Conventional wisdom says trying to solve a relationship issue through text is like trying to not smile at ovary-wrecking baby videos: pretty much futile. You know the arguments against it: There’s the risk of misinterpretation and the idea that you just “should” be able to handle talking about heavy stuff in-person.
But what if you absolutely can’t wait to talk until you’re face-to-face or you’re both traveling and a call would cost a month’s rent or you just feel like you’re a way better communicator when you think things through and write them down? Luckily, there may be a few upsides to digitally dismantling a love-life obstacle. “In the same way that it’s easier to talk to somebody about something difficult when you’re next to them instead of across from them [and aren’t staring each other down], it can feel easier to text about something hard than talk about it in person,” says Tom Murray, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist. Here, a few other reasons turning to texting doesn’t have to be awful—and how to do it right.
Getting into especially testy topics in person can devolve into a screaming match, the silent treatment, or saying things in anger that you may regret forever. And it’s not to say all that isn’t true when it comes to texting. You can easily stew in that frustration and fire off crabby messages, but you can also use time to your advantage by really thinking about what you’re going to say. “The main benefit in texting is that it makes partners slow down,” says Nicole Prause, Ph.D., founder of Liberos, a startup that studies brain stimulation method to alter sex drive. Unlike getting into a rapid-fire verbal sparring session, texting requires a little more thought. “Texting forces a slower pace that should reduce those awful utterances that can land you in couples therapy. Even emotionally skilled people have these outbursts when they are depleted in some way, like being tired or hungry, but texting can give you more time to think through what you’ll say more than you would otherwise,” says Prause. Bonus: The person on the other end of the phone will also have more time to form a response, so you could have a more measured discussion all around.
One of the reasons relationship experts typically advise against having in-depth talks via text is because of the resulting anxiety. “People can have full-blown panic attacks because someone didn’t respond to a text quickly enough,” says Murray. “There’s this need or expectation of instantaneous response, kind of like when you’re actually in the same room together.” Instead of freaking out when he’s gone silent, take this chance to self-soothe and, in turn, strengthen your emotional resiliency. “Use this as an invitation to become more patient and realize it’s not anyone else’s responsibility to help you manage your emotions,” says Murray.
You know how sometimes when you recall an in-person argument, it all kind of blurs together? Not so with text fights, and that very fact could make it harder for both of you to tell a lie. “Research shows people are more likely to be honest when communicating electronically because there’s an awareness that what you’re putting out there is now recorded,” says Murray. In other words, you both know “deny, deny, deny” won’t work when you have evidence of the conversation, so you’re more likely to be upfront about how you’re feeling.
Active listening is a must when it comes to making it out of an argument as a stronger couple. The good thing about texting is that it’s pretty hard to engage in a talking-over-each-other dynamic. “One of the biggest obstacles to any in-person conversation is the tendency to interrupt people before they finish making their point,” says clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis, Ph.D., author of Your Next Big Thing. “Texting, on the other hand, forces you to actually wait to see what other person has to say.”
If you can’t make a phone or in-person conversation work, all is not lost! Here are a few ways to text through it for the best outcome possible:
Use a softened startup. Instead of diving into the conversation with guns blazing, ease your way in by giving your partner the benefit of the doubt. “You can say you don’t think he meant anything by what he did or said or acknowledge that you know he’s under a lot of stress, then get into the problem,” says Murray. While a harsh startup is accusatory and can make the other person get defensive, a softened approach shows him you see where he’s coming from.
Take a break if necessary. “If things start to get heated, you can always put your phone aside and allow yourself an extra minute or two to calm down before responding,” says Michaelis. The upside is that, while trying to take a timeout from a fight in-person can make things even worse, it’s easier to do in text. “One major challenge to taking a timeout is getting the ‘pursuing’ partner to allow you to take a timeout when you need one,” says Prause. “Texting better supports timeouts without offending the pursuing partner if you say something like ‘BRB in 5 min.’ Just be sure to come back.”
Watch your tone. The potential for verbal crossed wires is colossal when texing, so be extra-aware of what you’re saying and how you say it. “Texting is devoid of context,” says Michaelis. “All you have is the words, so you might misinterpret each other.” Slowly re-read what you’re going to send to look for anything that could be taken the wrong way.
Think of it as prep. If you’re nervous about a big conversation you need to have, you can use texting as a way to give both of you a heads up that it needs to happen before sitting down in-person. “Texting to request a face-to-face or phone conversation regarding something that’s important to you can be quite effective,” says Bill Bercaw, Psy.D., co-author of From the Living Room to the Bedroom: The Modern Couples Guide to Sexual Abundance and Lasting Intimacy. Mention what it is that you’d like to talk about so you both have some time to think about what you need to get off your chests and no one feels ambushed.
Use humor when appropriate. It can defuse the tension and, in lots of cases, remind you how into each other you actually are. “Being able to interject humor, even when there are struggles, is a vital way to maintain intimacy in a relationship,” says Murray. May we suggest a well-timed eggplant emoji?
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health