It’s hard to believe, but we humans have only been relying on communicating through electronic messages for a few decades. Before that, we’re talking millions of years, there was pretty much only communicating through language, or letters at best. That’s why it’s important to remember that we’re still, well, adapting to understanding each other through words on a screen. “In person, you can pick up on nonverbal cues like body language and vocal tone, that are either difficult or impossible to convey over text,” explains Jonathan Bennett, relationship and life coach and certified counselor in Columbus, Ohio. “So, words that would come across as sincere and empathetic in person could be taken as cold, sarcastic and heartless over text.” In short, relationship experts agree that the majority of communicating you do with your partner, or anyone you have a close relationship with, should be done in person, especially when it’s important or sensitive.
The next time you go to text your partner, make sure none of these messages are on the menu for the sake of your relationship.
“I think we should break up.”
Breaking up isn’t just hard to do, it’s also incredibly sensitive. In a pathetic attempt to avoid conflict, some people choose to text this information instead of doing the right thing and communicating it in person. “Your partner deserves a conversation and your respect in person if you are going to break up with him or her,” says April Masini, New York-based relationship and etiquette expert and author. “Plus, if there are questions to be asked and answered, it’s easier to do this in person.” Not doing the break up face to face, she explains, will likely only lead to more drama.
“I have some bad news…”
Whenever possible, avoid sending news of anything bad via text, whether it’s the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. “These announcements are too important and require too much additional exchange of information that a text doesn’t offer,” says Masini. “The other person may be distraught and if you’re there in person or on the phone, you can comfort them, answer questions and share details.” If you can’t reach the person by phone, Masini recommends texting that you need a call back ASAP and that it’s important—or even say it’s an emergency.
“I’m so pissed at you.”
Whether it’s a fight that started in-person or one that’s been sparked via text, don’t continue it through the phone wires. “It’s easier to sling insults behind a screen than when you’re looking your partner in the eye, and, as a result, text fights rarely end in a positive resolution,” explains Bennett. “Plus, instantly texting your partner when you’re mad means you might be in an emotionally heightened state.” Instead of texting when you’re upset with your partner, he recommends letting yourself calm down and have an actual conversation in person, whenever you might get the next chance.
“I’m really sorry.”
Masini believes that, because apologies are so important in relationships, they shouldn’t be cheapened by texting. “A working apology is in person, and it’s not just the statement of apology—it’s a conversation that demonstrates you understand what you did and why and how it was wrong and what you’ll do next time,” she explains. “An apology with a conversation is much more likely to work, than a text ‘sorry.’”
“We need to talk about something important…”
Whatever you deem to be of importance, try not to send it over a text message. This, Paulette Sherman, Psy.D., psychologist, director of My Dating & Relationship School and author of Dating from the Inside Out, explains, helps avoid misunderstandings, allows you to elaborate, ask questions and to give it the significance it deserves. “When you discuss it on the fly the person can answer quickly without thinking and they could be multitasking or not paying careful attention to the interaction,” she says.
“You are such a slob.”
“Criticism counts as a sensitive topic and it is best discussed in person so they can respond and any miscommunications can be immediately addressed and cleared up,” explains Dr. Sherman. It’s not only best said in person, but it also opens the door to a potential disagreement or, worse, argument. “If your partner gets mad or defensive, they can express it in person and you can work through it together,” she adds.