Resolving Relationship Conflicts Through Texting?

From Dan Ariely’s mailbox:

I’ve gotten used to the amount of communication that occurs via text nowadays and even sometimes prefer it. However, when it comes to resolving relationship conflicts, having a face-to-face conversation still feels like the right approach to me. Would you agree with my intuition that people can better resolve their issues by putting down their devices and having an in-person chat? —Missy

So before I share Dan’s response – what do you think?

I would think that face to face is the best way to handle such conversations. I think talking face to face allows each person to get a better read on what the other person is really trying to say. I can see where texting may make it easier for someone to say something they might have trouble saying face to face, but then to me, that is a warning sign right there. If communicating is easier via text, then it would seem to suggest that the whole relationship should be via text, which would imply it’s not a real relationship.

But what do I know? Here is Dan’s response:

Having a face-to-face conversation feels like it would be the best way to resolve conflict. Intuitions, however, can misguide us, which is one reason it’s important to test our assumptions about human behavior. 

In 2020, researchers explored the question of whether face-to-face or text-based communication was more effective for resolving conflict in romantic relationships. Couples came into a lab and were given the opportunity to talk about issues they had reported arguing about. Some of the couples talked about their disagreements in person, while other couples were put in separate rooms where they were only able to text each other. Once the concerns felt partially resolved, researchers asked the participants if they felt understood by their partners, how well their issues were dealt with and how distressed or angry they felt during the discussion.

Overall, there were no differences in these measures between couples in the two groups! Both modes of communication were equally effective (or ineffective). So if your way of resolving arguments isn’t working for you, you might want to look into the possible reasons for that—maybe it’s your style of communication, for example, or your relative willingness to take responsibility. But don’t be too quick to blame the method of communication.

I am surprised by the results.

Texting is fine for things like “How’s your day going?”, or “Do you need anything from the grocery store?”, or “Have you read Borden’s blog today?”

But it just doesn’t seem appropriate for resolving relationship conflicts.

If couples think they can have effective communication on such a serious topic via text, then what’s to stop the relationship from dissolving into just sending texts back and forth, if that’s what the couple feels more comfortable with?

At that point, it does not seem like much of a romantic relationship.

But what do I know? I try to resolve relationship conflicts with staring contests and thumb wrestling…

*image from WIkipedia

85 thoughts on “Resolving Relationship Conflicts Through Texting?

  1. I think the key lies in this sentence: “Once the concerns felt partially resolved, researchers asked the participants if they felt understood by their partners, how well their issues were dealt with”

    So, whether by text or by face-to-face conversation, the concerns were partially resolved. So naturally, the participants from either mode of conversation are going to report similar results. This makes the entire study meaningless, in my opinion.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I had thought the same thing. It would be like comparing the effectiveness of running vs swimming for achieving your fitness goals. If you ask the swimmers and runners who achieved their goal if their sport was effective, of course they would say yes…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You do have a point there. Writing in a card or writing a letter can be a way to think through things more , but I still would say not by text when something serious. If its too long it can get broken up when you send it and be confusing to the recipient.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I text a lot! BUT not about serious relationship matters. I think face to face is the best way for that or by a letter or card. I do find it easier to express my feelings in writing so I have done that already.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Nope! When we text, we can’t read body language, facial expressions (emojis don’t count), and saying I’m sorry in person is going to have more of an impact because it requires putting yourself out and letting your guard down. Texting is great for many situations, but not for dealing with relationship conflicts. No emotion and very little effort are required.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I believe that a healthy relationship would greatly benefit from open and honest communication face-to-face. As Pete said, the ability to incorporate body language, tone, and facial expression can help a listener to discern the emotions and intent behind the words. That being said, in a situation where face-to-face communication results in escalation to an argument, then a written letter can help by removing exactly those things. The reader is left with nothing but the carefully chosen words of the writer. They can be upset by the words chosen, but now by how they were said. Of course, if you are trying to heal a romantic relationship with someone you love, wouldn’t you try everything?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. what a great way to explain it Brad. the written word has its place, and can be used in combination with face to face communication. And you are right, you would try anything if you are trying to save a relationship…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. If you sent a very well thought out text the words are preserved not lost the moment they are spoken or talked over, but perhaps lead to face to face later on. ‘ Sorry I rushed out this morning, got rubbish stuff to sort out at work, but booked dinner tonight at that new restaurant so we can get down to talking about ….

    Liked by 2 people

  6. At least three-quarters of our communication is non-verbal. I don’t feel you can communicate well via tech/text, no matter how many emojis there are. I agree with you, Jim. Face-to-face or over the phone. Hugs to you all.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Depends what you’re texting. “Sorry” might be a good introduction to soften up the person you want to discuss the issue with. On the whole though the problem with text (and emails, and online comments) is that they can often come across in a different spirit than the writer intended. Or just be read in a different spirit than the writer intended. Like conversing, reception depends on the recipient as much as the initiator.
    One advantage might be that you have the chance to delete or amend text before you send it.
    Once the words are said, they are never forgotten.
    just a thought

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Partially resolved” doesn’t mean a darn thing. If you’re running a race, do they declare a winner at the midpoint? (Not that I’m comparing relationship conflicts to issues that would have winners and losers.) So much can happen from the “partially resolved” point forward. The study is pointless.

    It does make me wonder what the conflict was. Was it something embarrassing that was easier to talk about via text than face to face? Was it something one party didn’t want a written record of that would come back to be a problem later? The nature of the conflict also puts the study in question.

    If you’re in a committed relationship, you should be discussing issues in person.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. lots of great questions, Staci. and I agree partially resolved isn’t the end goal. I also agree it depends on what the nature of the conflict is; some simple ones could perhaps be resolved via texting…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m surprised at this too. If you can’t resolve a difference by talking to each other then in my view you don’t have a relationship worthy of the name. Texts are throwaway messages, not for important things. At least send a fax instead of a text, as Phil Collins did to his about to be ex-wife 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I don’t know…texting is a form of communication and communication is good. If you can get your message across to the other person, if your text message is meaningful, and if there is an intent to get your feeling and message across in a way that will solve the conflict, what difference does it make if the message was sent in the mail, with a pigeon, or via text? Whatever works. If on the other hand, the text message is a cop-out, that’s a different story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. that’s a good perspective. I can see the written word being useful in certain situations, but if that is how all conflicts are resolved, it would seem to be a relationship that needs some work…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Fascinating to read the comments as well as your article, Jim. Of course, there is no substitute for face-to-face communication. But take away the close proximity and some people are less inhibited. Personally, I wonder how historians of the future are going to cope without letters, postcards and diaries. Somehow, they will need to tap into the digital record…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. While face-to-face is generally best, it also depends on the people involved. You can’t take back words, once they’re spoken. I can see where a text might be better in some situations.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Texting is not for relationship talk. Sad for those who do. Texting is good for letting someone know directions or meeting up or a short note. It shouldn’t be replacing human interaction.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Our culture continues to boil our communication down into smaller and smaller pieces. Back in the dark ages, people were dedicated letter writers. Then modern technology introduced email (sorry mail carriers). Today’s world continues this downward spiral with shorter texts. We have become accustomed to a more abbreviated style of communication.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m a notorious angry emailer.. I express myself better through words… In person I get very heated and agitated very easily and quickly… Although, after I write said email, I do like to debrief lol so I guess I like both modes of communication. For big issue arguments I prefer to write first then debrief in person… For smaller arguments that I know can easily be resolved if we just take turns listening them I’m happy to have a conversation about it…

    Super interesting study! 👌

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I used to tell my ex that as long as we could talk we’d be OK. By the time our marriage ended, we really couldn’t even text. I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth it to me to continue communication with him in any way shape or form! Since as far as I know he’s still an alcoholic, and probably still a “practicing” one as well, I don’t think it would be given my opinion that this condition is what lead to the divorce.

    Liked by 1 person

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