3 Reasons Why You Need To Kick Your 'Fexting' Habit

Fighting over text is entirely unproductive, and research shows that it can be harmful for your relationships.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | February 20, 2024

"Fexting," a portmanteau of "fighting" and "texting," refers to arguments or conflicts that take place through text messages. A 2023 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that fexting has a variety of negative emotional consequences for both partners.

Here are three reasons why fighting over text often exacerbates relationship conflicts, according to the study.

1. Response-Time Expectations

Researchers suggest that individuals might use text messages to avoid in-person conflict and explain that although it "potentially works as an emotional buffering tool, it simultaneously hides other nonverbal cues that could be beneficial for the conflict communication. With limited cues, people pay more attention to the existing cues (e.g., timestamp)."

In the study, 90% of participants reported that their partners generally respond to their texts within 30 minutes or less. Researchers found that especially when a partner initiated conflict-resolution over text, they expected their partners to respond even quicker than usual. If they did not respond within the expected time, participants experienced anxiousness, nervousness, irritability, loneliness, curiosity, impatience, jealousy and disillusionment.

According to relational turbulence theory, individuals experience heightened levels of stress, misunderstandings and emotional upheaval during periods of uncertainty and relationship conflict, which can lead to difficulties in articulating oneself and a more pessimistic view of the situation and their partner's responses.

While a delayed response may be insignificant under normal circumstances, the intense atmosphere of a conflict and lack of non-verbal cues creates uncertainty about what the other partner is feeling, thinking or doing. The violation of the expected response time is also physiologically and psychologically triggering and the more unexpected the delay is, the more negative feelings it triggers.

"High responsiveness expresses attention, care and love to a romantic partner. Low responsiveness or unresponsiveness, in contrast, can be interpreted as rejection or indifference," the researchers explain.

2. Insecure Attachment Styles

Researchers found that an individual's "attachment style" plays an essential role in how they perceive and navigate relationship conflicts.

Attachment styles refer to the patterns of interpersonal relationships developed early in life that shape an individual's expectations, behaviors and emotions in close relationships. For instance, displaying anger, anxiety, impatience or withdrawal in a conflict could be a default attachment response learned in one's childhood that resurfaces in adult relationships.

Researchers found that when fighting over text, individuals with anxious attachment styles are more likely to experience negative feelings after a delayed response. Such individuals tend to crave intimacy, fear rejection, worry about the stability of their relationships and seek constant reassurance from their partners and engage in behaviors such as excessive communication to maintain closeness.

The researchers write, "anxiously attached individuals are likely to interpret ambiguous cues in technologically-mediated communication in a more negative way. Highly anxious individuals tend to use hyperactivating strategies (e.g., approaching partners and intensifying arguments) driven by their fears of losing their partner's interest. The hyperactivating behaviors are designed to force partners to give more attention and support."

In contrast, individuals with an avoidant attachment style, characterized by a strong desire for independence and self-reliance, have difficulty trusting their partners fully. In conflicts, they might exaggerate their own feelings of helplessness and their partners' negative emotions. As a defensive response, they may cope by physically and emotionally withdrawing from them, such as by not responding to their texts, which only compounds the problem.

3. A Crisis Of Commitment

Research shows that when an individual is more committed to a relationship, they expect a higher level of responsiveness from their partner, in terms of how quickly they respond to texts as well as how caring and attentive their response appears to be. Given these expectations, an insufficient or delayed text response can elicit negative emotions.

"When faced with a conflict that threatens the relationship, those deeply invested in the relationship tend to view their communication (e.g., initiating a text-based conflict discussion) as part of a constructive resolution process. In the absence of a timely response, these individuals may interpret such delay as a denial of their efforts, signaling a refusal to engage in resolution," the researchers explain, suggesting that highly committed individuals can experience a sense of betrayal and a lack of cooperation from their partners over text, even if that is not the case.

To mitigate the potential consequences of fexting, consider implementing the following strategies:

  • Establish clear expectations. Openly discuss your expectations regarding communication. Avoid leaving your partner waiting without explanation when you have a fight. Instead, keep them informed of your availability, while allowing each other some flexibility in response time. Reaffirm your commitment to resolving issues and schedule a specific date and time if necessary for an in-person discussion or a video call in long-distance scenarios where meeting is challenging.
  • Enhance your communication skills. Invest time in honing your communication skills and reflect on any discomfort you feel about discussing relationship matters in-person. Acknowledge that conflicts can be triggering and work on attaining a more balanced emotional state to view your partner's actions more objectively. Until then, give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Embracing these strategies cultivates a foundation of trust, thoughtful communication, empathy, patience and mutual support, paving the way for a stronger, more resilient relationship.

If you are wondering whether fights are affecting the quality of your relationship, take this test: Relationship Satisfaction Scale

A similar version of this article can also be found on, here.

© Psychology Solutions 2024. All Rights Reserved.