"I'll Make You Regret What You Did to Me"
Updated: Jun 30
Like the other Losing Strategies, retaliation erodes intimacy and tears us further away from our partners. At the same time, the impulse that drives us to retaliate - to meet our partners' anger with anger, to pull away when we feel like they are cold or preoccupied, to passive-aggressively shut them out when they attempt to connect - is often rooted in a distorted yearning for understanding.
In The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work Terry Real writes:
"Underneath all the retaliatory nastiness to which we human beings seem prone, there might actually lie a buried desire to heal. Retaliation, at its core, may represent a perverse wish to communicate, to make the one who hurt us feel what they made us feel - so that they might understand, and be accountable."
Of course, despite this fantasy vision of what retaliation will accomplish, it virtually never works this way. Rather than transforming our partners into penitent self-flagellators who see the error of their ways, our retaliatory behaviors instead fuel a cycle of hurt, anger, and disconnection in which both partners feel wronged and thus both feel justified in either lashing out at or withholding from the other. Naturally, the longer this cycle continues the more entrenched each partner becomes in their stance as "victim" of their partner's hurtful behavior.
The challenge for each of us is to fight the impulse to try to hurt our partners as they hurt us and instead move into the vulnerability of calmly and clearly expressing our experience and what we need from them to help us move into healing and reconnection. Of course, this isn't easy under any circumstance, and when we are already feeling hurt operating from a place of vulnerability can feel downright hazardous. But, if we can makes this shift we have a much better chance of getting our partners to understand our perspective and to move into greater intimacy, connection, and understanding.
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