We’ve all done it– after a long, stressful day, lack of sleep, or some other non-ideal circumstance, we’re not as careful with our words as we should be, and BOOM… we’re in a surprise fight with our partner before we know it. Sometimes these fights are face-to-face, and other times they’re device-to-device– but no matter how they happen, the powers of relationship destruction they wield are unparalleled.
Last week, I received an email from a reader, Liz, who was curious about how to handle device-to-device arguments. Worried about the toll they’re taking on her relationship, she asks, “Are there rules for fighting with your partner when you’re not together? It’s one thing if you’re arguing with each other on the phone and can hear each other’s voice… but text-fighting, iMessage fighting, email fighting, relationship app fighting… all of it is the absolute worst.”
In her email, Liz nails it: technology-enabled fighting is the literal absolute worst. While technologists and digital archaeologists (yes, that’s a thing) haven’t yet uncovered two Space Grey tablets engraved with the rules to surviving blowouts of the digital kind, there are definitely a few good rules to keep in mind.
1) Give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
This can be incredibly hard to do in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out fight happening at the speed of your internet or data connection, but not reading the worst in your partner’s words is an absolute must if you find yourself in a fight. When we communicate over text, important parts of conversation– inflection and tone– aren’t there, just leaving us to decipher what our partner could mean between lines of black and white. Sure, emoji may help… but at all costs, avoid thinking the absolute worst.
2) Take a breather.
If you know that you or your partner are prone to getting emotional, just hit a pause button and put the phone down. You can tell your partner that you’re stepping away, or you can just disengage, but putting down the device and clearing your head for 5-10 minutes or coming back when your blood pressure has settled down and the knot in your stomach has unfurled can prevent further escalation of an already sticky situation.
3) Move it to another medium.
This is an excellent strategy that I’ve learned from my own darling, who has a knack for realizing when I’ve taken something the wrong way (sometimes I’m overtaken by the feels, alright?) and who moves to defuse the situation immediately by moving the conversation to FaceTime. Switching your communication medium from text to video chat or phone call can easily prevent a fight from becoming worse or clear up a misunderstanding… but only if you both approach it openly.
4) Whatever you do, don’t say something with the intent of hurting your partner’s feelings.
This rule should be a no-brainer– it works for all kinds of fights– but it is especially important when you’re fighting in digital form. Saying things with the intent to hurt another person is downright dirty and distracting (the same applies for name-calling), and it creates more problems than it solves… but it’s more dangerous via text because with a simple screenshot, hurtful words hurled at a loved one can last (and be shared with outsiders) forever.
5) DO NOT make your fight public.
If you’re arguing with your partner, there are only two people who should be involved in the fight: you and your boo. If you’re feeling slighted or hurt because of a disagreement with your partner, don’t take to Tumblr and rant about it, don’t subtweet it, don’t post a passive-aggressive Facebook status update about it… just leave it be. Broadcasting your personal business to friends and followers is a surefire way to damage your relationship– especially if you do so to try to gain support from outsiders, a move that will create even bigger issues in your relationship. Airing out your dirty laundry in real time to your family, friends and colleagues is a surefire way to undermine the standing of your relationship.
Technology has infinitely increased the speed at which we live our lives– communication between two people, or from one person to many happens faster than many of our forebears could have ever imagined. In a time when we have more tools at our disposal than ever to stay close and intimate with our partners, we also have more opportunity than ever before to weaponize those same technologies and tear our relationships apart. No matter how you’ve entered into a fight, be mindful of the rules of engagement… if your relationship is important to you, fight fairly and be mindful of not inflicting damage for the sake of proving a point
Oh, and also… protip: Never get in a fight with someone who types faster than you. Just trust me on that one.