Here's Why Arguing Over Text (aka 'Fexting') Hurts Your Relationship

upset while texting

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What Is 'Fexting'?

It's common to communicate by way of text, and that works well for everything from setting plans with a friend to asking your spouse to pick up a grocery item. However, we may have taken communication by text too far.

Fexting

Fighting over text, which is also known as "fexting," is a potential pitfall to relationships that can cause problems and can even break up friendships or partnerships.

Ahead, we'll examine what fexting is, why it's a problem, and how you can avoid it.

What Exactly Counts as Fighting Over Text?

In an in-person conversation, many cues can tell you that a conversation is heading in the wrong direction. However, that may be harder to discern via text.

One way to know you're shifting into argument mode is by paying attention to your emotions. If you're starting to feel angry, hurt, or otherwise upset, you may be in an argumentative space. If you're experiencing the physical signs of anxiety, chances are you're heading into a more-than-minor disagreement.

Additionally, texting is, by nature, a short form of communication. We do it mostly over our mobile devices, which aren't designed for multi-paragraph communication.

A straightforward way to know that you have moved into an argument via text is if you find your responses getting longer, where you feel the need to explain yourself and your position in depth.

Lastly, fighting over text can be anything that mirrors the terminology we use during in-person arguments. For example, telling someone they do not understand you, saying mean things you wouldn't normally say, or using all caps to simulate a yelling voice, are all signs that you're in a text fight.

Why Fighting Over Text Can Become an Issue

Arguments of any type are stressful, and for the best mental health outcomes, they should never go on longer than a day. Here are the top reasons that fighting via text is generally bad news.

There's No Vocal Tone Involved

Many things in writing can be taken differently, and without vocal modulation to clarify, it's easy to assume the worst in someone and their intentions.

When we speak, the person we're talking to can tell how serious or light we are by our tone. Text, on the other hand, has no tone. Everything is flat in writing, so a sarcastic comment or a joke may be misconstrued as an insult.

The one way you can avoid coming across as insulting is by using emojis or GIFs. This can create lighter energy. However, your words can still be misunderstood.

It Can Lead to Miscommunication

Texting is generally a quick back-and-forth exchange, and when arguing, it can get even faster. It may be tempting not to read all of a person's reply before you respond again, and the more upset you get, the harder it may be to express yourself clearly or to clearly understand the person you're fighting with.

This can quickly snowball into a larger and worse situation, and the more upset you become, the less rational you'll be.

There Are No Body Language Ques

In addition to vocal cues, we communicate in person through our body language and facial expressions.

How we act physically lets others know how we feel, and without that in text, an argument can escalate to a terrible point without one person even becoming aware of how upset the other is.

Usually, if you see someone get upset or even start to cry, you would pause to make sure they're OK. Through text, we may have no idea if they're crying or not. Therefore, we might not stop spewing out words when we should, which can be painful for the person on the receiving end.

Emojis and GIFs Can Be Hurtful

In the same way that visual communication tools like emojis and gifs can add fun to conversations, they can also make things much worse in a text disagreement.

Sending an eye-roll emoji or a "shaking my head" one may be hurtful. It can be challenging to know when you've taken emojis or GIFs to a hurtful place, especially if the other person holds in that information and doesn't tell you in the moment, which may happen if they're feeling unsafe in the discussion.

When Fexting May Be Appropriate

Fighting over text is usually a bad idea. That said, there are some situations where it may be OK.

When Documentation Is Needed

If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship and seeking a restraining order, having written evidence of printed text messages can be valuable.

Additionally, if you are having a problem with harassment at work with a coworker or superior, written evidence of mistreatment can make your case much stronger.

Even though written evidence of abusive behavior can be helpful in legal situations, that doesn't mean you should continue to engage via text if someone is mistreating you. You can screenshot the message and not respond.

Long-Term and Established Healthy Relationships

If you've been friends with someone for decades or with your partners for years and have long-established healthy communication and boundaries, arguing over text may be less dangerous.

In situations where you know someone very well, and you trust one another deeply, it may be less likely to have the miscommunications and escalations in emotion that fexting can lead to. However, this is the exception, not the rule, and text fighting is still better avoided.

How to Avoid Text Arguments

Now that you understand the dangers of arguing over text, let's discuss how to prevent it from happening.

Stop the Conversation

As soon as it becomes clear that things are heading in a bad direction, you can be the one to call it out and stop the argument in its tracks.

These are some things you can say to make it clear that the situation isn't going in the right direction:

  • I don't think texting is the right way to discuss this issue.
  • I'm feeling misunderstood and don't think texting will help me feel understood.
  • I'm feeling hurt by your statements and need to end this exchange.
  • This situation seems to be going into a negative place. Let's stop here.

Suggest an Alternative

Once you're clear that the exchange no longer feels like effective communication, suggest an alternative to the text argument.

Here are some examples you can use:

  • Are you free for a phone call? If not, can we schedule one?
  • Would you like to talk about this more in person? Let's make a plan.
  • I need to sit with this for a while. I'll reach out about how I'd like to talk further soon.

Walk Away From Your Phone

If the other person isn't listening to you, or the exchange isn't ending because you're having a hard time stopping yourself from arguing further, the best thing you can do is to put down your phone and walk away from it. In some situations, you may even want to turn it off.

The act of disengaging is often a calming one. You can try practicing mindfulness, taking a walk, or breathing deeply to lower your stress levels, which in turn, can help you calm down. Once you feel calmer, you can address the situation from a more rational place.

A Word From Verywell

Arguing happens, but it doesn't need to happen via text. If you and your partner(s) disagree about how to communicate effectively, you may benefit from couples counseling. For those who have challenges meeting with a therapist in person, there are plenty of online options.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Witzel DD, Stawski RS. Resolution Status and Age as Moderators for Interpersonal Everyday Stress and Stressor-Related Affect. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. Published online January 10, 2021. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbab006

  2. Jung N, Wranke C, Hamburger K, Knauff M. How emotions affect logical reasoning: evidence from experiments with mood-manipulated participants, spider phobics, and people with exam anxiety. Front Psychol. 2014 Jun 10;5:570.

By Ariane Resnick, CNC
Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity.