Friends don’t let friends text-fight

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The question: I got into an argument via text messaging with a close friend. When it was over, I felt exhausted and unsettled. Advice?

As someone who is all thumbs with my thumbs, I’m always amazed that people have the digital dexterity to carry on a reasonably coherent text dialogue for longer than two minutes. But personal challenges aside, texting is not the way to negotiate a relationship.

As texting becomes second nature, it’s worth noting that human beings were designed to connect with each other on many different levels. UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian found that 58 percent of communication is through body language; 35 percent through vocal tone, pitch and emphasis; and a mere 7 percent through content of the message.

We all know that good communication is the cornerstone of relationship. So why attempt to resolve a disagreement using only 7 percent of your full expressive potential? Would you run a marathon with 7 percent of your physical strength or take an important test with 7 percent of your intelligence? Would you host a holiday gathering with only 7 percent of your house cleaned?

There are reasons why someone might initiate a difficult conversation via text. Here are a few theories:

1. To avoid revealing vulnerable emotions. No one can hear the trembling or the anger in your voice in a text.

2. To protect
oneself from having to hear another person’s distress.

3. To have control over the conversation, including setting boundaries with difficult or verbose people. Sometimes this can devolve into manipulation, especially if one party refuses to talk on the phone.

4. To expend less energy. Texting requires fewer sentences than talking or sending e-mails.

I am not anti-texting. Like any technology, texting has its place — especially for a quick hello, simple banter or making plans. But your phone also has a numbers keypad. Next time you find yourself engaged in heated text warfare, I suggest you use it. Even better, discuss the problem face to face.

— Kim Schneiderman, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and former journalist with a private
practice in New York City. This column is not intended to be used as a substitute for a private consultation with a mental health professional, nor is this therapist to be held liable for any actions taken as a result of this column. If you have any concerns related to the content of this column, please make an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. E-mail Kim your questions at askkim@metro.us.


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