Tit For Tat; How Some Couples Cope…Guidance From A Marriage And Family Therapist


Many of us grew up needing to have the last word when we got into an argument.  It just doesn’t feel right if we can’t say what we have to say after the other person has said their piece.  We just want to finish the exchange with our own ending note.

It’s not uncommon to see this interaction when two people are discussing issues important to both of them.  It’s also not uncommon to see this type of behavior between two people who are in a relationship. He says one thing, she says another, he has to top her, she has to top him and so on.  We’ve all seen it; we may even have engaged in it.

On some level it can be satisfying, putting the other person in their place, having the last word and really saying or acting out something dramatic that makes our point.  Yes, sometimes we even feel better when we can have the last word and end with a flourish, like slamming a door, or stomping up stairs, or using a cuss word or flipping someone off.  There’s something very satisfying about really feeling like we have been heard.  Unfortunately, when two people are locked in this sort of contest no one is listening to the other; both are just waiting for their turn.

These dramatic moments can also cause harm to two people who are in a relationship. Sometimes there is real damage done during these matches, hurtful things are said, painful slights are seared into us.

Some of this sparing may remind us of squabbling with a sibling or a childhood friend. If we learned it at a young age we might even feel confidence when we spar with another person.  We may grow to rely on these skills as we get older and might even use them with our mate in our adult relationship.

Sometimes they are funny and can be laughed at in a calmer state.  But more often than not they are hurtful and leave wounds.  We carry around these scars and feel terrible and angry.  Maybe we get zinged, maybe we zing our beloved.  If we engage, it’s likely we leave something behind, some residue of hurt feelings that may get buried over the next time there is a spat.  Maybe we even compile all the zingers and hurl them back at each other reusing them again and again.

So what do we do about these actions?  Why not talk about them with our partner.  Why not have a discussion about how it feels to hurl these slights and how it feels to receive them.  Why not find out if there are some bruises left over from past arguments.  If the bruises are still tender chances are it’s possible to have some real connection with your mate.  Maybe you both agree on what you won’t say again.  Maybe if you are the offender you can apologize.  This can go a long way to healing pain.  What you don’t want is for couples to wall up against the other because of all the slights.  This can lead to resentment which can leave each person living behind his or her own wall of bricks, afraid to connect for fear of being hurt.

No couple wants to live with resentment toward their partner.  Living behind walls of resentment cuts down on closeness. And that’s really what couples want, to be close, to feel safe and loved, free from those hurtful zingers.

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