For couples, true love means sharing e-mail and sexts, Pew study shows

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 5:44pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

You may think that the mark of a mature relationship is the moment when a couple moves in together, adopts a cat or spends the holidays with each other’s families. But what about sharing an e-mail account?

Now that’s a real commitment. It’s a step that more than one-fifth of American Internet users who are married or in a committed relationship have taken, according to a study released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

The study found that 27 per cent of couples share an e-mail account. Two-thirds of couples share the passwords for one or more of their online accounts with their main squeeze.

Pew’s data show that this practice is more common with older couples or those who have been in their relationship for more than 10 years, perhaps because such technologies as e-mail, social media and other accounts were introduced after they were an item.

Still, only 11 per cent of couples reported sharing a social media profile on such sites as Facebook with their spouse or partner - apparently there are some digital bridges that many still aren’t willing to cross.

The study also delved into the practice of sexting. Pew found that salacious messages are becoming more common, with about 9 per cent of cellphone owners reporting that they’ve sent a suggestive text or photo.

Meanwhile, 20 per cent say they’ve received one.

That’s a notable increase compared with last year, when the same study found that just 6 per cent of cellphone owners had sent sexts and 15 per cent of users had received them. 

The younger the cellphone user, the more likely he or she was to sext, although there was an uptick across all age groups except those ages 55 and older.

Technology improves intimacy?

The study also found that technology has improved "emotional intimacy" for a lot of couples. More than one-fifth of respondents said they have felt closer to their partner because of online or text message exchanges.

Nine percent have even resolved arguments through texting or being online that they couldn’t mend in person, finding it was easier to hash out a disagreement with a little bit of physical space between them.

A majority of couples - 74 per cent - said that the Internet has a positive impact on their relationships. But that number is on the decline.

In 2005, 84 per cent said that the Internet was a good thing for their relationships. Similarly, the number of folks who said that technology had a negative effect on their relationships rose from 13 per cent to 20 per cent.

Younger adults were particularly likely to report having negative encounters through technology. Those aged 18 to 29 were far more likely to say they’ve fought about how much time a partner was spending online.

The report was based on telephone interviews from April to May last year among 2,252 adults aged above 18.

As the technology becomes more integrated, there are more ways for it to go wrong, more places to have points of tension
Amanda Lenhart, Pew centre

A quarter of all respondents said they’ve felt that their spouse or partner has been distracted by cellphones while they were spending time together. That jumps to 42 per cent among the youngest couples surveyed as well as busy folks, such as parents, college graduates and those with higher household incomes. 

As technology advances and workplaces increase their digital demands on employees, these nascent problems could grow, said Amanda Lenhart, who leads the Pew project’s work on teens, children and families.

"As the technology becomes more integrated, there are more ways for it to go wrong, more places to have points of tension," she said.

Uh-huh. Uh-huh. No — we’re totally listening. Really.

Other findings of the Pew report:


of of cell owners 18-29 years old in serious relationships say their partner has been distracted by their mobile phone while they were together. In total, across all age groups, the figure is 25 per cent.


of internet users in a committed relationship have had an argument with their spouse or partner about the amount of time one of them was spending online, while 4 per cent of those in a committed relationship have gotten upset at something they found their partner doing online

10 years

Those who have been together for this long, or less, have vastly different habits to those who have been married longer. For one, they "are much more likely to have use the internet to meet their partner, to use technology for communication and planning their lives, and to report that the internet had an impact on their relationship". Longer-term couples tend to use technology, but jointly.

"Some of this is about timing— technology a decade ago was squarely in the pre-Facebook, pre-smartphone era, and just ten years into the development of the commercially popular web," the report noted.


of couples have an online calendar that they share -- a habit that seems most prevalent among couples in middle age (mid-20s through mid-40s).

1 = 1

Married and partnered adults are just as likely as those not in a relationship to say they have sent sexts, though single adults are more likely to report receiving and forwarding such images or videos, the report said.