Let’s set the scene: you walk into your room and find a dirty towel resting in a damp clump atop the bed. You shoot off a frustrated text to your SO asking them for the millionth time to please, PLEASE stop leaving their dirty towels all over the place. A few messages later and somehow you’re in a full-fledged fight over what started as a minor annoyance. Congrats, you’re fexting—aka fighting over text.
This can be a divisive topic, so we tapped Vienna C. Pharaon, LMFT, to share the pros and cons of fexting.
1. What are your thoughts on fighting with your partner over text?
I ultimately want people to get to a place where they can be face to face during their conflict. But not everyone feels comfortable with conflict. For so many, they associate it with fighting, with unpredictability, with relationship ruptures—maybe even endings—or punishment. It can feel scary to engage in conflict, and many people worry about things escalating. Using text can feel protective or the best option at times, so I want to make sure we’re having a nuanced conversation around the use of text while in conflict.
It might be a tool that lets someone say something that they might not normally feel comfortable expressing if they were face to face. It can open up important conversations that might otherwise go unaddressed or avoided, but it’s also a way to remain avoidant and disconnected through what could be a very intimate moment in a relationship.
2. What are the drawbacks of fexting?
There’s so much that can be lost in translation. So many missed cues, loss of tone, and each other’s energy. You forget who it is you’re speaking with, that there’s another person on the other side of that device whom you love, care for, and respect. When we’re just seeing their words and experiencing our interpretation of what those words mean, it can lead us astray very quickly.
3. Are there any benefits to fexting?
As I mentioned above, I think that there are times when it creates the distance needed to be able to express something that might otherwise go unaddressed. Someone might feel safer arguing this way if they grew up in a family system or had past relationships that were highly conflictual, aggressive, or dangerous. I still ultimately want a dynamic to create enough safety to be in conflict face to face, but there are certainly ways in which we can see this method being of service to someone.
4. What are some tips for de-escalating a fight that’s going on over text?
I think naming what’s playing out is very helpful. It brings attention and focus back to what’s happening, instead of just being lost in the argument. That might sound like: Hey, things are escalating here and we’ve agreed not to argue on text. I want to respect both of our wishes and circle back around later when we’re together.
If it’s available to you, meaning you have some emotional care left in the tank, you might remind the person that you love them and that what’s upsetting them is important to you. You can share that you want to hear them, but you’d like to do it when you’re together. Sometimes if we’re not too deep into the argument, we can try to usher ourselves back to the agreements with gentle, assuring, and loving reminders.
5. What tips do you have for avoiding getting into fights over text in the first place?
I recommend that people talk about the rules of engagement when they’re not in a conflict. When you’re feeling really connected and things are going well, that’s a great time to sit down and talk about what works for the two of you, what you’d like to avoid, and how you’d like to remind one another to honor those agreements.
You might have a code word that you use to remind you that arguing through text is not a part of the plan and that you’re going to pause future communication until you can get face to face with one another.
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