+1-570-436-7022 edpane@paneconsulting.com
Text Message Warfare
Edward A. Pane, LCSW, MBA, CAADA

Ed Pane

My Blog

I listened with growing concern as the young man seated across from m described an argument with his girlfriend. As a counselor I stay aware of my facial expressions, so my clients feel comfortable describing their issues. But this one had my eyebrows raised with alarm.

As he imitated her words he put on a disgusted, angry face; used a loud voice, and even threw in some side-to-side head wagging. He then switched to his vulgarity laced reply with an even angrier look and louder voice. He went back and forth like this for several exchanges.

Finally, I interrupted. “Did this argument turn physical? Did either of you lay a hand on the other or break anything?”

He paused with a confused look on his face as though I’d missed something and asked, “What?”. I repeated the question, and with a “What’s wrong with you?” look, told me these were text messages. They weren’t even in the same city.

Take me now, Lord.

OK, I’m a fossil, and sometimes I’m really glad for that and this was one of them.  I can imagine some future archeologist pointing to my unearthed bones and telling his class, “He was a 20th century psychotherapist. His species never learned how to tweet, so they went extinct.”

My clients have drug me kicking and screaming into the 21st century where I now no longer assume people actually talk to one another.  Since then I always ask, “Were you texting or speaking?” More than half the time it’s text. I no longer automatically assume people in the same house, city, or country.  If there’s ever been a text fight from the International Space Station I could add “or on the planet!”

So, I’ve come up with some suggestions that might be of use. If not, you can start shoveling dirt on me.

Start with the assumption that the other person may not actually be trying to hurt you, which is usually the case. Radical as it is, ask if something is wrong first.

Read any text you think is insulting more than just once. See if there are other ways it can be interpreted.  When you’re in a heated exchange your knee-jerk reaction will be toward the negative.

Stop reading vocal and facial emotions into the other person’s text! You don’t know how they look and sound unless you’re in the same room.  A text is tiny little letters forming tiny little words on a tiny little screen.  Try reading it with more than one emotion, starting with neutral. Hell, read it sounding like Elmer Fudd just to break the tension.  And guys, stop doing that side to side head wag thing that women do so easily; you’ll break your neck.

Ladies, where language is concerned you have us guys outgunned; we surrender. Dumb it down and use smaller words.  When you tell a guy “Fine” we think you mean things are ok.    When you say, “Go ahead” we think it’s ok to go ahead.  That’s not always what you mean!  When you say, “Would you like to go out to eat tonight?” some of us think that was actually a question

Along that same line, please stop reading texts over and over, searching for answers and meanings that aren’t there.  Ladies, this is for you more than us guys. We’re knuckle-draggers and aren’t good at nuance. If you’re looking for deep hidden meanings in what a guy texts, you’ll drive yourselves nuts.

Delay your answer for three or four minutes and actually time it. It’s a short period but can feel like an eternity when you have a really juicy comeback. But you buy some time to actually think before you speak . . . . . I mean text (sorry that just slipped).

If you broke up with someone, STOP TEXTING THEM! When you’re texting, you’re relating. When you’re relating – even if it’s fighting – you’re still in a relationship. 

There is no getting in the last word in text message warfare. In arguments where people actually speak someone might get away with muttering under their breath as they walk out of the room.  I have patients tell me, “Just read what he/she texted me!”  I take one look at the screen and reply, “Sorry, I’m working on ‘War and Peace’ right now.  Just give me the highlights.” 

An argument is a two-party transaction; if one of you stops answering the argument can’t continue. Who cares who got the last word in? Guys, you weren’t getting the last word in anyway. You should have learned that by now.

Finally, and most radically of all, TRY TALKING. 

It’s an old trick, but it just might work.