CONFLICTS AND VERBAL ABUSE
CONFLICTS AND VERBAL ABUSE
• Do you and your partner argue frequently?
• Do you keep ending up in the same cycle?
• Do you ask yourself “Why can’t we ever have a conversation without getting in a fight?” Or does one of you withdraw and stop talking to the other?
• Do you find yourself thinking, “I can’t live like this anymore?”
It is frustrating when our partners don’t listen to us. She is supposed to love and me so why does she keep yelling at me? Why does he keep shutting me down when I want to talk about something important?
Disagreements in unhealthy partnerships end up in vicious cycles. These cycles can result in bad fights, or in distance and not speaking to each other, or both. These cycles are times when arguments get worse and worse, and you don’t know how stop it.
The most common cycle that begins a fight in a relationship is what therapists call the Pursuer-Distancer Cycle. This happens when one of you wants to talk about something important, which can be taking out the trash to preparing for the future, and the other one gets angry and ends the conversation with no resolution. The pursuer tries again, usually because he/she is angry that there was no resolution and the distancer shuts down even more. Here is what is really going on:
- One partner seeks closeness or connection which leads the second partner to feel crowded or attacked.
- As a result, the first partner comes to feel rejected, lonely, frustrated or unloved and keeps trying to get that connection.
- The second partner then feels pressured or criticized and shuts down more or withdraws faster or farther.
If a couple doesn’t learn to stop this dynamic, this pursuer-distancer cycle can become chronic, leading to dissatisfaction, hurt feelings, loneliness, and insecurity that weakens a couple’s connection. Marriages fall apart when partners become entrenched in their roles. If something does not change, both begin to feel criticized and develop contempt for each other – two signs the marriage is doomed to fail, according to renown relationship expert Dr. John Gottman.
Because this is such a painful cycle, many partners tend to see their partner’s part in this dynamic but ignore their own role. For example, the person unsuccessfully seeking closeness may come to see their partner as cold or self-absorbed. Or the person feeling pursued views the other as insecure, clingy or demanding. Healthy relationships are a blend of intimacy and independence. Couples must be willing to make room for both closeness and distance or the result is a stalemate
How do we stop fighting?
I will help you stop the negative cycle that continuously invades your relationship causing hurt feelings, anger, and frustration.
The most effective method I have found to stop this damaging cycle was developed by Dr. David Woodsfellow and is described in his book, Love Cycles, Fear Cycles. Using this method, I will help you:
- Recognize your own cycle.
- To learn what each of you does wrong.
- Identify past wounds that contribute to your thoughts and behaviors in your cycle.
- Clarify what you really want.
In therapy you will learn interventions to stop your vicious cycle and techniques to have constructive, loving conversations about important topics. During this process you will learn things about your partner, and yourself, that you never knew which will result a stronger connection than you had previously.
While the Pursuer Distancer cycle is common, it is not the only aspect of toxic relationships. Dr. Gottman researched couples extensively for over three decades. Among his findings, he has identified four behaviors that are the worst, relationship-destroying behaviors. He calls them the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
- Criticism:Verbally attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making yourself "right" and your partner "wrong". Criticisms push your relationship closer towards divorce.
- Contempt: When you're being sarcastic and cynical, you are showing contempt towards your partner. Contempt includes things like rolling eyes, looking at your partner with disgust, mockery and using hostile humor. When you allow long-standing negative thoughts about your partner to go unchecked in your mind, you inevitably create feelings of contempt towards them. Contempt is the worst of all four horsemen and is the biggest warning sign of future divorce.
- Defensiveness: Seeing yourself as the victim, being on guard as though you must ward off a perceived attack from your partner, to reverse the blame as being your partner's fault. You are frequently on edge and ready for a counter-attack. Carrying around a defensive chip on your shoulder is another way to bring about divorce.
- Stonewalling: Withdrawing from the relationship to avoid conflict and discomfort, or to punish a partner. If you do this, you may think you are trying to be “neutral”, but stonewalling conveys disapproval, smugness, "icing someone out" with distance, separation, and/or disconnection:
To drive away destructive communication and conflict patterns, you must replace them with healthy, productive ones. In therapy, I use the Gottman Method Couples Therapy to teach you the antidotes to these destructive behaviors. Using a combination of techniques developed by Gottman and Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy we will get you on the path of rebuilding your communication, connectedness, and love for each other.
But first we have to distinguish if you are stuck in a cycle of disagreements between the two of you, or if you are being verbally abused by your partner.
Is It a Normal Fight or Verbal Abuse? Here’s How to Tell
Even the happiest couple has the occasional fight. Whether it begins with “Who forgot to take the dog out?” or “Do I really have to go to your sister’s birthday party?” having arguments is a common — and healthy — part of any relationship.
The difference between an argumentative partner and a verbally abusive one is intent. It is use of words to control and hurt someone. When a couple in a functional, non-abusive relationship argues, it is with the view of reaching a mutual agreement over a particular situation such as chores or communication problems. What both parties want is for their feelings to be heard and understood. This doesn't mean to say their disagreements are always amicable or reasonable, but they are both trying to find a solution.
However, an emotionally or verbally abusive person aims to diminish the self-worth of his partner in order to establish his own dominance.
In a healthy relationship, conflict is equal and respectful. Verbal abuse, on the other hand, is an ongoing pattern of criticism from one person.
For example, does your partner criticize everything you do? Does she shout and use cruel language when she gets angry (and flies off the handle)? Does he make you feel like you’re wrong or “too sensitive” when you try to express your feelings or opinion?
The Most Effective Way to Put an End to Verbal Abuse
The most instinctive way to respond to a verbal abuser is to attempt to reason with him or her. When a person says something hurtful, your natural reaction is to attempt to convince the abuser why their labels are mistaken. In doing so, you're expecting the abuser to be a normal adversary, someone who will listen to reasons and arguments. But the fact is that you cannot reason with a verbal abuser.
The only effective way to put an end to verbal abuse is to call out the abuser each time they strike. If someone blames you for something you have no control over, you need to ignore the actual content of what's been said, identify the type of abuse employed, name it, and calmly ask the abuser to stop it.
There will inevitably be situations in which calling out the abuser will be unsuccessful. If this calm approach does not work, the only meaningful response to verbal abuse is to physically remove yourself from the situation.
By refusing to engage with the verbal abuser and refraining from trying to reason and argue with them, you are showing the abuser that he or she is not acting rationally, and that you are not going to put up with the behavior. Some abusers will learn to change their behavior through repeated exposure to this approach; others will not. If you are repeatedly exposed to verbal abuse from a partner it may be necessary to temporarily or permanently end the relationship. Please see my page on Emotional Abuse to learn more