How To Bring Arguments With Your Partner Off Your Phone And Into Real Life

Imagine if you and your partner were home one night with all the lights off. You're both armed with a pen, and a tiny pad of paper. Though separated by a locked door, you're in the middle of a full-blown fight. Instead of talking or even shouting at each other, you silently pass short notes back and forth beneath the door. If we didn't have smartphones, that's what fighting over text messages might look like. There's no tone of voice to guide our understanding, no facial expressions, and the short, clipped messages we deliver couldn't possibly convey any nuanced information. Under those circumstances, we could easily escalate into frustration and say things we regret.

Texting is great for helping us to instantly convey the essentials, like coordinating a group of people meeting at an unfamiliar place, knowing where your kids are after school, or canceling a dental appointment. Per PsychCentral, it's not built for emotional, in-depth conversations — or fights.

If you text back and forth about a minor misunderstanding, slight disagreement, or a missed communication, you might be able to resolve the issue. But if you find the text "conversation" getting edgy or tense, using a cell phone to conduct a fight could be a red flag for an avoidant conflict style. There are ways to handle a fight if your partner has no conflict resolution skills, and one of them is to first take the fight offline.

Reframe what having an argument means

We're rarely taught how to argue in a constructive, loving way. Each of us is thoroughly unique, and that includes how we've been individually "trained" by our parents' communication styles. The way our parents handled disputes may range from evolved, mature, and willing to seek solutions, to tense silences, to a backdrop of constant yelling. But that doesn't mean we're doomed to repeat those patterns. It might take extra effort to overcome our parents' communication styles, though.

People who lived with parents who had loud or bitter arguments might expect that any disagreement signals the end of their relationship, especially if their parents divorced. Most of us understand that texting is meant for short bullet points, not intimacy, so using it to argue can make sense for people who'd prefer to avoid a confrontation.

Licensed clinical psychologist Maria Thestrup, Ph.D., shared with Everyday Health that partners who have a healthy argument style won't necessarily avoid conflict. Instead, they'll go for it, plunging into a heated discussion. But here the motivation is to grow together and become closer by sorting through the conflict beat by beat. This allows them to set boundaries, be heard, deeply hear their partner in return, and if at all possible, activate a win-win solution. If you need to, reframe arguments as an instrument to help you get closer to your partner, rather than a tool to win or dominate.

How to bring the argument into real life

Fighting by text, or "fexting," can end a relationship. When you find yourself shooting heated messages back and forth that make you feel anxious, downright angry, or overwhelmed, see that as a signal to shut your phone down. Other signals to cut it off include longer and longer explanatory texts in which you're trying to defend your position with more depth.

You're entering into real fight territory and yet all the normal verbal and non-verbal (but visible) cues, like body language, are missing. Those missing cues — cues we know in our blood from hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution — make text-based misinterpretations easy. If it's boiling over, honor how you're feeling by getting offline to prevent further damage.

In practical terms, before typing one more letter, you might pause for a moment and do some box breathing to oxygenate your blood and calm your nervous system. Box breathing means you breathe in, hold, out, and then hold for four seconds at each stage, including the holds. After doing three rounds, consider writing a message along the lines of, "I need to pause for a moment. I care about you and this conversation is too important to conduct by text." Ask to set up a time to discuss it in person. One of the foundations of a sturdy, long-lasting relationship is to make regular deposits in your "relationship bank account," and that means rooting out complacency by listening deeply in person.