Sometimes you say things to your partner that you don’t really mean. It happens to all of us, especially in moments of stress or anger. When you’re overwhelmed you lash out at the nearest person without thinking of the consequences. Or, you may do it because you’re repeating patterns of incivility that you learned in your household growing up. It’s a common problem that people repeat the style of communication they’re used to, even if that style is detrimental to them and their relationship.
Whatever the reason, if you say something really terrible that you want to take back, what do you do? Some things are difficult to take back—some things cross the line between forgivable and permanently damaging.
If you’ve crossed the line and you want to save your relationship, you first need to recognize what you’re doing so you won’t do it again. Here are some deeply damaging things people do. Are you guilty of one or more? Be honest with yourself.
Humiliation. When you deliberately humiliate your partner, you should know that it’s a form of verbal abuse. If you’re guilty of this, you must make every effort to change your behavior; it can cause serious damage to your partner’s self-esteem and well-being. The worst humiliation is executed in front of the victim’s friends: “Did you know Paul wet the bed until he was 13 years old?” It’s even more than humiliation, it’s a betrayal, with the goal of making Paul feel bad. Even put-downs in private are damaging and this behavior has to stop.
Manipulation. When you use your partner to achieve your own ends while diminishing him, that, too, is abuse. It’s often used to control your partner and to get him to do what you want when you know he doesn’t want to. “If you don’t have sex with me, I’ll make your life so miserable you’ll wish you had.” Of course, the manipulator might not come right out and say this. Often manipulation is much more subtle. But the results are the same. It’s mean. It’s cruel. It’s behavior that must stop.
Irrational Accusations. Some people have their own insecurities that they project on their partner—they’re jealous or envious. They think they’re not good enough for a nice relationship so they imagine their partner is dallying with someone else—or whatever else they imagine. Then they demand to see their partner’s texts and emails and social media. Or worse, they invade their partner’s privacy and surreptitiously poke around where they shouldn’t. They ‘find’ things online that ‘prove’ their point because you can always find something and blow it out of proportion. If you don’t believe you are worthy of a good relationship, accusing your partner or acting jealous will be a self-fulfilling prophesy. You’ll ultimately drive him away.
Threats. If you use threats to get your way, you may be able to control your partner for a while, but it’s a technique that gets old very fast. Your partner may acquiesce at first, but sooner or later, he may call your bluff and then you’ll have to follow through on your threat when you really don’t want to. This, too, is an attempt to control your partner and it’s verbal abuse. “If you don’t start doing what I say, I’ll walk out and then you’ll be sorry.” This is perilously close to threatening a divorce. And once you say the “D” word, you can’t take it back. Your partner just may be fed up enough with you to call your bluff. Making threats is no way to operate in a relationship and if you find yourself doing it, you need to learn how to communicate more effectively.
The Silent Treatment. Withdrawal is an especially diabolical way to punish your partner because if you refuse to interact with him, how can he make it right? How can he ever hope to make up for what he’s done? So you prolong his suffering and make the whole situation worse by acting like a petulant child. Real adults talk things through. They don’t storm out of the room or delete their partner’s texts or refuse to communicate. You may push your partner to the limit if you carry on this way too long.
Contempt. It may be satisfying to be sarcastic but it is not helpful in a relationship. If you treat your partner condescendingly you give him the feeling that he is worthless—that he does not deserve civil behavior. When you criticize your partner, when you treat him with disdain, when you call him names, he is below your contempt. If you call him a stupid cretin, for example, it’s an insult that sticks and hurts. And it’s a sure sign that your relationship is on the rocks.
Next time we’ll talk about how you can work to change your communication patterns in a positive way.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact