Are You Guilty of Fexting?
Our lives are becoming more and more digital. We keep in touch with friends over DM, communicate with colleagues over Zoom and carefully craft identities in online profiles. It's hardly surprising that our romantic lives—the good and the bad aspects—are also bleeding into the digital space.
Take "fexting," or fight-texting. If you've ever angrily typed out a message to your partner in the next room, you may be guilty of it. Why are so many of us digitizing our conflicts, and what does it mean for our romantic relationships in the long run?
Why is fexting so popular?
Fight texting seems to be an increasingly common habit among couples, even those who live under the same roof. Surprisingly, the term was first coined by the first lady herself, Jill Biden. Apparently, she and the president have a habit of arguing by text so the Secret Service remains unaware of their personal conflicts. Of course, text messages are a record of their arguments.
"Joe said, 'You realize that's going to go down in history. There will be a record of that,'" Jill Biden recalled to Harper's Bazaar. "I won't tell you what I called him that time."
But the Bidens aren't the only couple who have taken to fighting over text.
"Being passive-aggressive is such a natural human inclination, and [fighting over text] is textbook passive-aggressive communication," explained Emily Simonian, a licensed marriage and family therapist and head of clinical learning at the mental health company Thriveworks in Virginia. "This happens for some because they want to speak their minds but hide behind a screen to avoid the emotional ramifications of an in-person argument. For others, this could be happening due to a lack of communication skills, lack of confidence in good communication with your partner or low self-esteem."
Sajan Devshi, communication expert and founder of the educational website Learndojo in the United Kingdom, agreed that fighting over text has become popular because of the safety barrier of the screen.
"Quite simply, it is easier to act with lowered inhibitions when [fighting over text] than it is when you're in person and have to deal with the response right in front of you," he said.
In other words, it allows you to say what you really mean without having to worry about the consequences.
What to be wary of when you're arguing over text
According to both Simonian and Devshi, text-fighting is a slippery slope that can have dangerous long-term consequences for your relationship.
"Fexting places a barrier between you and your partner being able to communicate openly and directly," Simonian said.
Without body language, tone of voice or facial expressions, nuanced communication is difficult. You may even misinterpret your partner's messages.
"As we know, it's easy to misconstrue texts," Simonian added.
Over time, in-person communication between the couple may begin to break down and the pair may start to feel disconnected.
"Fexting can be harmful because you are effectively living two different lives with someone," Devshi said. "You act one way in person but then another via virtual communication methods, and this can be incredibly disorientating for a partner to know where they stand with you."
It can lead to disconnection and become a bad habit that ultimately diminishes your communication skills.
"Sometimes you are faced with a problem that's right in front of you that needs to be addressed and dealing with issues over text message takes away from your ability to communicate in the moment," Devshi continued. "It can become a crutch to dealing with things the right way."
Is it ever healthy?
But what about those times when you just need to get your thoughts down; when the fight has escalated to the point where you're both yelling at each other and no one is listening? Can arguing over text ever be a way to de-escalate a fight and restore communication?
"In the right circumstances, yes," Devshi said. "Raising your issues virtually can be helpful if it stops people from becoming too emotionally charged and the problem becoming worse or toxic within the relationship. Using texts to communicate your problems is fine if this isn't the sole way in which the problems are dealt with."
Simonian agreed that on some occasions, fighting over text can be useful, but she recommended using it to avoid emotional fights.
"You can use fexting as a bridge or icebreaker to approach a topic that you may feel squeamish bringing up in person, however, the idea is to temporarily use texting to segue into an in-person conversation," Simonian said.
Finally, if you feel the need to write down your thoughts during an ongoing argument, try this: Instead of sending them off as a text message, read them aloud to your partner in person. This way, you can continue to communicate both verbally and physically, and you can structure your words and thoughts more carefully.
For the most part, it might be tempting to send out a few angry words over text, but in the end, it's usually best to brave out the fight in person.