If you have taken one thing away from our Relationships in the Digital Age series up to this point, we hope it is an awareness of the folly of text warfare. Having been persuaded of the inadvisability of fighting in cyberspace, you are likely interested in alternatives. Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we share 10 tips for dealing with conflict and navigating emotionally charged conversations online that you can put into practice this weekend!

1.  Connect with your partner by sending messages that share affection, fondness, and admiration. They may seem insignificant, but surprising your partner with these short and sweet notes will let them know that you’re thinking of them – and likely make their day! 

2.  Understand that your partner might not always be available – they may be in the middle of something time-sensitive, or be in a place where responding is inappropriate or impossible. For these reasons, it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect immediate responses from your partner at all times – remember that this expectation can become a major source of conflict in your relationship.

3.  Find ways to remind yourself and your partner that you are a team. Distance can warp your connection, create feelings of vulnerability, and throw you into opponent roles of attack and defend.

4.  Ask your partner to have the conversation later, when you see each other face-to-face, and can gain access to all tonal, visual, and nonverbal cues necessary for emotional connection. Don’t “ask” this harshly – simply let your partner know that you want to avoid unsuccessful attempts at communication, and want to postpone the conversation so that the two of you can understand each other fully.

5.  Fight off flooding by drawing a clear boundary if you feel that the conversation is getting out of control. Let your partner that you are happy to discuss the subject in person.

6.  Don’t respond to stinging texts aggressively. Remember the coldness of the medium itself, and its inability to communicate feeling – if you feel that your partner is sending you hurtful texts, consider the vast potential for misunderstanding on both ends. Keep in mind the following possibilities:

  • You may be misinterpreting their messages.
  • They may be misinterpreting your messages.
  • They may be responding harshly because they feel wounded.
  • You may not perceive their hurt feelings through a medium incapable of communicating emotion.
  • They may not perceive your hurt feelings for the same reason.

7.  Be very careful to avoid sending messages that call up the Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, or Stonewalling. Inviting them into your conversation is an easy way to assure the worst. 

8.  Do not allow yourself to become flooded and lose your temper, as you risk angrily sending your partner messages that you’ll later regret.

9.  Keep in mind that text fighting can go on for hours, and that text messages sent in the heat of the moment are saved on your phones for-e-ver. Or until your inbox is full. The two of you can go back and re-read all of the unfortunate things you said to each other over and over. Thank you, technology.

10.  Calm yourself down in whatever way works best for you. Taking a break involves stepping away from the phone (or the internet).

Imagine yourself in your partner’s shoes. Read the messages you write before you hit Send. Be as thoughtful and kind as possible and always remember: small things often.

More in The Digital Age
The Digital Age: 10 Tips for Avoiding Conflict in Cyberspace

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.