When One Partner Wants to Have Important Relationship Discussions Via Text & the Other Wants to Have Them in Person

a manhole that says "communication" on it
Image by Alan Levine / CC BY

“I liked your post today on love languages and meeting in the middle,” she says.

“Thanks,” I say.

“Have you written anything on meeting in the middle when one partner wants to talk about issues via text and the other wants to chat about those things in person?”

“Hmm,” I say. “I’ll think on it.”

It’s definitely something else Justin and I have had to meet in the middle on. But I don’t think I’ve written anything yet on the blog about it.

In our relationship, I really like to talk in person. Especially about things that are emotional or mean a lot to me. This is because I’m big on voices. And I like to see the facial expression of the person I’m talking to. Both of these help me to not take something the wrong way, which I find much easier to do in text.

However, Justin’s much more of a “let’s hash it out over text” person. He easily gets overwhelmed in person. The mixture of the influx of audial stimulation and heightened emotions, well it’s potent to him — but in a bad way.

How We Meet in the Middle Re: Text and In-Person Relationship Discussions

It would seem on the outside looking in that this would present an insurmountable difference.

But I’m stubborn and was determined to find a way. So this is what we do:

  1. I’ve learned to initially introduce complicated issues over with him via text so we can hash them out there.
  2. If something organically emerges during in person conversations with him, I’ll talk with him until he seems to be visibly uncomfortable (it’s taken some doing, but I’ve learned to read his subtle body language that indicates he’s tense). Then if he starts showing those signs, I’ll withdraw from the conversation as quickly as I can. I will mentally make a note (and sometimes will make an actual note via technology, my note-taking systems, etc.) to revisit the conversation textually later, when the opportunity arises. And then I will do that.
  3. Once we’ve worked out the nitty-gritty details over text, I’ll follow up with him later in person. These followups will be very brief. “Thanks for talking out XYZ issue with me over text. I just want to make sure we’re both on the same page about it since things can get lost in translation via text.” And then mostly what I will be seeking here is being able to audially and visually witness that he does agree. Basically, my goal here will be to “sign” the conversation. To make it seem more “real” and “official” to me, as a person who prefers in-person chats.

This compromise works really well on both sides. I accommodate Justin’s tendency to get overwhelmed by intense emotional in-person conversations by doing that initial work via text, even though it can feel weird, distant, artificial, or confusing to me.

Conversely, Justin accommodates me with a check-in later on, even though they can feel weird, redundant, and unnecessary to him (as we’re revisiting something we’ve already discussed).

Are we both a little inconvenienced by having to spend some time working in the other person’s preferred method? Yes. But we also get what we want — and need — out of the situation. He gets a low-pressure method to weigh in about important issues. And I get emotional resonance and closure on what is discussed.

Remember: It’s About Treating the Other Person How They Want to Be Treated

Sometimes I’ll talk to people who don’t understand why you’d meet in the middle. They’ll tell me that compromise seems like a double standard and that it’s more important to treat other people how you want to be treated than to meet them where they are.

The idea that you do unto others as you would have them do unto you is called the Golden Rule and is a very popular idea. Trouble is that while it does work sometimes (and is solidly better than nothing) it’s not always the best way to interact with people. Don’t get me wrong — it can be a fantastic guideline when you’re trying to be good to people you don’t know. When you have no map of what they could possibly like, what their preferences are, their likes and dislikes, rather than freezing in terror — not knowing how to interact with them at all — it can be a good idea to default to extending the behavior that you like to receive.

But once we do get to know people — and if we find that their likes and dislikes are indeed different than ours — then the Golden Rule is no longer the best standard to use. Instead, there is the Platinum Rule: i.e., do unto others as they’d like done unto them.

Before you know what they’d like done, sure, Golden Rule. But if and when you know what they’d like done unto them (whether by observation or asking them), and particularly if they’re someone close to you — like a dear friend or a lover — it’s ideally no longer about your preferences but theirs. It’s Platinum Rule time.

Because not everyone likes the same thing. Part of what makes the world beautiful is that we have differences. (And boundaries are individual and personal.)

The key here is treating the other person how they want to be treated, whether or not that looks like how you want to be treated.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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