Last week I looked at the conflict “dance step” of being passive. This week, the dance step is that of being aggressive.
Ten days before Andy and Sara’s wedding (names changed), their event planner called and asked if I’d meet with them at their home. Things were in meltdown mode. I’d finalized their ceremony more than a month before. It was a brief meeting and while they were stressed, they seemed no more so than most couples. Now, though, I could feel the tension when I walked into their house.
When we sat down, I smiled and simply asked, “What’s up?” Silence. Anger creased their faces. I asked Sara what had happened. She began talking about Andy as though he weren’t in the room. It was hard to follow what she was saying, but it soon became a litany of what he’d done wrong.
Suddenly, Andy exploded, “SHUT UP! I’M SICK OF YOUR LIES!” And, yes, I was now worried since he was bigger than I am and looked like he’d mentally snapped. They launched into a yelling match, totally ignoring me. I’ll admit that I was mesmerized, since it was like I’d been transported to the set of a reality show!
But then I came to my senses and tried to intervene. Being polite and officiant-like wasn’t going to do the job, so I tapped into my New York voice and shouted, “YO!” They turned and looked at me, seeming almost confused as to what I was doing in their home. Sara quickly looked embarrassed, while Andy just steamed.
What had gone so wrong between them? Well, they had an infant (unplanned). They were building a home. They had unresolved and non-discussed money issues. They had no time to talk, just time to argue and lash out. Their jumbled, poorly expressed emotions left them exhausted as they crawled to what they called the “finish line” of their wedding planning. It sounded, though, more like the finish line of their relationship.
Because they weren’t skilled at talking with each other; because they avoided the tough and messy issues; because they were overwhelmed by their intense feelings, all they could do was scream, accuse and belittle each other.
Do you enjoy yelling at your partner? Do you enjoy putting your partner down in front of other people? Do you regularly say, “I hate you!” to your partner? If you answered “yes” to these questions, then classic aggressive behavior is your preferred way of dealing with conflict.
Yelling, humiliating and hating are clear indicators that your relationship needs professional care and attention. Screaming, belittling and accusing are not the ways in which you protect and keep each other safe – personally or professionally.
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