For the most part, if you’re not yelling and screaming at your spouse, you probably think you have a decent marriage. The problem with this notion is that it’s pretty rare that a relationship goes from loving to “I hate you and hope you die” in the blink of an eye. It’s a slow progression that is caused by toxic habits that we may not think too much of.
Sun Tzu once said that all is fair in love and war. Times have changed, but people still use this as an excuse to compare the two dynamics. War is a tactical game, with both sides looking to undercut the other by any means necessary. Love, however, can’t be played as if it is a game. It’s a partnership, not a relationship of two opposing sides.
In terms of communication, there are many subtle games being played in relationships all over the world. The way that we interact with our partners is crucial to the success of our marriages, yet some husbands and wives choose to get tactical and take Tzu’s statement to heart.
Let’s examine some tactics that are toxic and how they can negatively affect your relationship.
1. Playing scorekeeper
This is a classic no-no, but one that is still practiced in many relationships. Whether it’s chores, parental responsibilities, or intimacy, there is often numbers being tallied in the back of our brains. Whether you state them overtly or keep the tallies to yourself, the communication between you and your partner will easily be more resentful. If you are getting annoyed with your wife because you cooked dinner 5 times last week, and she had the nerve to only do it twice, then there’s a larger at hand. Who cares who cooks dinner? What’s the expectation on being the chef? Rather than resenting her for not doing her part, try to figure out a solution that avoids a conscious or subconscious score to be kept. Maybe try cooking together?
More importantly, your relationship should be treated as a partnership, not a game of “What have you done for me lately?” There will be times when you pull more weight, and other times when your partner carries the load for your marriage. Rather than keeping track and bragging about your numbers, know that over time both of your efforts will contribute equally to your relationships success.
2. Passive aggression
One of the pillars of a marriage’s success is clear and honest communication. Passive aggression is almost the exact opposite. Trying to drop subtle hints to get what you want from your partner is a quick way to leave you both upset and annoyed. You will be agitated because your hints aren’t accomplishing what you want them to and your partner will be aggravated because they have no idea why you’re upset with them.
A quick way to fix your passive aggressive problems is by communicating with clear and constructive requests.
Think the garbage should be taken out?
Passive aggressive no-no: “Does it smell in the kitchen? I feel like it kind of smells out there? Maybe the garbage is too full.”
Clear request: “Dear, I think it smells in the kitchen. Would you mind taking the garbage out? I think that may be the culprit. I’d really appreciate it.”
Trying to break the dry spell in your sex life?
Passive aggressive no-no: “Maybe if we had sex once in awhile, I’d be less tense and want to do fun things with you.”
Clear request: “I don’t think that we have sex enough. Sex makes me feel closer to you, and without that intimacy, I feel a disconnect.”
Being passive aggressive literally presents a lose-lose situation. You may get it to work short term, but the long term effects are dire. Your spouse won’t take too kindly to the constant indirect criticisms over the long haul. It’s much better to be upfront and honest if there’s something you’re having an issue with.
3. The curse of “I’m fine”
Maybe you don’t want to burden your partner with the bad day you’re having. Maybe you want them to push harder to find out what’s really going on. Maybe you’re just trying to be strong and tough it out.
Whatever your intentions, you’re playing a game that can’t be won. How many people that you know have uttered the words “I’m fine” in your presence and actually made it believable? I can’t think of any.
The problem with this is two-fold:
- You’re not letting your partner in so that they can help you with whatever you’re going through.
- If you’re hoping that they’ll keep fighting to help, and then they don’t, you’re going to be more upset. But you only have yourself to blame.
If something is bothering you, then say so. Don’t make it a mystery for your partner to solve with limited resources.
If you’ve been married for a long time, you may have developed the notion that your partner should just know that you’re upset. Maybe they’re having an off day themselves and are too consumed by their emotions. Maybe they’re blind to your pain. Maybe they just don’t care. The only way that you can get the love and support that you probably want from your partner is by being forthcoming about how you feel. It makes the situation easier to understand and to resolve.
No matter the communication games that you’re playing, stop them immediately. Communication needs to be a place of openness and honesty. Playing games cheapens its value within your marriage and can ultimately take your relationship down a steep slope of resentment. Don’t let that happen to you and your spouse. Quit playin’ games with their heart.