people’s
use of technology in maintaining relationships.
This study contributes to the literature on technology use in relationship
maintenance in a number of ways. First, the literature is dominated by sur-
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vey research, which emphasizes the association between maintenance beha-


viors and mediated channels, yet obscures the processes and nuances in
implementing maintenance behaviors through different media. Survey
research also overlooks the motivations and reasons that underlie the use
of technology in personal relationships (Baym, 2004). The positivity measure
in the relationship maintenance typology, for instance, is found associated
with the use of emails and social networking sites (Houser, Fleuriet, &
Estrada, 2012). However, we cannot know, through survey responses, the
advantages and disadvantages of maintaining positive interactions through
emails or social networking sites, or the respondents’ reasons for choosing
these media against others.
Moreover, past research mostly takes established relationship mainte-
nance measures for granted and applies them to the multimedia environment.
This deductive approach neglects the qualitative differences in maintenance
behaviors across media and the possible needs for new maintenance beha-
viors as the media shift (Tong & Walther, 2011). A number of studies have

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
information technologies annual : [new] media cultures. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
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34 XIAOLIN ZHUO

started to address this limitation by adopting an inductive approach to


understand relationship maintenance on Facebook (Bryant & Marmo, 2009;
McEwan, Fletcher, Eden, & Sumner, 2014; Vitak, 2014). This study can
further contribute by examining a wider range of communication channels.
By examining all available media in couples’ communication through
open-ended questions, this study also contrasts with past studies that
focus only on a specific medium (e.g., Ledbetter, 2010a; Pettigrew, 2009;
Ramirez & Broneck, 2009). In addition, existing multimedia studies tend to
miss out on the latest development in mediated communication, such as
shared online calendars prevalent among 11 percent of American couples
(Lenhart & Duggan, 2014). Individuals integrate multiple communication
options and form a unified media environment to manage emotions and
relationships. It is thus important to capture all available media configura-
tions for couples’ communication and understand the role of particular
media in relation to one another.
Lastly, research on technology and personal relationships generally
draws samples from university students (e.g., Bryant & Marmo, 2009;
Houser et al., 2012; Rabby, 2007), which limits observed variations in
responses and generalizability of the findings into the population at large.
This limitation is particularly relevant to studies about romantic partners,
since couples’ use of and attitudes toward technology vary considerably by
age and duration of relationships (Lenhart & Duggan, 2014). This study
recruits individuals from a variety of age ranges and relationship stages to
address some of the biases from all-student samples.
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In the following sections, I will first provide a review of previous


research on the impact of technology on personal relationships and particu-
larly in the domain of relationship maintenance. I will then introduce my
data and methodology. After presenting the findings, I will discuss the the-
oretical contribution of this study and conclude with its limitations and
directions for future research.

PREVIOUS RESEARCH
Personal Relationships and Technology

Access to the Internet and mobile technology is spreading quickly throughout


American society. Almost 90 percent of Americans used the Internet in 2014,
a sixfold increase from the share of Internet users in 1995 (Pew Research

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 35

Center, 2014a). Smartphone ownership rose from 35 percent in 2011 to 64


percent in 2014 (Smith, 2015). Among the diverse functionalities on the
smartphone, interpersonal communication underlies the most frequently used
features. Text messages, voice or video calls, and emails rank among the most
popular smartphone features across all age groups (Smith, 2015).
The rapid development and diffusion of Information and
Communication Technology (ICT) has caused concerns regarding its
impact on social relationships. Many researchers have set out to under-
stand this phenomenon. While some studies focus on relationships initiated
online (e.g., Chan & Cheng, 2004; Parks & Roberts, 1998), more recent
scholarship has established that the Internet and mobile phones comple-
ment existing media to serve relationships developed offline (Baym, 2004).
We have learned a great deal about the patterns of interpersonal use of
technology, including variations by demographics, culture, attitudes, and
physical distance (e.g., Baron & Segerstad, 2010; Ledbetter, 2009, 2014;
Neustaedter & Greenberg, 2012) and effects on relationship qualities (e.g.,
Dimmick, Ramirez, Wang, & Lin, 2007; Hall & Baym, 2012). Although
many studies focus on a single medium, such as text messages (Pettigrew,
2009) or Facebook (Ellison, Vitak, Gray, & Lampe, 2014), individuals gener-
ally communicate with others through multiple channels (Haythornthwaite,
2002, 2005). Each medium fills a particular niche (Dimmick, Feaster, &
Ramirez, 2011; Ramirez, Dimmick, Feaster, & Lin, 2008). Together, they
form an integrated system for relational communication and management
(Baym, 2015; Madianou & Miller, 2013).
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Technology affects personal relationships in both instrumental and


expressive ways (Ling & Ytrri, 2002). It facilitates coordination on the fly
and redirection of ongoing trips. Couples with children rely more on tech-
nology to cope with their increased responsibilities and greater need for
connectivity (Rainie & Wellman, 2012). Technology-mediated communica-
tion is also employed for relational and emotional exchanges. Although
some researchers argue that mediated communication lacks nonverbal cues
and undermines social relations, others find the positive in the filtered out
cues. Leaner communication can offer alternative cues, such as the timing
and style of verbal messages, and afford opportunities for managing self-
presentation (O’Sullivan, 2000; Walther & Parks, 2002). The efficiency of
different media also depends on the contexts and relational goals (Walther,
1996; Walther & Parks, 2002). In addition, “the fact of calling counts at
least as much if not more than which is said” (Licoppe, 2004, p. 152). Here,
Licoppe describes the role of technology in enabling continuous connectivity
and spontaneous communication which help strengthen relationships.

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36 XIAOLIN ZHUO

However, “perpetual contact” is not without its downside (Katz &


Aakhus, 2002). Duran, Kelly, and Rotaru (2011) documented the tension
between autonomy and connectivity caused by cell phone usage within
romantic relationships. This dialectical tension is associated with conflict
over the quantity of calls/texts with one’s partner and the partner’s cell
phone interactions with other members of the opposite sex. The use of
cell phones in close friendships has similarly contradictory consequences.
Cell phone usage increases mobile maintenance expectations, which
brings friends closer, but it simultaneously creates overdependence and
entrapment and reduces relationships satisfaction (Hall & Baym, 2012).
In fact, even the mere presence of mobile phones in face-to-face settings
can undermine closeness and conversational quality (Przybylski &
Weinstein, 2013).

Relationship Maintenance in the Digital Age

This study builds on the line of research that examines technology use
within the particular domain of relationship maintenance. Although the
relationship maintenance literature generally overlooks the importance of
mediated communication (Stafford et al., 1999), recent work has started to
address this problem by integrating relationship maintenance measures
with technology-mediated communication. This section provides an over-
view of the relationship maintenance literature and documents the develop-
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ment in the literature on technology use and relationship maintenance.


Following a surge of research in maintenance communication in the
1980s, Stafford and Canary (1991) synthesized the literature and derived
five relational maintenance measures (positivity, openness, assurances,
social networks, and sharing tasks) from factor analysis of maintenance
behaviors (Canary & Yum, 2016). Positivity describes positive and cheer-
ful interactions with the partner. Openness implies self-disclosure and
directness in discussing the nature of the relationship. Assurances empha-
size the commitment and faith in the future of the relationship. Social
networks  including relatives, friends, and common affiliations  can
offer resources and support for maintaining the dyadic relationship.
Finally, sharing household tasks and other joint responsibilities facilitates
relationship maintenance (Canary & Stafford, 1992; Stafford & Canary,
1991).
This five-factor typology is applicable across relational contexts, from
romantic relationships (Canary & Stafford, 1992; Dainton & Aylor, 2002;

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 37

Dainton & Stafford, 1993) to friendships (Ledbetter, 2010b; Messman,


Canary, & Hause, 2000) and to family relationships (Johnson, Haigh,
Becker, Craig, & Wigley, 2008). It also predicts important relationship
qualities, such as satisfaction and commitment (Canary, Stafford, &
Semic, 2002; Dainton & Aylor, 2002; Ogolsky & Bowers, 2012). Despite
the co-existence of several alternative maintenance typologies, Stafford and
Canary’s (1991) five-factor typology remains the most frequently used in
the literature (Canary & Yum, 2016; Dindia, 2003). The typology has gone
through several revisions since its inception, including the distinction
between strategic and routine behaviors and the identification of additional
relationship maintenance behaviors (Canary & Stafford, 1994; Canary,
Stafford, Hause, & Wallace, 1993; Stafford, Dainton, & Haas, 2000).
Stafford (2011) is responsible for the most recent refinement. She cleared
ambiguous item construction and overlapping concepts and developed a
seven-factor relationship maintenance behavior typology. The revised
typology consists of positivity, understanding, relationship talk, self-
disclosure, assurances, social networks, and sharing tasks. Positivity still
refers to cheerful, enjoyable interactions, but a subset of considerate, coop-
erative behaviors are separated from positivity into the understanding cate-
gory. Relationship talk and self-disclosure replace the openness factor in the
original typology. Relationship talk centers on the nature of the relationship,
whereas self-disclosure “encompasses a more global sharing of thoughts and
feelings not focused on the relationship” (Stafford, 2011, p. 284). The rest of
the maintenance behaviors remain unchanged (see appendix for detailed
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items in the revised typology).


To integrate relationship maintenance measures with technology use,
some studies adopt a deductive approach by directly applying established
face-to-face relationship maintenance behaviors to digital media. They have
examined the variations in maintenance behaviors by communication chan-
nels and by relationship types. For example, Ledbetter (2010a) evaluated
Stafford and Canary’s (1991) relationship maintenance typology in same-sex
friendships through face-to-face and instant messaging communication. He
finds support for extending the typology to the online environment, but
cautions against the relevance of the tasks factor beyond face-to-face interac-
tions. Johnson et al. (2008) and Ramirez and Broneck (2009) coded relation-
ship maintenance behaviors in records of email and instant messages,
respectively, and compared online maintenance behaviors across relationship
types, such as romantic partners, friends, and families. Other studies have
assessed the association between relationship maintenance behaviors and
a greater selection of communication channels, including phone calls, text

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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38 XIAOLIN ZHUO

messages, email, and social networking sites (Dainton & Aylor, 2002;
Houser et al., 2012). In addition, some researchers focused on the overall
levels of technology use in the relationships, rather than specific modes of
communication (Rabby, 2007; Wright, 2004). Rabby (2007), for instance,
divided romantic partners into four groups based on whether the partners
initiated and continued the relationships online. He finds that commitment
to the relationship largely moderates group differences in relationship main-
tenance behaviors.
On the other hand, studies that take an inductive approach challenge
the applicability of relational maintenance behaviors imported from
face-to-face relationship studies to the studies of relationships mediated
through digital technologies. They also draw attention to new mainte-
nance behaviors that may arise with publicly viewable communication on
social networking sites (McEwan et al., 2014; Tong & Walther, 2011).
Through focus groups with college students, Bryant and Marmo (2009)
identified a similar set of maintenance behaviors on Facebook as in the
offline relationship maintenance literature, but they also introduced a
new measure of surveillance by which participants monitor friends’
Facebook profiles to keep up with their life events and maintain a feeling
of connectedness. Vitak (2012, 2014) developed a new set of Facebook
relationship maintenance strategies (supportive communication, shared
interests, passive browsing, and social information seeking) through
exploratory factor analysis. She observed a positive association between
relational closeness and Facebook maintenance behaviors, and the asso-
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ciation proves stronger for those who live far apart as well as for those
who use Facebook as the primary means of communication. In another
study of Facebook friendship maintenance, McEwan and colleagues
(2014) categorized maintenance behaviors into social contact through
person-to-person communication, response seeking from broadcast com-
munication, and relational assurances through discussing the nature and
future of friendship on Facebook.
While pertinent to relationship maintenance on Facebook and social
media, the findings from these inductive studies also reflect mainte-
nance behaviors identified in offline relationship studies. In this study,
I consider the media environment in which individuals employ multiple
channels to manage relationships, and I take a qualitative, inductive
approach to integrate the newest maintenance typology developed by
Stafford (2011) to analyze the impact of technology on romantic
relationships.

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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 39

DATA AND METHODS


For this study, I recruited 20 interview participants using snowball sampling.
Twelve participants are married with children, four are married without chil-
dren, and the rest are engaged or in cohabiting relationships. Females make
up two thirds of the sample (13 out of 20). Couples use and view technology
differently depending on age and relationship length (Lenhart & Duggan,
2014). Thus, the sample was chosen with variations in age: eight participants
are around age 30, seven participants around age 40, and the remaining five
around age 50. Age groups also roughly correspond to relationship phases
with different household responsibilities and needs for communication. The
group around age 30 mainly consists of young, childless couples, those
around age 40 are raising small children, and the last group usually has teen-
age children in the home. All participants hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
Highly educated individuals tend to spend more time using the Internet and
smartphones (Pew Research Center, 2014b; Smith, 2015). Hence, technology
may be more embedded in the daily life of the participants in this study and
affect the participants’ relationships in ways different from the population at
large. Future research should investigate couples’ use of technology in rela-
tionship maintenance in more representative samples.
The interviews were conducted in two waves, with seven interviews com-
pleted in 2013 and the remainder in 2015.1 The interviews took place
in-person (n = 10), over the phone (n = 8), or via video calls (n = 2). They
on average lasted about an hour, from a minimum of 40 minutes to a maxi-
Copyright © 2016. Emerald Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.

mum of 80 minutes. The participants provided information about their


ownership of digital devices and general use of technology in the workplace
and at home. This information is important because general skills in tech-
nology and the level of dependence of work on technology may explain the
choice of media in relational communication. Moreover, the participants
reported all communication channels that they use with their partners and
discussed phone call, text message, or email conversations with their part-
ners based on cell phone or computer records. The interviews also collected
data about the participants’ preferences for communication technology and
their views on the advantages and disadvantages of technology use in their
relationships. The participants in this study discussed interactions with
their partners without the presence of their partners. Although it would be
valuable to talk to couples together about technology use in their relation-
ships, individual reports are justified in this case because the participants
were discussing interactions in which they themselves took part. Furthermore,

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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40 XIAOLIN ZHUO

they were able to use electronic records on cell phones or computers to help
them reflect on the interactions.
The interviews were recorded and transcribed for analysis. I analyzed the
data in the qualitative analysis software NVivo from QSR International.
After reading the transcripts several times to become familiar with the data,
I coded the transcripts and looked for similarity and contrast between cases
(Esterberg, 2002). The analysis began during the interview process, and some
interview questions were revised or added to better address the research
question in subsequent interviews. Saturation has been attained since the last
few interviews yielded very similar themes as identified in the earlier inter-
views and no new relevant information emerged (Small, 2009).

FINDINGS

Patterns of Communication

Before delving into the association between technology use and relationship
maintenance, I first discuss patterns of communication among the couples.
Table 1 lists the communication media that participants reported using
with their partners. Media multiplexity characterizes communication
patterns within intimate relationships (Haythornthwaite, 2002, 2005).
Phone calls, text messages, and emails make up part of every participant’s
Copyright © 2016. Emerald Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.

mediated communication toolkit, albeit used with different frequency.


Couples analyzed in this study also employ a diversity of innovative com-
munication channels. The majority of the couples (17 out of 20) exchange
pictures with one another. These images could be depicting their children,
pet, food on a trip, scenery outside their workplace window, or screenshots
of a funny text message exchange with others. Half of the participants use
shared online calendars as a way to plan events with their partners. They
either make personal calendars viewable to one another, or create joint
calendars for the household. Some online calendar users do not share
calendars, but they send event invitations to their partners’ online calen-
dars. Moreover, as opposed to online calendars, two couples keep a shared
paper calendar at home. All participants in this study live in the same
home with their partners and therefore talk with their partners in-person
on  typically  a daily basis. Regular in-person interactions reduce the
relevance of certain communication channels. For instance, video calls are
rarely used unless one partner is traveling away from home.

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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 41

Table 1. Means of Communication among Couples (n = 20).


Means of Communication Frequency

Face-to-face 20
Phone calls 20
Text messages 20
Emails 20
Picture messages 17
Shared online calendar 10
Video calls 9
Texting apps 7
Calendar event invitation 6
Shared apps 5
Instant messaging 5
Facebook 3
Shared paper calendar 2
Amazon wish list 1
GPS tracker 1
Smart home systems 1

The high prevalence of smartphone users in the sample (18 out of 20)
allows most couples to use mobile apps as another way to share enjoyment
or handle household tasks. Some couples, for example, share common
interests on Pinterest or play games together on their iPad. Others rely on
budgeting apps or grocery shopping list apps. Another communication
pattern linked to smartphone use involves texting apps. In addition to the
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basic texting function on smartphones, seven participants have sent private


texts to their partners or engaged in group chats, either with or without
their partners, via WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Google
Hangouts, or GroupMe. Stated motivations for using alternative texting
apps include the convenience to switch between computers and smart-
phones for messaging, the ease of conducting group chats, the capacity to
communicate with contacts overseas, and the social media component of
the texting app that makes sharing information within the app convenient.
By contrast, instant messaging on the computer is used less frequently by
fewer participants. Most participants (15 out of 20) self-identified as light
Facebook users; that is, they mostly use Facebook to browse other people’s
timelines, but rarely post on Facebook themselves. Very few couples pub-
licly communicate with each other on Facebook through wall posts or tags,
yet private exchange via Facebook Messenger is more prevalent. At the
least common end of the communication channel list are sharing a wish list
on Amazon, GPS tracking during hiking when no cell phone or Internet

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42 XIAOLIN ZHUO

access is available, and a smart home system that sends notifications when
household members start the car or reach a certain distance from home.

Technology Use in Relationship Maintenance

As digital technology permeates work and interpersonal communication, it


changes people’s daily routines and interactions, as well as the formation
and development of social relationships. The relationship maintenance beha-
vior measures identified by Stafford (2011) remain relevant in the technology-
saturated environment, but the ways in which they are carried out have been
transformed. This section takes a close look at the implementation of the
established maintenance behaviors with technology and discusses a new main-
tenance behavior that emerges with the diffusion of technology.

Positivity
Positivity is defined as interacting with partners in cheerful and pleasant
ways (Stafford, 2011). Technology adds fun and pleasure to couples’ in-person
time, such as watching a movie online or playing a game together on the
tablet. More importantly, technology extends positive interactions beyond
face-to-face situations. The majority of the participants have sent pictures
to their partner to share a happy family moment that the partner is miss-
ing from, or share images of “beautiful” scenery or “delicious” food.
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Couples also share good news at work or send links that may interest or
amuse the other person via emails or text messages. The influence of ICT
on positivity can be subtle as well. As some respondents noted,
My wife sends me a little smiley face. Just to remind each other how is it going, have a
good day, and make sure you feel good today […] When you get that person that you
care so much about that actually send you something, and it makes you feel good.
(Ted, age 57, IT)
Just thinking about the little things of like checking in with one another just out of
common courtesy and respect for each other. A little of that goes a long way in a busy
day. Of knowing that after being at home for 8 hours taking care of 2 kids that your
spouse will take 2 minutes to call and say how is your day. That means a lot. (Helen,
age 41, psychotherapist)

The act of communication appears to be as important as the content


delivered. It lets the partner know that she or he is in one’s mind. Those
quick, unplanned calls or texts help maintain the feeling of caring, reliabil-
ity, and closeness (Licoppe, 2004). Especially during a period of stressful

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 43

work, partners who do not keep routine communication will check in more
frequently to offer support or commiserate. Even though the messages are
short and quick, they provide a convenient channel to spread cheerfulness
and optimism when couples are apart.
Technology, however, may also threaten positivity. More than half of
the participants reported that online activities, such as checking social
media, reading online news, and answering work emails, have interfered
with their in-person time at home, but the interference has not caused
major problems in their relationships. They either remind the distracted
partner to put away the phone on the spot or set up rules, such as to “ban
phones from meal times” (Justine, age 28, administrative assistant).

Understanding
Understanding describes the quality of being considerate, cooperative, and
patient in either conflict or non-conflict settings. With multiple media at
his/her disposal, a partner’s thoughtful choice of media, which accomplishes
the goal of communication and accommodates the other person’s communi-
cation preference and work schedules, constitutes an instance of understand-
ing. Yet, the role of technology is more significant for understanding in cases
of conflict. The participants generally prefer to discuss complicated matters
in-person, including managing conflict, but occasionally a fight or a disagree-
able incident seems to be better followed up by emails. In some instances,
couples lack face-to-face opportunities to resolve conflict due to demanding
work or household schedules, and thus the conversation continues via
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mediated communication (Frisby & Westerman, 2010). There are also times
when “it’s better to take a step back and reflect on what happened, like put
thoughts in emails, like let me just explain what’s really bothering me” (Judy,
age 39, consultant). Another respondent similarly reported,
If we had gotten into an disagreement and needed to like time to breathe and so instead
of communicating with each other right away like calling or texting, we might send an
email then. We’d send a long email detailing those feelings. (Matthew, age 27, real
estate development)

Written communication helps individuals gain a perspective and articu-


late thoughts in a calm and clear manner, preventing conflict from
escalating.

Relationship Talk and Self-Disclosure


Relationship maintenance involves serious talks about the quality of the
relationship (relationship talk), as well as discussing thoughts and feelings

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44 XIAOLIN ZHUO

not limited to the relationship itself (self-disclosure). Participants in this


study unanimously prefer to save serious talks and in-depth feelings for
face-to-face discussion and limit the use of mediated communication to
“light-hearted communication” (Emily, age 50, teacher). They described
face-to-face communication as fuller and more meaningful, and they value
nonverbal cues and feedback unique to face-to-face interactions, including
facial expression, body language, and prosody. Also, “over the phone you
can’t give the other person a hug” (Elaine, age 42, risk management). By
contrast, discussing important matters via mediated communication is
prone to misinterpretation and may even indicate lack of importance.
Proximity is closely related to the communication channel for relationship
talk and self-disclosure. The participants in this study all live with their
partners in the same household, and they have the opportunity to discuss
serious matters face-to-face. Several respondents used to engage in serious
relationship discussions over the phone or via email before they moved in
together.
On the other hand, mediated communication is primarily for sharing
“day-to-day types of feelings” (Dan, age 27, research analyst). Participants
provided many examples of the conversations they had with their part-
ners via text messages or over the phone. They send each other sweet
messages, such as “I love you,” “I miss you,” and “can’t wait to see
you.” They also share with their partners how their day is going, which
helps strengthen the relationship. As Anne (age 25, digital marketing)
explains,
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I don’t want to wait until I get home like 8 o’clock at night to know if he had a really
bad day at work […] I think it’s important to stay connected, and just to feel close to
each other throughout the day.

Couples, however, make exceptions. As previously shown, a few couples


occasionally have serious talks over emails to resolve conflict.

Assurances
Couples seek assurances through discussing plans for the future and con-
veying the importance of the other person (Stafford, 2011). Participants
tend to consider the discussion of future plans as serious talks and refrain
from doing it via mediated communication. However, the reachability
enabled by the Internet and mobile technology represents a new aspect of
assurances. The partner can be merely “a button away” regardless of his
or her physical location (Carlos, age 49, IT). This reachability enables
couples to respond promptly in case of emergency or in need of support.

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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 45

Furthermore, the ability to reach one’s partner and activate the connection
at any time, if needed, signals caring and strengthens relational bonding
(Licoppe, 2004). Although past research finds evidence for tension and
entrapment related to connectedness (Hall & Baym, 2012; Pettigrew, 2009),
participants in this study did not report negative experience related to over-
dependence on technology in their marriage or relationships. Some respon-
dents explained that,
It’s helpful functionally and emotionally to feel like I’m more part of his day than I else
would be. (Heather, age 38, out of labor force)
I think it’s a good idea to let her know what I’m doing at work, how I’m doing, and see
how her day is, so make her feel someone is caring about her. (Mo, age 32, consultant)

Sharing Tasks
Past research has questioned the relevance of ICT in the task maintenance
behavior (Ledbetter, 2010a; Rabby, 2007). This study, however, suggests
that ICT plays a critical role in performing household responsibilities.
Examining the communication history based on participants’ phone
records shows that couples communicate overwhelmingly for logistical rea-
sons. The conversations among couples with kids mostly involve kids’
activities. Technology provides convenient ways for couples to stay in
touch and plan activities throughout the day. Many participants rely on
text messages or emails to arrange mundane logistics. These media are well
suited for quick and short exchanges that are unobtrusive at work, and
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their asynchronous nature improves flexibility and the ease of multitasking.


Mediated communication can serve as a way of record keeping, which
reduces error in planning and ensures the completion of household tasks.
For instance, many participants and particularly those with hectic sche-
dules share online calendars with their partners. Shared calendars make
couples’ availability clear at a glance and reduce the chance of double
booking. Forwarding emails can guarantee scheduling information to be
accurately transmitted. Items recorded on the shared calendar or text
reminders from partners also make it more difficult to shirk one’s duties.
Moreover, the ability to keep in touch through ICT while apart offers the
flexibility to plan on the fly and redirect ongoing trips (Ling & Ytrri, 2002).
As one respondent put it,
It’s really convenient. And like for something like scheduling, picking up kids, if I
didn’t have that communication, I would just have picked up my kid yesterday instead
of saying, “Oh why don’t you get him on your way home.” (Tina, age 51, out of labor
force)

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46 XIAOLIN ZHUO

A related benefit of handling logistics through technology-mediated


communication, agreed on by three participants, is that it saves in-person
time for quality family time and discussing important matters.
Because we communicate a lot of little scheduling stuff by technology now, it makes
our in-person conversations more positive because we don’t have to talk about here are
ten things we need to talk about in our calendar. We can talk about how’s your day, or
I read this really funny thing online. (Judy, age 39, consultant)

Social Networks
Dyadic relationships between couples are embedded in larger networks of
families and friends (Wellman & Wortley, 1990), with such networks com-
prising an important part of relationship maintenance. Spending time with
families and friends and seeking help from social networks facilitate rela-
tionship maintenance within the couple (Stafford, 2011). The use of ICT
helps people maintain connections with those who live far away (Mok,
Wellman, & Carrasco, 2010). Many participants in this study have relatives
who live out of state or overseas with whom they communicate regularly
using technology.
One respondent described a problem with the point-to-point, individua-
lized nature of mobile technology when communicating with other mem-
bers of their network.
One thing that is hard with cell phones and with being married is my parents can only
call me, whereas with the house phone, you would call the house, so surely sometimes
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the other person will pick up even if like that person’s parents were calling to talk to
them, or your parents were calling to talk to you, but you get a chance to them. I don’t
really talk to his parents. (Margaret, age 31, graduate student)

The majority of the participants, on the contrary, applaud the ease of


family group interactions using technology. Some respondents send group
emails or group messages to organize gatherings or share updates in life.
The low cost of online communication enables regular contact with connec-
tions overseas. For example, one respondent maintains a group on
WhatsApp with his immediate family and another group with 1520 peo-
ple from his extended family abroad. A message on WhatsApp keeps the
entire family in sync. Couples with relatives living far away and those with
children particularly enjoy group video calls. According to Ted (age 57,
IT), one can simply set up the iPad on a stand and have an “online party
line” with families abroad. Lastly, although most participants are not heavy
Facebook users, a few mothers in the sample use Facebook as a main chan-
nel to share family pictures and exchange updates with extended families.

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 47

Communication Coordination
In addition to transforming the established maintenance measures, the dif-
fusion of technology also generates needs for new maintenance behaviors
(Rabby & Walther, 2002; Tong & Walther, 2011). The interview data
suggest the emergence of a new maintenance measure  communication
coordination. With multiple media at their disposal, the participants each
described an integrated media system in their relationships. This system
helps them choose the right communication channel depending on the
content and urgency of messages and the personal preferences and work
environment of both partners. Communication coordination refers to the
establishment of such an integrated media system.
For instance, compare the communication systems of two participants
Tina (age 51, out of labor force) and Dan (age 30, research analyst). Tina can
easily check emails on her smartphone, and her husband works at a job with
constant access to a computer and emails. Thus, the couple discusses family
logistics, which make up the majority of their communication, primarily
through emails. Their daily communication typically involves back-and-forth
emails that are as short as text messages. Tina texts her husband for logistical
matters only when he is away from his work desk, such as during his
commute to work or trip out of town. She appreciates the convenience and
flexibility of the asynchronous nature of email and text communication,
which phone calls lack. The couple restricts phone calls during work hours to
emergency matters. They have reached an agreement that the husband needs
to answer the phone even if he is in the middle of work because phone calls
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indicate emergency. Outside of work, logistical coordination in a timely


manner may justify the use of phone calls, such as when Tina asked her
husband to redirect his trip and get milk on his way home.
In Dan’s communication with his fiancé, by contrast, emails play a
minor role. Their infrequent email exchanges serve non-urgent, long-term
planning purposes. The couple usually does not even expect an email
response, but rather uses emails to share information for in-person discus-
sions later. Texting provides the primary channel for Dan and his fiancé to
manage logistics as emails work for Tina and her husband. However, Dan
and his fiancé’s text exchanges happen less frequently than do Tina and her
husband’s emails. In fact, on a workday, Dan only expects a text reply
from his fiancé within four hours. He explains that they both have busy
jobs, and they understand that the other person would not necessarily
respond quickly. Especially, Dan’s fiancé spends most time in meetings that
prohibit cell phone use, so she is best reachable by quick, unobtrusive texts
whenever she takes a short break. Similarly, the couple talks on the phone

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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48 XIAOLIN ZHUO

only for important matters during the workday. The use of phone calls
becomes more lax after work. Dan and his fiancé often pick up the phone
to coordinate when and where to meet up.
Couples create together an integrated media system to guide their choice of
media for effective communication given the message type and contextual
factors. They also develop mutual expectations about when to hear from the
partner and how soon to receive a reply from the partner. The communica-
tion system of each participant shares certain common elements. For instance,
couples generally talk about serious topics and relationship issues face-to-
face. When they are apart, they prefer phone calls to texts and emails for
discussing important, urgent matters. The communication system also varies
by relationship as couples customize the system to accommodate their own
personal preference and work styles. As illustrated in the cases of Tina and
Dan, work arrangement and access to computers or cell phones at work can
influence the choice of communication channels between couples. Moreover,
communication coordination may involve the management of online privacy
on social networking sites. A few frequent social media users in the sample
have negotiated with their partners the extent to which they post family
photos and share details of their private life online. They have also specified
the audience with whom they can share updates on social media.
Couples either agree on communication styles implicitly through a pre-
ceding process of trial and error, or openly discuss the issue at the begin-
ning of the relationship or as lifestyle changes. One respondent discussed
switching from phone calls to texting as the primary way to contact her
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husband after learning about her husband’s preference for reading and typ-
ing. Coordinating communication styles ensures effective communication
for instrumental and relational purposes among couples. It also demon-
strates mutual understanding, respect, and care. As Baym (2015) points
out, as people negotiate the use of technology in their relationships, they
also share understanding and expectations about closeness.

Explaining Patterns of Maintenance Behaviors

What do couples’ maintenance behaviors tell us about their motivations


and thinking in choosing different media for relationship maintenance? The
interview data suggest two themes. First, the participants value the connec-
tivity, enabled by technology-mediated communication, which fills the gaps
between face-to-face interactions. This connectivity is functionally helpful
in terms of arranging activities and sharing tasks, but it also carries

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 49

relational benefits. A quick, unexpected check-in or “sweet” message from


a loved one shows caring and represents a kind of positive interactions
between partners. The ease of sharing moments in life with one’s partner at
all times supports openness and self-disclosure. Additionally, the act of
communicating counts as important as the message delivered. It reinforces
that one is in the partner’s mind and provides a source of assurances.
Couples also reassure their commitment to the relationship by being con-
nected and reachable in case of emergency or in need for assistance. As
Licoppe (2004, p. 153) argues, mediated communication does not substitute
for face-to-face interactions, but rather facilitates a “connected manage-
ment of relations,” through which quick, spontaneous contacts and the
ability to initiate the connection anytime reinforce closeness and bonding.
Second, couples’ use of technology in relationship maintenance reflects
control of the boundary between work and home and between the public
and private. The influence between work and home is bidirectional. ICT
extends one’s connection with the partner into the workplace and allows
couples to communicate throughout the day. On the other hand, the shift
from material to information economy and the dependence of work on
ICT often lead to work being brought home and disrupting family time
(Rainie & Wellman, 2012). Managing the public/private boundary is simi-
larly critical for relationship maintenance. In the direction from the public
to the private, the constant connectivity may surpass the restraints of time
and space and blur the distinction between on- and off-time. Almost half
of the participants reported that they check emails too often  either con-
Copyright © 2016. Emerald Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.

stantly as they receive incoming email reminders or several times per


hour. The other direction of broadcasting from home to the public has
assigned a new public attribute to relationship maintenance behaviors
(Thelwall & Wilkinson, 2010; Tong & Walther, 2011). A small number of
participants communicate with their partners on Facebook through wall
posts or tags. As they share information and interests with the public,
they also present their partners and relationships to the larger audience.
Furthermore, boundary control implies protecting online privacy. Two
participants explicitly restricted the use of certain texting apps because of
privacy concerns. One couple not only agreed among themselves whether
to share their child’s photos online, but they also ensured that their
extended family complies with their privacy preferences.
Many participants recognize the problem of the blurring boundary
between work and home and between the public and the private spheres.
They view technology as a double-edged sword  it brings partners closer
when they are apart, and it also takes time away when partners are

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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50 XIAOLIN ZHUO

together. Participants strive for the right balance of technology use in their
relationships. As Carlos (age 49, IT) explained, “You shouldn’t abuse it, but
you should use it the right amount of time.” When asked about anything he
dislikes about technology, Ted (age 57, IT) replied, “I think if you use it
responsibly, use it as a tool, not use it as a life style, I think it’s good.”
The participants’ maintenance behaviors reflect their efforts to control
the boundary and achieve the right balance. By establishing a communica-
tion system, they develop with their partners a mutual understanding of the
appropriate media to handle time insensitive and urgent matters, respec-
tively. Even when partners bypass the work/home boundary and contact
the other person at work, they respect each other’s work and use asynchro-
nous and unobtrusive means of communication, such as text messages or
emails. In cases of urgency, however, direct communication and interrup-
tion with work are expected and understood. For example,

We’ve figured out how to let the other one know if we absolutely need to be in touch
about something. She calls and my phone rings, and I’m in the middle of the session
with someone, I know to pick up the phone if she’s calling because that would be an
emergency (Helen, Age 41, psychotherapist)

Although more than half of the participants have experienced work


or online activities interfering positive in-person time at home, they do
not consider it as a major problem in their relationship. Participants
generally voice their concern and remind the distracted partner to put
away the phone. Some of them also establish rules to control work and
Copyright © 2016. Emerald Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.

media input at home. However, several participants perceive such inter-


ference as inevitable due to the nature of their work, rather than
technology.

DISCUSSION

Technology has become an integral part of interpersonal relationships. An


increasing proportion of relationships start online. Many people initiate
romantic relationships on online dating sites and continue the relationships
offline, including three participants in this study. More frequently, relation-
ships established offline extend to the online sphere, and mediated commu-
nication supplements face-to-face interactions in fostering connectivity and
relational stability (Rainie & Wellman, 2012). It is incorrect to dichotomize
online and offline relationships (Stafford et al., 1999).

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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 51

This study examines how couples use technology in maintaining their rela-
tionships through a qualitative, inductive approach. Maintenance behavior
measures derived from offline relationship studies remain important in the
multimedia context, which is consistent with findings from previous survey
research (Ledbetter, 2010a). However, this qualitative study moves beyond
examining the association between maintenance behaviors and communica-
tion media to provide rich descriptions of how technology both facilitates and
creates barriers for implementing maintenance behaviors. For example, tech-
nology helps maintain positive interactions between partners, but it could
also distract individuals and threaten in-person time. Moreover, although
previous research shows that the tasks maintenance behavior is weakly asso-
ciated with mediated communication (Ledbetter, 2010a; Rabby, 2007), this
study finds the opposite. Logistical discussions represent the majority of com-
munication between couples. The participants employ a variety of communi-
cation media, including sharing online calendars and sending online calendar
event invitations, to coordinate activities and remind partners about tasks.
A few respondents also handle logistical communication via technology to
maximize in-person time for quality family interactions. Additionally, this
study suggests a new maintenance behavior, communication coordination,
which emerges as a consequence of the plethora of communication media
options. Couples develop together an integrated communication system to
ensure effective communication and relationship management.
Baym (2004) points out the limitations of survey research and calls for
the investigation of motivations, meanings, and practices as people negoti-
Copyright © 2016. Emerald Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.

ate technology use in their relationships. The current study offers a modest
step toward this goal. I speculate that the patterns of technology use in
relationship maintenance are influenced by two seemingly contradictory
factors  connectivity and boundary control. Connectivity refers to the
ability to reach one’s partner at anytime, anywhere if needed. It reinforces
a sense of caring and relationship commitment. High levels of connectivity
are generally consistent with higher levels of positivity, assurances, and
self-disclosure maintenance. Connectivity, at the same time, may blur the
work/home and public/private boundary and threaten the relationship. As
partners easily keep in touch at work, work emails and work brought home
may also disrupt in-person family time at home. Protecting online privacy
and establishing rules of disclosing private lives on social media constitute
boundary management as well. Couples are aware of the double-edged nat-
ure of technology use. They take initiatives to achieve the right balance
between connectivity and autonomy and protect their relationships from
constant media input and work demands.

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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52 XIAOLIN ZHUO

Previous research, however, identifies a different kind of tension related


to connectivity, which originates from one’s relational partner. Mobile
maintenance expectations, such as expectations for greetings or check-in,
may harm the friendship by creating stress about the amount of contact,
pressure for timely response, and feeling of entrapment (Hall & Baym,
2012). In a study of romantic relationships among college students, Duran
et al. (2011) find that the connectivity-autonomy tension is related to exces-
sive contacts, restricted freedom by the partner, and control over the part-
ner. Some individuals also cite the use of text messages as both keeping
connected with and asserting autonomy from one’s relational partner
(Pettigrew, 2009). The participants in this study, on the contrary, generally
express an understanding of partners’ schedules and priorities. They expect
less check-in or updates from their partners beyond necessary logistical
communication. They also coordinate a communication system to remain
connected, but avoid interrupting the partner’s work or plans. The strains
induced by technology thus do not generate from within the romantic rela-
tionship, but rather from external factors, like work and media input. The
participants value the functional and emotional usefulness of connectivity,
but they set boundary to protect in-person family time from work and
media input. A national survey of American couples similarly reports cell
phones and online activities as a source of distraction of time and attention
from the relationship (Lenhart & Duggan, 2014). The difference in age,
proximity, or relationship stages of the respondents in this study and pre-
vious work may explain the difference in the nature of the tension between
Copyright © 2016. Emerald Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.

connectivity and the overuse of ICT. For the adult participants in marriage
or cohabiting relationships in this study, the home with the partner means
a haven of peace from the constant input and communication with the out-
side world.

CONCLUSION

This study examines the impact of technology on romantic relationships


from a perspective of relationship maintenance. It takes a qualitative,
inductive approach as a step toward addressing some of the limitations in
the dominant survey research in the existing literature. This study high-
lights how technology transforms the ways in which couples maintain rela-
tionships and how mediated communication complements face-to-face
interactions in maintenance behaviors.

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
information technologies annual : [new] media cultures. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 53

Technology contributes to relational maintenance in both functional


and affective ways. Technology makes it easier for couples to coordinate
household tasks and stay in touch with friends and families. Although ser-
ious talks and sharing in-depth feelings primarily take place face-to-face,
technology-mediated communication nonetheless bears relational signifi-
cance. It redefines the ways in which couples interact positively, maintain
mutual understanding, and secure the future of the relationship. In
addition, this study suggests a new maintenance behavior, communication
coordination. As couples keep in touch through a variety of media, they
develop an integrated communication system that suits their communica-
tional styles and needs. This system helps couples pick the appropriate
channels for effective communication based on the message content,
urgency, and relational goals.
More importantly, this study explores the factors that influence the
choice of technology in relationship maintenance. It suggests that indivi-
duals rely on technology-mediated communication to maintain constant
connectivity and derive from it a sense of closeness and commitment. At
the same time, individuals are aware of the potential strains and burdens
imposed by new technology. They endeavor to control media inputs and
maintain the work/family and public/private boundary to preserve their
relationships. The participants’ maintenance behaviors reflect their
efforts to reach the right balance between connectivity and boundary
control.
This study has certain limitations. The sample consists of a disproportio-
Copyright © 2016. Emerald Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.

nately high number of university-educated individuals. Their extensive use


of technology in relationship maintenance may be related to their levels of
education (Hargittai & Hinnant, 2008), and the findings thus may not be
generalizable to the larger population.
Another limitation regards the data collection method. To study the
effect of technology on dyadic relationships, I collected data by interview-
ing one partner in each relationship. One alternative way is to conduct
dyadic interviews. Pettigrew (2009) studied text messaging within close
relationships using dyadic interviews. He argued that this way of inter-
viewing enables participants to elaborate and refine narratives and offers
better insights into the relationship dynamics. However, this method
raises the concern that individuals may feel uncomfortable discussing
certain topics, such as those involving conflict and dissatisfaction, in the
presence of their partners. One possible way to overcome this limitation
would be to interview both partners but to do so separately on the expec-
tation of mutual confidentiality.

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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54 XIAOLIN ZHUO

Future research can build on the qualitative, inductive approach in this


study to further investigate the role of technology in romantic relationships
in more representative samples and using alternative data collection meth-
ods. This approach can also be applied to understand other relationship
types. For instance, this study focuses on individuals who are in romantic
relationships and live together with their partners. The opportunity for reg-
ular face-to-face interactions shapes the patterns and impact of technology
use in their relationships. Future research could expand to examine long-
distance romantic partners who rely more on technology-mediated commu-
nication, as well as friendships and family relationships. Moreover, this
study describes a new maintenance behavior of communication coordina-
tion. It is important for future research to explore this new maintenance
measure in other contexts and understand the processes of how communi-
cation coordination is achieved.
As technology becomes part of daily lives, it plays an important part in the
formation and development of personal relationships. This exploratory study
offers useful insights into the nuanced processes in maintaining romantic rela-
tionships in the digital age. Technology use is intertwined with in-person
interactions and relational intimacy (Rainie & Wellman, 2012). Yet, it some-
times overwhelms personal relationships and demands extra efforts to main-
tain meaningful in-person companionship. Individuals nonetheless appreciate
the benefits of the new connectivity and incorporate technology use into rela-
tionship maintenance in creative and responsible ways. The findings from this
study complement previous survey research and improve our knowledge of
Copyright © 2016. Emerald Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.

social implications of technology. Future research should continue to utilize a


variety of methods to explore these issues.

NOTE

1. As the interviews from the first wave yielded interesting findings, more interviews
were collected in the second wave to achieve an adequate sample. See Appendix for
interview methodology and comparability of data across the two waves.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank Christopher Winship, Barry Wellman, Bart Bonikowski,


Nancy Baym, Michèle Lamont, Mary Brinton, Christy Ley, Alix Winter,
Connor Jerzak, Karsten Heil, Katherine Morris, and anonymous reviewers at

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
information technologies annual : [new] media cultures. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from bibliotecausta-ebooks on 2019-04-13 07:21:51.
Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 55

Emerald Studies in Media and Communication for their valuable feedback on


the previous drafts of this manuscript. The research described in this manu-
script was funded by a Graduate Seed Grant from the Center for American
Political Studies at Harvard University.

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Couples’ Use of Technology in Maintaining Relationships 59

APPENDIX
Table A1. Detailed Items in Relationship Maintenance Behavior
Measures.
Factor Items

Positivity Acts positively with me.


Is upbeat when we are together.
Acts cheerfully with me.
Acts optimistically when he/she is with me.
Understanding Is understanding.
Is forgiving of me.
Apologizes when he/she is wrong.
Does not judge me.
Self-disclosure Talks about his/her fears.
Is open about his/her feelings.
Encourages me to share my thoughts with him/her.
Encourages me to share my feelings with him/her.
Relationship talk Discusses the quality of our relationship.
Tells me how he/she feels about the relationship.
Has talks about our relationship.
Assurances Talks about future events (e.g., having children,
or anniversaries, or retirement).
Talks about our plans for the future.
Tells me how much I mean to him/her.
Shows me how much I mean to him/her.
Tasks Shares in the joint responsibilities that face us.
Performs his/her household responsibilities.
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Helps with the tasks that need to be done.


Does not shirk his/her duties.
Networks Includes our friends in our activities.
Does things with our friends.
Spends time with our families.
Asks a family member for help.
Turns to a family member for advice.

Source: Stafford (2011, pp. 290291).

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
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60 XIAOLIN ZHUO

Interview Methodology

This study recruited respondents through snowball sampling. The inter-


views were conducted in two waves, with seven interviews completed in
2013 and thirteen in 2015. Respondents from the first wave did not receive
remuneration, but for the second wave I was able to obtain research fund-
ing and offer each respondent 20 dollars. Despite the differences in timing
and remuneration, the interview data from the two waves are quite com-
parable. In the two waves, respondents displayed similar levels of enthu-
siasm during the interviews, and the interviews lasted for similar lengths.
Three respondents in the second round also declined the remuneration.
Although the two waves of data collection are two years apart, respondents
reported similar digital ownership and patterns of technology use.
Therefore, I consider the data from the two waves as comparable and com-
bined them in the analysis.
The interviews took place in-person (n = 10), over the phone (n = 8), or
via video calls (n = 2). The respondents whom I talked to in-person chose the
meeting place. In-person interviews took place at respondents’ homes (n = 6),
common space on campus (n = 2), office (n = 1), and public café (n = 1).
Copyright © 2016. Emerald Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.

Cotten, S. R., Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Hales, T., Williams, A. A., & Hightower, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Communication and
information technologies annual : [new] media cultures. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from bibliotecausta-ebooks on 2019-04-13 07:21:51.