Poor Fighting

Just as the tools of good fighting enhance or help a marriage to flourish, so ineffective, destructive fighting is destined to have negative results. It is necessary to view these approaches to dealing with disagreements, disputes and so forth as the corrosive elements that they are. It is apparent that they are in no small measure responsible for the painfully high rate of divorce. They are


Weapons of Marital Destruction”


Lying or evading tops the list of offenses that undermine marriages. How can you trust someone when he has demonstrated that you should not believe him? Instead of respect and closeness, lying creates an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion. It leads to constant questioning about whether the partner is telling the truth. Asked, “Where did you go last night?” “Who did you speak to?” “How much did you spend?” “What do you really feel?” the partner begins to feel hassled. The inquisitor’s insecurity wears on both of the partners, often leading to destructive outbursts which inevitably lead to the evasive partner’s adding lies upon lies and evading even more.


The Silent Treatment is the second most destructive type of fighting. Instead of dealing with an issue, the partners withdraw and do not speak. Rather than express anger directly, they resort to the punitive, abandoning behavior too frequently experienced by children for whom being alone is their deepest fear. Now, as adults, they express their anger indirectly with passive-aggressive anger. This unexpressed anger will inevitably create frustration in the mate which will then evoke anger and resentment in their partner. The anger spirals and is not only unproductive but also causes an escalation of the anger.


Guilt Arousal is yet another form of poor fighting. Individuals who are not able to fight will often resort to tears and suffering in order to make their mate feel guilty when they express their feelings. “Look how you hurt me!” is the message of the tears. Sometimes the partner will fall into a depression and use that depression to bully their mate. If someone threatens you physically, you have options. You can fight. You can call for help or run. But with a depressive you have a whole different dynamic. The depressive grabs you by the guilts. Unspoken (or even, sometimes, spoken) is the threat, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll suffer and maybe even die and it will be your fault!” In such an exchange, you are trapped. You can’t fight or run. It takes a lot of courage and healthy self-esteem to resist falling into the trap of being held hostage by guilt-arousing depressives.

High on the list of poor fighting techniques are those used by partners who are verbally abusive in their attempt to denigrate their partner, to diminish their self esteem, and to leave them feeling small and inadequate. These methods include being judgmental, critical, condescending and sarcastic. This sort of fight is really playing dirty. It includes name calling (“you blankety-blank etc”), generalizations (“you always or never …”), character assassination (“you lazy so-and-so”) (“You’re sick!”). This type of fighting is also corrosive and will eat away at the foundation of a marriage.


Unfortunately, partners who are not good fighters tend to be competitive with each other. They have to prove that they are right and the other is wrong. When they argue, they need to win. Often they do this by diminishing their partner’s self worth. “I do all the work around here. What do you do all day? All you do is spend, spend, spend!” In this sort of exchange, in a marriage which is dominated by this attitude, when one wins, not only does the other lose, but the marriage loses as well.


Triangulation is another form of poor fighting. Not feeling capable of making his point, the partner brings in another person either to support his point of view or to act as a go-between. Once drawn into someone else’s fight, the outsider is like the third-man-in in a hockey fight. In hockey, the third man gets sent to the penalty box. The involvement in someone else’s conflict is seen as bullying…ganging up. In interpersonal conflicts off the ice, the third-man-in may find that the people in the original conflict would have done better without his involvement. Often, the original “combatants” make up and the third-man-in is left the recipient of hard feelings that take a long time to diminish.


When the people triangulated into a conflict are children who are brought into a marital struggle, parents have set the children up to take sides. No matter what the child decides, unless he is extremely strong and determined not to take sides, his getting involved may drive a wedge between his parent and him and they may never be resolved.


Bullying is one of the most varied types of poor fighting. There is the obvious type that may include physical intimidation or threats of possible physical or emotional assault. While it is obvious that when bullying and physical abuse occur the police may have to become involved, there is another type of bullying that is as detrimental to a marriage and is yet another example of poor fighting. Threats to leave, to involve others, to withhold sex or money are also a kind of bullying.


Bullying can also take the form of emotional blackmail. “If you don’t do this, I won’t do that.” “If you don’t have sex with me, I’ll get it somewhere else.”

If you don’t like it, there’s the door.” “”I’ll take your kids so far away that you’ll never see them again.”


As I have said before, guilt arousal is emotional blackmail. “If I don’t get my way, I’ll make you feel guilty or unworthy.”


Bullying is also accomplished by diminishing, controlling or dismissing your partner. During an argument if you constantly interrupt your partner, the unspoken message is “I don’t care about what you have to say and I don’t take your concerns seriously.”


Often, when partners feel that their point will not be taken seriously on its own, they bring up other issues. “Not only that, but…” and the litany of sins of omission and commission continues. As a result of what I refer to askitchen sink fighting, the argument loses focus. The partner feels attacked and experiences emotional overload. By bringing up a barrage of issues, you cause your partner to feel overwhelmed and to have difficulty focusing. Then the fight deteriorates as everything that is wrong in the marriage is brought up at the same time. Nothing constructive can be accomplished in this type of argument. It only produces frustration, rage and a desire to run away.


When a discussion deteriorates like this, anxiety and anger grow and often result in high volume drama. Too often, caught up in the drama and fueled by feelings of helplessness, partners bring up sensitive issues that were shared in trust. Their partner feels, then, not just overwhelmed by the drama, but betrayed. This, in turn, can result in the partner’s closing off in an attempt to protect himself from future betrayals.


When couples have not learned how to fight well, a marriage which was originally based on love, desire and closeness ends with loneliness, sadness and a feeling of emptiness. Standing in the wreckage of their marriage, they look at each other in bewilderment and ask, “What happened to us?”




copyright 2007 - Dr. Gerard Bomse - All Rights Reserved - duplication and re-publishing prohibited without consent from Dr. Bomse (drbomse-at-gmail.com)

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