These words of alienation can destroy a relationship.
Every couple has arguments. They are a necessary part of increasing understanding and changing negative behaviors. When they create a positive resolution, they help a relationship to grow and prosper.
Successfully resolved conflicts all have something crucial in common. No matter how the partners feel during a dispute, they stay within certain mutually agreed-upon bounds of decency and personal integrity. Even when deeply angry or hurt, they will not use words or phrases that are meant to invalidate, insult, or destroy the other partner.
But sadly, some partners do not follow those rules. If one or both of the partners step outside of those boundaries and feel the personal satisfaction of venting in hostile and vicious ways, the relationship will eventually self-destruct. No matter how that couple may try to repair the damage, they will no longer be able to do so.
In my more than four decades of working with couples in committed relationships, I have often experienced these counterproductive and in-the-moment vicious expressions thrown at the other partners. In those moments of self-righteous fury, the partners expressing them do not seem to have any sense of what they are doing to the other. The in-the-moment desire to destroy reigns supreme.
These phrases will leave lasting, cumulative scars and no one can recover on the other end of their impact. They are character assassinations that do not offer any way back to trust or openness. Over time, the partners will feel more and more alienated from one another and less desire or capability to regain the security all relationships need to survive and thrive.
The following examples are sadly not exaggerated in any way. I have, however, purposedly omitted the expletives that often accompany them. Even in their current state, they may be hard to hear, but they must be recognized for exactly the purpose they serve and the damage they do.
Sadly, by the time a couple comes into see me at this level of hostility, they are often close to losing one another, if they haven’t already. In these situations, the sessions always begin with counter-blaming and justifications for the level of hurt/anger that is driving them to treat each other this way. They are typically defensive and justifying what they do.
I share with them that people rarely talk to another person in this way if they are simultaneously living in the heart and mind of the partner when they are hurling these debasing statements. It helps them to realize that they are no longer seeing or feeling the person on the other end of their behavior, but more likely to be talking to someone from the past who has exhibited similar behaviors.
Fortunately, just by being witnessed and challenged, some couples are willing to look at what they’re doing to each other and the relationship. They’ve realized how bad things have become but have not known how to stop the descent they are creating. They realize that it will be an uphill climb to pull out of these downward spirals, but they still care enough about each other to do whatever they have to do in order to change their destructive interactions.
With the attainment of that emotional sobriety, they quickly understand that they must immediately disallow these hostile interactions, no matter what justifications they have relied upon in the past to continue interacting that way.
The hope here is that, without the simultaneous intensity of emotional upheaval, and the anguish, anger, fear, or indifference that are part of every mean fight, you can hear these phrases more objectively and can truly commit to exiling them. If you have any hope of restoring the love you hopefully once shared, you have no alternative.
There are six categories that most clearly demonstrate these destructive phrases. Some of the examples could be represented in more than one, but the intent is the same.
Statements That Are Intended to Destroy Confidence
When people feel insecure and in danger of being controlled, they often attempt to take away the other partner’s self-assurance. If they can get that other person to doubt his or her thoughts and feelings, they feel stronger and more in control.
“You think you’re so in demand. People laugh at you behind your back.”
“What makes you think anyone else would ever want you?”
“It’s no wonder that every relationship you’ve ever been in has failed.”
“Why don’t you just face it? You’re a loser and always have been.”
“At your best, you’re barely tolerable.”
“You have no spine. People walk all over you.”
Statements That Are Intended to Destroy Value
Partners who feel that their own feelings of worth are in danger will often flip and try to make the other feel erased and useless.
“I don’t need you. I’ve never needed you.”
“I recoil when you touch me.”
“You’ll never get it. I’m through with trying to get it through your thick head.”
“Let’s face it. You’re the worst lover I’ve ever been with.”
“I’ve never been so disappointed in anyone in my whole life.”
“You just don’t do it for me anymore.”
Statements That Are Intended to Destroy Social Confidence
One of the most effective ways to get back at someone is to bring in reinforcements about how other people agree with them. They want back-ups because they don’t feel powerful enough to make an impact without them.
“People just patronize you because they want what you can give them.”
“I’m embarrassed to be with you out in public.”
“If people really knew who you are, you wouldn’t get away with how you do anything to convince them you’re somebody important.”
“I watch you just cater to what other people want. You think that’s attractive?”
“People ask me to leave you at home so they can enjoy my company.”
“You’re so awkward with people; you make them so uncomfortable.”
Statements That Are Intended to Assassinate Character
These kinds of phrases go for the jugular. They are meant to hit below the belt and to destroy the other’s basic core sense of self. They are calculated ways to undermine and invalidate. They are wipe-out statements that allow no exceptions.
“You’re mental. Maybe you need drugs.”
“When you don’t get your way, you pout like a child.”
“You’re incredibly narcissistic. It’s your personality to only care about yourself.”
“You’re either a bully or a wimp. Are those your only two styles?”
“You’re such an idiot. You ruin everything you touch.”
“You’re an emotional vacuum.”
Statements That Are Intended to Create Guilt
Used effectively, assignment of guilt will make the other person doubt his or her right to feel or think the way they do and weaken strength or purpose.
“I know you just love it when you stab me in the gut.”
“You have caused me so much grief, you’ll never be able to make it up to me.”
“You obviously enjoy it when you break me down and blame me.”
“Why can’t you ever sacrifice your own needs for mine? You’re so selfish.”
“You’re bitchy as hell and think you’re entitled to it.”
“Why don’t you just admit that you have to always end up the good guy, at my expense?”
Statements That Are Intended as a Power Grab
The need to win can bring out all the stops in decent communication. The other partner simply becomes the foil for an absolute power grab, issued without any need to hide the hunger to end up on top, no matter what it costs the other person.
“You don’t get it that I’m always going to get my way.”
“I’ll fight you any way I can, so I suggest you don’t mess with me.”
“I could take you down with 10 percent of my brain.”
“You actually think you could win an argument with me?”
“If you think your feelings are going to get me to give in, you’re a fool.”
“You’re so stupid if you think you can end up better off when you try to fight me.”
These examples are not enhanced or exaggerated. I have heard them, or phrases like them, often throughout my 40-year career. Though pain, hurt, frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment may be the underlying drivers, it is never okay to treat another with this level of cruelty. They leave scars that will never heal.
On a more hopeful note, I have seen many couples come back from this brink of extinction. Accountability, commitment, and new ways of expressing hurt, anger, and pain can be learned. If the relationship continues to transform, the old scars become less damaging, and new patterns give hope.
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