July 25, 2024
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I Dread Speaking Over Phone or Text: Can My Relationship Survive Dating Long Distance?

Dear Dr. Chani,

I have been living in Israel and I started dating a guy there around two months ago. So far, things between us have been going well. Yet, I just flew to the States for vacation and I am afraid that our relationship cannot survive dating long distance.

Communicating in relationships has always been a challenge for me. I have been dating for almost 20 years, and I am not surprised that I have not yet gotten married. One of my biggest struggles is keeping the momentum going in a relationship. Whenever I date a guy who seems normal and is interested in me, I try to give him a chance. Even if I am not enthusiastic about the relationship, I will continue to date him as long as I can bring myself to go out with him on another date. But one of my biggest challenges is communicating back and forth between the dates.

I am usually not in the mood to speak on the phone and I dread video calls. I find speaking on the phone or video to be much more stilted than talking in person. Texting is even worse. I read into every line of every text and I always worry about how to reply when a guy texts me. Probably because of my anxiety, I do not usually pick up a phone call when he calls. I usually push it off. Sometimes an entire day will go by before I reply to a phone call or a text. I know it is not right, but this is how I am.

The last time I was dating someone for a few months, I did not answer his phone call and I let two days go by before I texted him. He interpreted this as a sign that I was not interested and “called me out on it.” He asked me how I felt about our relationship and I told him that I really was not sure we were right for each other. It ended up that we broke up on that last phone call. The truth is that I did not mind avoiding his phone call because I may have wanted him to get the message that I was not so interested and to be prepared for me to end it.

Now that I am dating someone I like, I do not want to continue this pattern. So far, I have been trying to go out more frequently, even if it is only for a brief cup of coffee. My concern is that since I am now dating long-distance, I will have no option but to date in person. Our relationship will need to rely exclusively on phone, video, or text. This is my worst nightmare. What should I do?

Sincerely,

Adena

Dear Adena,

It’s good to hear that you are aware of your issue with communicating in a relationship. That is the first step to doing something about it. While the need to communicate over the phone or text is going to be much greater now that you will be dating long distance, it is a good opportunity to address your fears and develop your skills in this area. Improving your communication and managing your anxiety about it is important for any kind of relationship.

You mention that because of your anxiety, you sometimes do not pick up the phone or reply to a text. As you know, this is just pushing off the inevitable, since you eventually need to respond. Letting days go by without replying to a phone call sounds like “ghosting,” modern dating lingo for missing in action. This is not considerate to someone you are dating, no matter how you feel about the relationship or whether or not you want to end it.

From your self-description, it sounds like there are two factors involved in your lack of communication. One part is that you find communication challenging in general. The second aspect is that in your mind, communication is related to your uncertainties about a specific relationship. When you are uncertain, you are reluctant to respond, and you also try to communicate that by not responding.

Let’s explore the first part—why you might feel uncomfortable answering phone calls or replying to a text. It sounds like you worry about being judged. You would rather avoid communication entirely than worry about how to respond. Interestingly, it is likely that you worry about this when you meet someone in person as well. However, there you have the added advantage of communicating through nonverbals. As long as you are physically present, you can make eye contact, smile, and nod without saying anything. You can also read someone’s face to get a sense of how he reacts to something you say or do.

On the other hand, communicating by phone or text lacks that extra layer of nonverbal communication. That creates a huge deficit. Research demonstrates that 55% to 95% of communication is nonverbal. Even though when you speak by phone you can sense the other person’s tone of voice, you are unable to use physical nonverbal communication to engage in conversation. You need to speak to carry your end of the conversation. Likewise, you need to text or send a voice message in response to a text. This might explain why you struggle more with these forms of communication than with dating in person.

How can you manage your anxiety in this area and improve your communication? There are many steps you can take. One guideline is to establish expectations about when and how you will communicate. This can allow you to prepare and be in the mindset of communicating, rather than being caught off-guard. If you plan when to speak or video-call, it can help you to get ready for the conversation and alleviate your anxiety. If you schedule times to speak, you can avoid some of the uncertainty. You might explain that you prefer not to text and that you would rather speak at scheduled times. In addition, since you can use nonverbal cues in a video call, it is wise to have at least one planned face-to-face video meeting each week.

Another idea is that as you go about each day, think about what you would like to share when you speak next. Instead of waiting until you speak to think of what you want to share in the moment, collect interesting experiences you want to share such as a story that happened to you or something you read, heard, or watched. You can also share a photo or a link to something you enjoy or appreciate. Keep in mind that it is easier to talk about something that you know and care about. If you combine these preparations throughout the day with scheduling times to talk, you can help yourself feel more in control during a conversation

Similarly, in contemplating what you might want to speak about, it is worthwhile to take an interest in his interests and share with him what you discover. For example, if you know that the person you are dating is interested in sports, even if sports are not your thing, check out the news on the sport you know he is currently following so that you can discuss the latest highlights. This will not only expand common topics you can talk about, but it will also demonstrate to the person you are dating that you are thinking about him and care about what matters to him.

The other aspect of your communication issue comes from the way you express your uncertainties. It is reasonable to be unsure about a relationship. Yet, it is not healthy to express your indecision by avoiding communication. We might say that you resolve your hesitations by guaranteeing that you will break up! When you have uncertainties, it is important to discuss them with your confidantes or a professional. But do not allow them to stifle your communication.

After all, friendly communication with someone does not mean that you are committing yourself to a relationship with them any more than dating itself does. It just demonstrates that you are willing to date normally. If you feel that you are unable to get past your anxiety, I encourage you to seek guidance from a professional who can help you to develop a strategy that is tailor-made for you.

Managing your anxiety and improving your communication are essential skills for dating and for life. I hope that by employing these strategies and seeking professional guidance, you will feel much more confident and comfortable communicating so that you can succeed in creating a great relationship!

Wishing you much success,

Chani


Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, and teaches online courses to help you create your ideal relationship. Get free relationship resources and contact her at www.chanimaybruch.com 

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