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by Dr. Brad Schwall

Fexting – Are you doing it, and should you stop?

Dr. Brad Schwall shares why and how to avoid “fexting” - fighting over text

Texting makes our busy lives easier. But a seemingly harmless text message can also go wrong quickly. It can be interpreted differently from what you meant, and an argument can erupt.

The exchange can then escalate into fexting – or fighting over texts.

It’s important to note that frequent communication is critical in healthy relationships, and there’s nothing wrong with conflict. But conflict through texting can be problematic.

Why? Because tone is difficult to interpret in texts, and words can easily be misunderstood, resulting in even greater conflict.

And there’s another reason: texting adds a layer of perceived “protection” that can make us bolder in what we say than what we would say in person. This can lead to us showing a lack of empathy and concern for the other person.

On the positive side, when we are talking in real life, we can read facial expressions and see non-verbal communication. We can hear tone. We have more time to hear the other person, clarify, and share our perspective. We’re able to connect more positively.

2 text or not 2 text?

So what is OK to text, and what is not OK to text?

Texting is for checking in. It's great for making plans, and even for affirming people. It’s easy to send a quick text to let someone know you’re thinking of them, or to remind them you think they’re great. We always want to build in positive communication throughout our day. But texting is for communicating the basics.

On the other hand, when we get into making an accusation, or using mean-spirited sarcasm or putdowns to express our frustrations or anger through texting, we're going to exacerbate conflicts, rather than resolving them.

Unfortunately, misinterpretation can still happen in seemingly benign texts. But certainly, when we intentionally initiate or discuss conflicts by text, we are not going to get far in communicating well.

Danger Zone: How do we stop fexting from escalating?

We can describe what we are thinking or feeling through texts, but the minute we get defensive, or it seems that the other person is reacting negatively, we need to stop. We can have a code word that means, “Hey, let’s have a face-to-face, in person conversation about this. Let's bookmark this topic and come back to it.” You can also pick up the phone and say this to the other person.

I recommend developing a zero-tolerance policy for fexting – meaning that I will participate in no conflicts over text. That means I will communicate face-to-face, or over the phone, whenever a conflict arises. I can even set an appointment to talk with the other person about a conflict in the near future when I see one developing by text.

The bottom line is that we need to be careful with texting. Always take a moment to reread a text before hitting send -- because once we hit send, we could deeply regret it later.

What are keys to communicating more effectively?

The biggest key when communicating is to try to understand the other person’s perspective. Ask questions, and observe body language. You can then make observations about what you’re seeing and define yourself. When you use “I” statements, such as “I feel this when I see you do that,” that’s hard to argue with and easier to understand.

One of the biggest focuses of our therapists at the Center is helping people communicate -- to listen closely to others, and then to define and describe what they see, how they feel, how they think. Fexting doesn’t support this type of healthy communication, so let’s avoid it. After all, healthy communications is key to healthy relationships.

So here’s to no more fexting and better communication in 2023!