The Perils of WhatsApp After a Breakup
Digital Technology gives us the ease and convenience of fast, direct communication but it can create a minefield which can be especially deadly after a breakup.
I suspect that most of us experience this. In the middle of a busy day, be it because of work, the kids being more active than usual or just life in general, your phone suddenly lights up and lets you know that your ex has sent you a message.
You know not to look at it now. You’ve got too much on your plate already and it’s unlikely to be positive. Yet your hand is drawn to your phone and almost by instinct, you open the message. Your ex doesn’t disappoint: it’s another of those short pointed messages laden with criticism.
Feels familiar? This was a regular occurrence for me until the day I received one such message whilst having dinner with my brother. I shared it with him there and then, complaining about my ex. To my surprise, instead of agreeing with me about how unreasonable she was, he asked to see my phone. Stunned, I handed my phone to him and heard him read the same words. But somehow they felt different. They didn’t come across as angry, aggressive or laden with criticism. The message actually sounded reasonable. The only thing that had changed was the tone my brother used to read it.
Assuming the best from your ex improves communication
WhatsApp is convenient for short bursts of communication. But it just communicates words, not their tone or the body language that we often rely on to decipher the intention of the other party. This doesn’t matter too much when agreeing on a pick-up time for the kids, or to say that you are running late but it might not be appropriate for more delicate or complicated matters, especially where trust with the other person has broken down.
I realised that I had come to assume the worst from my ex, so much so that I was unconsciously colouring all of her messages with my prejudices. I would send something pointed in reply, which would provoke a similar response, and so it would continue. Whilst I sometimes got some short term satisfaction from this ping-pong exchange, especially when I felt that I had landed a particular point, this was always short-lived. I often left the exchange feeling angry and seething inside, unable to concentrate on anything else. It was chipping away at my mental health.
Now I react differently. I choose to assume the best intention in my ex’s messages and if I’m too busy, will text quickly to say that I will reply later (and ensure that I do). If there are two possible ways of reading the message, I assume the best. I’m not always right, but when I’m wrong, this new approach seems to still pay off. This has improved how we both communicate, and I suspect that my ex has started to revise her assumptions of me too.
More importantly, I no longer feel tense when my phone lights up.
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