Why Text Fighting Harms Relationships

Angry businesswoman holding phone at desk

We’re all guilty of it—you glance at your phone, and think your partner has taken a certain tone, ignored you, or implied something negative when that’s often not the case. Perhaps they were in the midst of something and their curtness or lack of reply has nothing to do with you. Technology makes it easy for us to reach each other 24/7, but has it diminished our ability to truly communicate?

Mary Ann Allison, assistant professor of media studies at Hofstra University, asks her students to monitor their texts and other digital methods of communication. She notes that when the students comply and pay attention to their texts, they say things like “Wow, it’s a really different conversation when you’re talking with someone and listening to them.” The point is that we lose something vital, honest, raw and human when texting. There’s no eye contact, and no body language—we can hide behind our phones, and that’s not a good thing.

What is happening?

Recently, my partner was on the road while I was feeling lonesome miles away. I was so glad to finally text before bed one night, when our schedules aligned. However, there was radio silence in the middle of the texting exchange, and—after about 20 minutes—I became increasingly agitated that he’d left me hanging. I sent him a barrage of texts, when I should have just waited to hear back.

That led to his wondering why I was acting like a text-psycho, and it was all downhill from there. I’m not proud of my insecurities, but I am honest. When we jump to conclusions, the mind races with irrational thoughts, and we create stories based upon speculation.

What really happened?

As it turned out, a colleague needed to vent, and my guy set his phone aside in order to give them his full attention. Mind you, it was late at night and they were at a bar in another time zone, so I assumed they were partying and I felt neglected and insulted. I became reactive when I could have chosen to keep my cool.

Sometimes batteries die, or real, live people interact and phones are put down. Focusing on facts, breathing and relaxing into the moment can help with what I’m coining “lack of text anxiety.” Studies suggest that periodic text-free breaks throughout the day are a great way to restart your brain and reset frazzled emotions.

We’re all hooked!

The problem isn’t the lack of a speedy reply—it’s that we’re all so used to instantly getting a response. The minute we don’t, imaginary scenarios fly into our brains, taking over our otherwise pretty rational selves. I don’t think it’s possible to come back from where we are now, when it comes to text addiction.

I do believe that we should all work on texting less—try to take 20 minute text-free breaks two or three times a day. Turn your phone off, and tell your partner that you’re going off the grid for an hour—but just be sure to warn that you’re taking a text-timeout, so that loved ones don’t feel neglected or inclined to worry.

So, what should we do?

Like everything in relationships, it’s got to be a two-way street. Set yourselves up for healthy communication in general and voice your needs, making sure to listen to your beloved’s needs as well.

Never fight via text. If things get heated, communicate that you need to cool off, then talk in person if possible. Phone calls, FaceTime or Skype are helpful when you’re not able to meet up in person right away. Give your thumbs a break.

Hold each other, listen to each other breathing, and help keep your relationship thriving with some good old fashioned live talking, using your mouths.