The majority of my clients are so well educated on the subject of relationships that it blows my mind whenever someone in my personal life shares a story illustrating less-than-appropriate ways of resolving conflict. I recently had such a conversation with a friend I’ll call Aaron who, after describing a recent fight with his boyfriend, was the inspiration for this post. I forget that this information is not common-knowledge, nor is it obvious. Below is an incomplete list of some of the most fucked up behaviors that I’ve ever heard of arising from a disagreement with one’s partner. I also offer suggestions for what to do for each.
1. THE ULTIMATUM. If every (or any) argument leads to a moment where your partner shrieks, “If you don’t do (or, if you do) this, it’s over,” I suggest dropkicking said partner and moving on with your life.
Why: Three reasons why you should never respond positively to an ultimatum:
a. You’re asking for more of it. We teach people how to treat us and if you want to encourage this manipulative style of conflict resolution, give in to it and watch it recur.
b. Your relationship should be a threat-free zone, and threatening someone with abandonment is, well, a threat.
c. There are some behaviors that literally are deal breakers, and if you’re regularly being given ultimatums in your relationship, you won’t know when you are actually being given an ultimatum.
2. IT’S OVER. Similar to the ultimatum, one should reserve break-up language for when one is ready to break up – not to underscore how hurt, offended, mad, or pissed off one is. I’ve never once used any break up terminology during my relationship with Steph – nor has she with me. The last time someone used that language with me, we got divorced.
Why: Three reasons why you should never respond positively to being told your relationship is over: See the three reasons coinciding with The Ultimatum.
3. THE CHARACTER ASSASSINATION. Also known as name calling, sometimes supplemented by the use of or stand-alone profanity, this is a major no-no.
a. When you assassinate your partner’s character (by telling them they suck, they’re a piece of shit, they’re a loser, etc.), you lower your partner’s self-esteem. Eventually, you’ll calm down and apologize, and when you do those insults won’t have vanished. They remain stuck to your partner’s psyche like Velcro, eroding his or her self-worth like a gift that keeps on giving. I personally find high self-esteem to be very attractive in a partner, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow myself to do anything that, while feeling honest in the moment, is going to undermine my long-term attraction to my partner.
b. If your partner walks away from fights or arguments feeling like they lost and like you won, I’ve got news for you: Your relationship lost. Your partner should walk away from disagreements feeling like you respected them enough to listen to their perspective and worse case scenario, you agree to disagree. Your partner should never walk away feeling like they’ve been verbally beaten down. I view my job as a spouse to include making my wife feel better about herself – not worse. Also, I’m usually the one who’s wrong in fights, so there’s that.
c. If you know me, you know that I can hardly finish a paragraph (verbally or written) without dropping an f-bomb. I love profanity. Using it makes me feel like myself. That said, the moment I’m even remotely heated, all expletives vanish from my communication. I never want someone to mistakenly think that I’m cursing at them when I’m mad, because that would qualify as name calling.
4. AGGRO. Also known as the adult temper tantrum, going aggro involves becoming physically aggressive when angry, and it includes (but is not limited to), breaking things, punching walls, throwing things, or laying hands on one’s partner in times of anger. Lately I’ve been hearing about women putting their hands on men (thus provoking men to ‘defend’ themselves) as well as hearing of femmes (lesbians who are traditionally feminine looking) putting their hands on butch or dyke partners in anger. Attention Men, Butches and Dykes: If your woman puts her hands on you in anger or displays any of the above-referenced behaviors, walk out of the room, out of the house/apartment/venue, and do not look back. Ever. She is unfit to be in a relationship.
Why: I won’t insult your intelligence by answering this.
5. THE SNOOP. If your partner hacks (or otherwise gains access to) your computer, phone, social media, or home without your express consent, you’ve got problems. This type of behavior is unacceptable, it’s a violation of privacy, and it shows a lack of trust, which is generally more about your partner than about anything you’re doing to provoke distrust.
a. You deserve to be with an emotionally intelligent partner and those with high EQ do not stoop to snoop in their partner’s business.
b. People find what they’re looking for and if your partner snoops enough, he/she will find issues to raise. Those issues may not legitimately point towards being unfaithful (or lying), but they’ll be enough to create drama in your relationship – and you deserve a low-drama relationship.
c. People who snoop have issues around trust (Dr. Obvious here). Trust, by the way, has nothing to do with being able to predict our partners’ behaviors. Trust is about knowing that we can handle whatever our partner does to us. I can’t tell you where Steph is at this very moment. I think I know where she is, but I don’t have a GPS device on her. What I know is that I’ll survive whatever she does. That’s the upside to having been cheated on (by a former partner) and lived through it.
d. Being in a relationship with someone with trust issues means that your partner has walked away from a betrayal with the belief that if he/she confirms his/her partner’s behaviors, eventually he/she will trust that person.
The idea that you need to ‘earn’ your partner’s trust and don’t automatically have it (by virtue of never having betrayed your partner) is a recipe for making you jump through hoops, proving yourself again and again, and to what end? To me, it feels manipulative. You shouldn’t pay the debts of the people who screwed your partner over and left them fractured. That’s the job of a shrink. And not this one, btw.