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Texting and Arguing: Fighting Over Text Messages

How often do you find yourself wondering if you may have simply misunderstood the context or meaning of a text message?

Most people are pretty adept at transmitting factual information – names, dates, numbers – to one another. But how about your feelings, wishes, understanding, concerns and decisions? That’s when things get messy.

Subjective emotions are full of gray areas, a fogginess generated by expectations, resentments, assumptions, jargon and past experience. We bring all of these elements to our communication with others.

In our modern world, miscommunications are occurring more frequently because of technology. The electronic messages we send often get misconstrued and misunderstood by the receiver. It is entirely too easy for our words to get lost in translation when reading a text message full of “chat speak” (such as WTF or using “u” instead of “you”) and common symbols (like a smiley face)

Also, many find that it is difficult to interpret the mood of the text messenger or even the real meaning of what they are saying. So we have to rely on acronyms such as LOL (laugh out loud) or LMAO (laugh my ass off) to get the gist of their message.

Common cues in face-to-face communication are not found in text messaging. Texting takes body language, tone of voice, and eye contact out of the conversation, so words have no context. As a result, we are left misinterpreting others’ motives, which leaves us feeling confused. The subtext of tone and body language are crucial in both effectively communicating and interpreting messages.

Always remind yourself that antagonists are seeking attention and trying in their own dysfunctional way to heal their own pain. That reminder in turn can help you remember not to take their hurtful comments personally, and not to take their words at face value. Since an antagonist isn’t really interested in what you’re feeling or thinking, you always have the option of keeping your feelings and thoughts to yourself. But choosing not to defend yourself or return someone’s antagonism doesn’t mean passively allowing yourself to be a doormat. Instead, you can respond by making a statement that’s true but neutral:

• “It certainly seems like I’m hard to get along with.” You are not agreeing with the so-called facts of the matter. You’re acknowledging the reality of how the other person apparently feels.

• “It must make you angry when that happens. I don’t blame you. In that situation, I’d be angry, too.” This is an appropriate validation of the other person’s anger and of his or her worth as a person—and your own human worth. It also gives the other person a word, angry, for what he or she is feeling. And that can be very helpful because so many peo- ple have been taught that it’s all right to be “upset,” but never all right to be angry.

• “I’m sorry you’re so angry.” This is not an admission that you deserved the other person’s angry outburst. It’s an expression of appropriate regret that the other person is in so much emotional pain.

• “It makes me angry when you blow up in my face for telling you how I feel.” That’s just the truth about your response to the other person’s behavior. You’re not saying the other person is wrong—or right. And you’re not defend- ing yourself. You’re just reporting what’s going on for you.

These statements are not defenses. They’re not counterattacks. They put you in control because you’re the one choosing to create an atmosphere in which cooperation is possible, and that’s the first step toward solving whatever the real problem turns out to be.

When you separate other people from their attitude, you’re practicing detachment. Learning to detach yourself emotionally from a situation often starts with learning to take a moment before reacting to someone else’s provocations. In that moment, you can ask yourself whether the provocation is directed at you personally, or whether it might be coming from the other person’s fear, anger, or pain. If you can make this kind of distinction, you can create more emotional distance between yourself and others’ antagonism. 

But it’s important to remember that practicing detachment is not the same as building a wall. Your goal is to heal yourself and your relationships with other human beings, not to coldly distance yourself from others, and especially not to set up barriers between yourself and the people who matter most to you.

Texting and Arguing: Fighting Over Text Messages

Aaron Karmin

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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2019). Texting and Arguing: Fighting Over Text Messages. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Mar 2019
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