<-Top 3 Marriage Killers (intro)
Marriage Killer #1: Attack-Attack
Amy: “Why did you take so long to come home tonight? I’m sick of you putting your job before me.”
Bruce: “That’s ridiculous. You’re the one who is always taking work calls when we’re together.”
Sound familiar? If you have ever wrestled with the Find the Bad Guy killer, you know that this exchange goes nowhere but down. Each partner finds something negative to say about the other one, upping the ante with each sentence.
The problem is – there is no end to this game. It is an endless cycle. Who wants to concede that they are the bad guy, after all? One or both of you will just have to stop playing.
Stopping the game doesn’t do anything to heal the damage, though. Each partner is left with the memory of the insults and attacks that their partner hurled at them AND a feeling that their partner is not willing to acknowledge the pain they caused them in the past.
The saddest thing about this game is that it started with a request for connection. Amy probably longed for connection and time with Bruce, and was scared that Bruce would drift away. Amy probably felt too vulnerable to express these softer feelings, so opted (unconsciously) for criticism and demands. If Amy would have had the courage (and trust) to express those feelings that way, though, Bruce might have felt important to Amy and able to comfort and reassure her.
This is an example of how our intuition can mislead us. We are so afraid of getting a harsh response from our partner when we are vulnerable that we put our armor on and shoot some arrows to get their attention. It is then LESS likely that our partner will address our concern, and very likely that what we feared will materialize. Surprisingly, it is at these moments that being vulnerable maximizes the chances that our vulnerabilities will be taken care of.
Is Bruce doomed, then, if Amy phrases this request for connection as an attack? No. Bruce is also participating in this game. Bruce likely wants to be appreciated by and in good graces with Amy, and is worried that Amy thinks he is a bad guy. Instead of expressing these softer feelings, Bruce hurls a counterattack, again DECREASING the chance that Amy will connect in the way Bruce wants.
Tragically, the pain both partners experience is proportional to the intensity of their longing for the other person. If Amy did not want more time with Bruce, Amy would not have been upset about Bruce’s lateness. Likewise, Bruce would not have cared much that Amy was unhappy with him if she were not important to him.