Linda: Sometimes in an argument, when one partner feels that they are losing, in their fear and desperation, they get out the big guns and start waiving them in the air.
The big guns are separation, divorce, and abandonment.
Statements such as, “You are impossible to deal with,” or “I’m done with this relationship,” or “There is no use in talking,” or “This relationship is going to hell,” or “You want a divorce don’t you.” All of these statements are threats, and infer that the speaker is giving up on the partnership.
Such statements are highly damaging to the trust level. It can take tremendous time and effort to repair trust once it has been compromised. It’s much better to get the big guns out of the house all together. A complete ban on the use of threats to leave the relationship is the gold standard.
When a couple’s conflict gets overheated, and the threat of divorce is made, it creates a huge disturbance. The threat of divorce is the ultimate weapon. The mere mention of divorce in anger is frightening and upsetting, the ultimate maneuver to get the other person back in their place. Ultimatums and threats are aggressive manipulations, which stem from fear and generate defensiveness.
Threats are essentially a grab for control. The person who is the target of ultimatums and threats is hard-pressed to stay open to negotiate in good faith. Strong-arm tactics only result in fear-based behavior. Even if the bully gets his or her way, the victory comes with a huge price tag. The hurt and resentment that accrue with the threat of divorce come at a high price. Trust is damaged to such a degree that it may take weeks or even months for the damaged trust to be repaired.
Of course, both partners are well aware that if they cannot find a way out of their heated difficulties, that separation and divorce may ultimately be the option they choose. The pain of their relationship could become so unbearable that they might have to let it go. But that fact must not be spoken in anger. It is counterproductive to the goal of finding a way for both partners to get their needs met while remaining inside the relationship. Threats and ultimatums do not move a relationship in a positive direction.
When either partner is so emotionally activated that they are tempted to stoop to such threats, the level of volatility is a clear indication that a timeout is necessary. And the way the timeout is taken means a great deal.
Resisting the temptation to stomp off and slam the door is helpful. A simple statement such as, “I need a bit of time to cool down, and I’ll be back,” is an effective replacement for “I’m done.” And the general trust in the relationship remains strong when the person taking their cool down comes back as soon as possible. Another effective replacement is, “We need help.”
Don’t ever wave the big guns in the air.
Put them down and then put them away. They have no place in a civilized household. Show the love and care that you feel by having a zero tolerance for such terrorist tactics. Learn to use skillful words to express what you feel and what you need. Get some good help and hold on to the vision that it is possible to find a way through the difficult times to establish a working partnership.
Giving up the use of threats will go a long way toward moving you toward your goal of having the kind of harmony and cooperation that make for great relationships.