Written by Writer’s Corps member Cara Mackler
We’ve all been there, struggling to understand the tone of a text message. You might have even gone into full-blown panic mode after receiving “K” in response to a paragraph you sent.
Why does this one letter give us so much anxiety? That letter, especially paired with the abrupt punctuation, says more than an entire paragraph. It is considered by many the universal code for ‘pissed 👏🏼 off 👏🏼. Regardless of what that text really means, the damage has been done.
So why are virtual messages so easily misconstrued? It’s simple: when we communicate face to face, we can pick up on people’s tone of voice and the emotions behind what they’re saying. When we communicate via text, a lot of that gets lost in translation.
So, how can we communicate in a healthy way through text? Here are some helpful tools and tips:
Texting is simple unless you ignore simple texting etiquette or overanalyze your messages👀. One of the most useful tools in your toolbox is an emoji. Since tone is audible, we need to find a way to replace it with a visual and sometimes all you need to send is an emoji, or two, to describe your mood. We can also use punctuation to emphasize how we feel, without using it passive-aggressively like in the aforementioned “k.” Ultimately, though, emotions are not electronic.
Express Emotions in a Healthy Way
Anger is a heavy emotion and sometimes we say things we don’t necessarily mean in the heat of an argument. The same can easily happen over text. However, texting gives us the unique opportunity to process our conversations in more time than we can when we’re face to face.
So, just like you might do in the middle of an argument in person, walk away from your phone if you think you’re too upset to respond right away. Take a minute to cool down and think, rather than responding in the heat of the moment. Unlike in person, you can draft, edit, delete and change your answers before you press send. Take advantage of the opportunity you have to take the time to process your response to assure you’re expressing yourself in a healthy way. If this is just too difficult to do, this may be a sign that this conversation should be had in person. Some things just need to be said face to face, but also in a healthy manner.
How Much is Too Much?
In today’s world, we text more than we do just about anything else. So, how many texts are too many in a day? The answer is actually very simple: it all depends on what you’re comfortable with. Some people are avid texters and others will respond three days later with “oops sorry, thought I responded to this!” I fall into both categories, depending on how busy my week is. The important thing to remember is that you can decide what you are and aren’t comfortable with.
What’s not okay is when your partner decides this for you. If your partner gets mad at you for not responding right away, they’re not respecting your boundaries and time. Sometimes in a relationship, there are expectations that you have to be in constant contact with your partner. This pressure is not healthy (especially if it’s coming from your partner themselves), and it also takes away from the moments you have in real life with the people in front of you.
If your partner is texting you too much and you’re not okay with it, communicate your boundaries with them. We obviously don’t want to hurt their feelings if they don’t realize they’re texting too much, so try suggesting to them that you prefer to share the details of your day with them when you see them in person. Or, give them specific times of the day that you can text so that they know when to leave you be and when they can check-in and say hey. Sometimes people are unaware of what they’re doing. If they’re texting you constantly on purpose and it feels controlling or harassing, this is not healthy.
How Much is Not Enough?
I don’t know about you, but it stresses me out when I’ve sent a really deep or emotional text about something important to someone and I don’t hear back. I stare at my phone waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then, the type bubbles appear. Then disappear. More stress. If this has ever happened to you, then you can probably relate to the stress that I’m talking about.
To minimize this stress, try to be mindful and respectful of the other person. It’s not healthy to be constantly glued to our phones or expect our partners to be as well. So if you know you want to have that important conversation, manage your expectations of how that might look over text. If you know that person is busy and can’t respond right away, maybe pick a different time that you can both set aside to give each other the attention you both deserve.
Read Receipt Deceit
And if you find yourself constantly staring at that read receipt time stamp, knowing full well your partner is intentionally ignoring you, that is not necessarily healthy communication. That kind of ‘read receipt deceit’ can be a form of manipulation and control. It is as if they want you to know they’re upset, but won’t communicate with you. In-person, we’d call this the cold shoulder, which is certainly not a healthy characteristic in a relationship.
So, what happens if you’re the one who’s upset and don’t want to respond yet?
Giving and Getting Digital Space
If you’re upset, busy, or want some time to yourself, you are absolutely entitled to your digital space. A healthy way to let your partner know this is simply by telling them. It is a lot easier to ignore a text and forget about it than to ignore someone in person. But remember that there is a person on the other end of that phone waiting for a response, wondering what happened. No one likes to be ghosted. Let them know exactly what you need.
Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “I need a few [minutes/hours/days] to myself to think. I’ll text you [later tonight/tomorrow/this weekend] so we can talk about it. I’d appreciate some space at this time.” If your partner replies back angrily with demands or sends constant messages because you said you wanted space, they are not respecting your boundaries.
Respecting your right to space also means your partner is using social media to make you feel guilty. For example, if you post a picture with your friends and your partner comments, “oh I see this is what you meant by space” in an attempt to guilt you. Space in a relationship can be tricky when our lives are shared online, but remember that both you and your partner are allowed to take your space if you need it. The healthiest way to get that space is to clearly and kindly communicate it to our partners.
Navigate Text the Healthy Way
Texting is one of the wonderful conveniences of technology that have given us so much to be grateful for: pizza emojis, group chats with our BFFs to make plans (but mainly to have pointless and endless convos), and no more waiting to share the funniest thing you just saw at the store. Much like all new aspects of our relationships, it’s important that we have conversations about how to navigate texting in a healthy way.