Fighting over Text? Here are some Rules of Engagement.
Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash
Texting is a less than ideal medium for a serious conversation because so much can get lost in tone and delivery. As much as possible, keep “fexting” to things that can be resolved or addressed simply. Here are some things to keep in mind if you do end up using text to address an issue between you and a loved one.
DO’s for the sender:
1) Keep it short. Text is not the medium to solve a serious problem. It is best used to address a slight miscommunication or a misunderstanding between a couple rather than a way to tackle major life situations.
2) Keep it personal (to you) by using “I statements” ie: “I felt excluded from the discussion at dinner.” “I felt disrespected when you spoke over me.” When you can focus on sharing your experiences, you invite your partner to access their empathy to put themselves in your shoes. If you focus on your partners’ behavior: “you were so rude at dinner” without talking about the impact on you, you may activate their defensiveness rather than their empathy.
3) Keep it specific — what are you asking for? An acknowledgment? An apology? An appointment for a future discussion? Open ended statements can lead to more anxiety and stress rather than resolution. “I’m so upset with you” or “We need to talk” vs. “I would like an apology”; “I’d like us to talk about this when we get home tonight”.
4) Keep it slow — texting is an asynchronous medium of communication. There may be a delay in them receiving, reading, or responding to the message. If you need an immediate response, you might want to give them a call vs. texting. Expecting an immediate response over text will unnecessarily raise the stakes of the conversation and can set you both up for disappointment and further hurt feelings or misunderstandings. Add the permission to pause to the end of your text ie: “I know you’re at work right now, so I don’t expect a reply right away, but I would appreciate one by the end of the day.”
5) Keep it respectful. Remember you are on the same team. At the end of the day, the goal is to solve a problem, not to shame or blame your partner. You can ask for an apology or let your partner know how their behavior harmed you without resorting to attacking who they are as a person. Healthy conflict focuses on the problem or issue to be solved, not the other person.
1) Fire away or write an essay. Take your time to write one thoughtful message vs sending a barrage of texts back to back. If you are continually pinging your partner with “AND THERE’S MORE”, they are more likely to ignore the barrage until they think you are done. I like to remind people, “don’t let your message get lost in the delivery.” If the message is too long, it can be overwhelming to the reader and the essential point may be lost. If you need a longer or more serious conversation, it may be better held over a different medium.
2) Text when upset. Saying things in anger sometimes leads to text regret. Before texting, take a moment to do some breathing or calming exercises. Ask yourself, “what am I hoping to gain with this message?” Am I just wanting to send the message “I’m mad at you” or is there something I really want to convey? Take your time to get to the core message by getting calm and centered first.
3) Lead with an accusation Ie: “You’re so careless!” Begin with an invitation instead. ie: “I’d like to let you know how your actions affected me today.” The minute you start focusing on them rather than you, you give them ammunition to be on the defensive.
DO’s for the Receiver:
1) Acknowledge the message. If you are in a spot where you cannot respond thoroughly, say that. “Hey, I can’t fully respond to your message right now, but I wanted to let you know I got it.”
2) Take your time to respond. One of the things that fexting can do is heighten a sense of urgency, especially if they can see that you “read” it. However, reacting rather than responding usually leads to escalation of conflict. If you know that you may need some time to process the information in the text before responding, let your partner know that: “I might need a few hours to sit with this before I can reply. I just wanted to let you know that.”
3) See the text as an invitation to improve or repair the relationship. Your partner is sending you a little tidbit of information about how they are feeling and what they need from you. Conflict will happen in any relationship, but it is how it is handled that makes all the difference.
4) Understand that the option to ask for an in-person or appointment to discuss the conversation IS an option. Just because your partner started the conversation over text doesn’t mean that it can be handled over text. If you feel like you need to take the conversation more seriously, ask your partner for a time when you can give the topic proper attention and respect.
5) Express gratitude. Communication is crucial in a healthy relationship. Although text is not always the best medium for conversation, it is a way to communicate with your partner. If your partner is sharing something with you, recognize that it might have been a difficult step for them. Begin by acknowledging that.
DON’Ts for the Receiver:
1) Ignore the message. This will lead to further hurt feelings and ignoring something never makes it go away. It just lets it fester.
2) Be snarky. The temptation might be there, but remember the end goal is repair. It is sometimes easier to be rude over text than it would be in person, however, if it’s not helpful to the end goal, take it out.
3) Get defensive. It’s hard sometimes to not rush to defend yourself if you feel attacked. Instead, take a moment to get centered and see if you can reframe the text as an open door to further communication rather than a slam in the face. If it’s an invitation to connect, how might you respond differently?
4) Ignore your own boundaries. If someone is name calling or being abusive over text, you are 100% always able to set rules of engagement that protect yourself and your values ie: “I’m sorry you’re hurt, and I want to hear about your experience, but if you continue to call me names, I’m going to have to end this conversation.”
5) Fall into a shame spiral. We all make mistakes. Talking about them is how we can learn to do better. Remind yourself that each conversation is an opportunity to grow. Life is about learning, not perfection. Be kind to yourself and give yourself grace if you have messed up. Taking accountability is one thing, self-punishment is another.
Kristal DeSantis, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Clinical Trauma Professional is the author of STRONG: A Relationship Field Guide for the Modern Man (available for pre-order now www.strong.love)
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