It’s 7am. You’re about to leave the house for the school run. You’ve already given the children breakfast, made the packed lunches, sorted out their school bags and wrestled them into their uniforms. As you turn the front door handle your partner comes running towards you. ‘Do you know where my blue striped tie is?’ he asks.
In the heat of the moment, you snap. Or maybe, it wasn’t the heat of the moment at all. Maybe it was a long time coming. A resentment of sorts. Why do you seemingly have to do everything.
Whatever it is, you’re now on the brink of an argument with your partner but the clock is ticking. It’s time to go. And there’s no way you’re going to wait until tonight to say your piece. Heck, no! Not when you can do it via text. So at the next red light you start tapping away on your phone. Your anger provokes your fingertips to let off steam. You hit send.
Then comes the reply… And it’s not what you expected. Are they for real? You have a sudden second to text back. Why are they being so unreasonable? How dare they! Your stress levels rise. Not only are you dashing about in real life, but you’re mid-fight while texting. You are, in fact, fexting.
Fexting is fighting via text – and it is incredibly common. Whether it’s with your partner, parents, co-worker or friends, we’ve all been on various ends of a fext.
In fact, the phrase fexting was coined by America’s First Lady Jill Biden when she revealed that she bickers with President Biden via text to avoid a public tiff in front of the Secret Service. If it’s good enough for high-profile couples, does this mean that fexting has advantages? Or are we losing the ability to resolve conflict face-to-face?
Our lives are dictated by our phones, from work emails to bill payments to socialising, so instant messaging has become an unconscious habit. You might presume that fexting is a practical solution, a way to avoid potentially awkward conversations. Why wait to see somebody in person when you can send them a text, right now?
But fexting can be toxic. It’s too easy to misinterpret what’s being said. Nonverbal clues are completely missed. When you can’t hear a person’s tone of voice or read their body language visually, the message is vulnerable. All it takes is the wrong choice of punctuation or a slight delay in response, and someone’s concern can be misconstrued as anger, opening the fexting floodgates.
The Danger of Words
Albert Mehrabian, a researcher of body language, broke down the components of a face-to-face conversation and discovered that communication is 55 per cent nonverbal, 38 per cent vocal, and 7 per cent words only.
Putting yourself solely into the power of words can be dangerous. There’s only one way to take a text; literally. But when you engage in-person, you hear sarcasm, comic relief, volume, and see reactions such as smiling. Often, we will read text as blunt, when in reality, our use of language is more colourful, a tool to compliment other natural ways to connect. Fexting might provide no direct confrontation, but the aftermath may cause longer suffering.
When a conflict is resolved in real life, it’s time to move on and put it behind you, hopefully learning from the exchange. But that’s not possible if the fight rears its ugly head every time you scroll up on the chat. Your digital footprint is permanent, lurking there forever. The issue never truly goes away, unless you both agree to delete the history. But if it’s so damaging why is fexting so common.
‘Texting is simply the path of least resistance,’ says Jaime Mahler, a licensed clinical psychotherapist. A huge 62 per cent of the global population communicates with their peers online. We have grown so accustomed to instant gratification, when something annoys or upsets us, we feel the need to react quickly.
For many, the prospect of discussing their grievances in-person can be overwhelming, so texting can feel like a safer way to express themselves. Some prefer a fext because it gives them more time to develop a finely crafted response.
According to Tami Zak, a licensed marriage and family therapist, texting is now the preferred method of communication among millennials and Gen Z, so fexting is bound to occur. But she says, ‘If fexting is becoming the only way difficult conversations happen, it can speak to more insidious issues within relationships.’
So how can we try to avoid fexting or make it a positive exchange? For a start, keep the CAPS lock off. Nobody likes to be yelled at via text.
If it’s a minor inconvenience, like your partner forgetting to pick up some bread, fine, fext it out. This can be forgotten in a jiffy. Also, allowing ample time to gather your thoughts and articulate them effectively can resolve conflict, if you approach your words mindfully. Not everybody responds well on the spot, so processing thoughts can eliminate all of the awful things humans tend to scream at one another in a flash of anger.
And while it’s important to take breaks from fexting to gather your thoughts, communicate this with the person on the receiving end. If you’re due to head into a meeting or tend to your toddler, tell them you can’t continue the conversation or the silence might explode. You might even return to the fext afterwards more levelheaded, and continue to just…text.