Hostile Venting: Mean Phrases that Scar Intimate Relationships
New lovers carefully watch their words with each other, even when they argue. They don’t want to say anything that could hurt their partner (Hostile Venting). They treasure their closeness and cannot bear being upset with each other for long.
Unfortunately, as relationships mature, partners often forget how angry and hurtful words can damage their intimacy. The longer partners have been together, the more likely their negative phrases to each other will resemble what they heard being used when they were growing up. As arguments become more heated, they begin to lose touch with the effect of their words. They rationalize their venting with little remose or need to apologize. Over time, they may escalate more quickly to hostile levels of attack. Winning becomes more important than maintaining trust or intimate connection, with each verbal blow leaving an invisible but permanent scar.
If a couple does not learn to recognize these damaging, hostile phrases, you run the risk of destroying your relationship beyond repair.
Hostile remarks fall into 6 categories:
1) Character assassinations
Character assassinations are statements that partners use to define the other as someone who has always been, will always be, that bad. They attack your partner’s basic character rather than his or her temporary behavior. Example: “I can’t believe anything out of your mouth. You’re a liar.” “You’re a b***h.”
2) Threats of abandonment
These types of phrases cause your partner to feel worthless and no longer needed. Example: “I don’t care what you do anymore.” “You don’t get it. I’m done.”
These phrases focus on your partner’s weaknesses. It is an attempt to neutralize his or her advantage so you can feel superior in an argument. Example: “That’s the stupidest argument I’ve ever heard.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
4) Threats of Exile
These phrases are essentially telling your partner to get out of your life. If you threaten exile enough times, your partner will actually begin to believe you and no longer expect the relationship to continue.
Example: “I want you out of my life.” “Why don’t you go back to your old girlfriend? You deserve each other.”
Hostile challenges are questions or statements that are delivered with sarcasm or defiance. If you are challenging your partner’s basic rights to feel, think or behave in certain ways, you will ask mean questions to ‘show’ your partner how stupid or incompetent he or she is.
Example: “Yoy actually believe what you’re saying?” “Do you even know what you’re talking about?”
When people feel hostile, they often pull out the parental card. Pointing or wagging their finger, they quote authorities or even absent friends, to push home their point. This hostile venting activates childhood guilt or embarrassment. It’s especially hurtful if you know your partner’s history and use what vulnerable memories they’ve revealed to you to make your point.
Example: “For a person who claims to be decent, you ought to know better than to do what you’ve done.” “”You don’t have any integrity, do you?”
Recognizing these hostile phrases is the first step in making healthy changes. When you and your partner understand the impact of your hostile words, you can start to change how you handle yourselves in future arguments and disagreements. You and your partner can discuss these hostile phrases and tell each other how these same feelings could be expressed in ways that are more loving and accepting.