The Golden Rule of Texting in a Relationship

Photo by  Yura Fresh  on  Unsplash

Photo by Yura Fresh on Unsplash

What I’m about to share isn’t earth-shattering or rocket science, but it’s shocking how many perfectly intelligent, sane, rational people toss this rule out the window!

And their relationships always suffer for it. Nothing good comes from dismissing this rule.

Do not use texting as a form of communication during an argument, misunderstanding, or (gasp) fight!

Just earlier this month I heard from two guy friends of mine who found themselves engaged in long texting threads.

Example: Friend #1

The first guy had been dumped by the love of his life. He and his ex-girlfriend both care about each other, but pretending that things can go on as they have is delusional on both of their parts.

During a text exchange, my friend realized that he was getting snippy and rude towards his new ex-girlfriend. She was starting to retaliate and the conversation was spiraling into a nasty direction.Fortunately he was keeping me apprised of the situation, so I texted him in bold letters to stop texting her immediately.

I called him, so he could vent to me (rather than hurling jabs at her that he would later regret). And, of course, we chatted about his needing to come up with a game plan for how he should proceed with his interactions with her. He agreed and stepped back.

They have been friends for many years and both want to salvage the friendship, so he needs to tread carefully. By getting caught up in a texting war, he was only agitating himself and losing control of his emotions. She wasn’t “hearing” him. She was defensive and tired.

Meanwhile, he thought the more he shared, the stronger the language he used, that she might finally appreciate him. She might acknowledge her owning failings and/or his actions in what was a multi-layered situation. In those increasingly elevated states, though, neither one was hearing the other. It was classic: they were texting at one another instead of listening to each other.

Example: Friend #2

Another friend and I chatted about some misunderstandings he was having with his girlfriend. It was late. A supposed “joke” fell flat. Pretty soon they were engaging in tired and confusing texts. Eventually frustration kicked in. Misunderstandings and angst followed. Fortunately, they agreed to give each other some space and resume when they were both in a better state of mind. But the exchange had left my friend rattled and upset.

I have dated several guys who engaged in testy, even vulgar, texting exchanges with their exes. On the one hand, I felt bad for them. Their exes called them some truly horrific things. On the other hand, I never understood why they responded back. The patterns had been established! The only way for improved communication was to stop interacting via text once it turned argumentative.

Sure, try to engage thoughtfully and respectfully. But if the other person is incapable of doing that, it is best to stop texting entirely.

Perhaps it’s because I’m such a Luddite or because I witnessed these nasty “text fights,” but I have rarely found myself sucked into one. I’m not perfect, but it’s not my MO to call someone names, write intentionally hurtful things, and lose control of myself. If I have felt myself slipping, I remove myself. I don’t like feeling overwrought and overly emotional. I prefer calm and rational.

The Solution

These may be obvious, but it’s worth repeating them:

1. Stop texting! 

Let go of the concept of the “last word” or that the other person must listen to you or that you are right. None of that matters in that moment. 

The truth is neither of you win if you continue to engage in text fighting! It’s immature, likely to backfire on you, and you are very likely to write things that you will regret. 

2. Take a breather. 

Whether it’s for 10 minutes, an hour, a day, or even longer. Step back and think about what you are really trying to say. 

Does your point even matter? Is this other person capable of understanding your issue? Is it worth it? Are you over-reacting? 

Be sure to wait to communicate when you are feeling more like yourself and certain about your message and overall point. Also, consider the timing for your significant other. 

3. If you determine the conversation still needs to happen, choose a different form of communication.

Talk on the phone or in person. Write an e-mail or letter when you are clear-headed. 

Use the services of a therapist to help articulate your message. You might even schedule a session with a therapist to assist while you discuss your issues or concerns with the other person.

Final Pointers 

Often these texting wars start out fairly benignly. They can sneak up on you and before you know it, the language has escalated very quickly. 

I think it’s helpful to have awareness about when these situations are more likely to turn heated. From my experience, you have to tread very carefully in these circumstances: If it’s late; the other person is tired, hungry, drunk, and/or overwhelmed; either of you is prone to getting angry or defensive easily; the relationship is new or is going through a rough patch; if someone’s health is poor; or a major life event is occurring. 

In my case, if a conversation has turned weird or testy when it’s late at night, I have asked to talk to the person on the phone so we are not misunderstanding tone or context. I have also asked to sleep on it and catch up later the next day.

I dated someone who was very uncomfortable with any sort of confrontation. He would make it clear that he didn’t want to text any misunderstandings, so we would agree to discuss the issue the next time we talked on the phone or saw each other in person.

Every situation, relationship, and communication style is different, but texting while fighting or arguing is all too common. And it’s never a good idea!

Following the golden rule of texting will lead to improved communication, better understanding, less confusion, and fewer arguments in your relationships.