Yelling, Obstruction, and Emotional Blackmail
This is another follow-up on Crisis and drama and arguments, OH MY! What if you see the problem, and you are trying to end it, but your bride will not stop? Worse yet, what if you stopping just makes her more upset? I generally agree with the statement it takes two to fight, but there are folks out there who could have a fight with someone in a coma! Here are a few common tactics of such people, and some ideas to deal with them:
- Yelling: You try to be calm, and she yells. You try to end a fight, and she yells. You try to walk away, and she yells! Yelling is effective because it triggers our fight or flight instinct. You feel a need to reply to her accusations and defend against what she says. Thing is, doing this is buying back into the cycle you are trying to escape. The marriage loses as soon as you give in, no matter how the ensuing fight goes.
Solution: Let her know you are not going to talk with her when she is yelling or ranting. Yes, she will yell about it when you tell her, and she will likely yell even more for a while. She will test you; she will try to break you. Ignore her; walk away if necessary. If she refuses to stop after a week or two, it shows you the situation is serious, and you need to get help.
- Obstruction: Another response to withdrawing from the the drama game is refusing to do things or blocking things either actively or passively. This is “If you won’t play my game, I won’t do anything.” If she is desperate, she will be willing to take this a lot further than you want to go, and you will be tempted to give in to get her to back off some. This will be especially tempting when you are tired, or the situation is critical. You might also want to give in to keep her from looking bad to others.
Solution: Again, if you play, you both lose. However, it may be more difficult to ignore this one. You have to be steadfast – do what is right, no matter what she does. Act as you would act if she were reasonable, then modify as necessary based on her behaviour. Do what you must for yourself and the children, and leave the rest. Do not protect her if her choices cause friends think badly of her – let her deal with the natural consequences of her actions.
- Emotional Blackmail: This is more subtle than the others are. The “attack” may not be directly tied to anything you do or do not do. She withholds affection, refuses to talk to you, is always too tried for sex, or becomes uninteresting in doing things the two of you enjoy doing together. What it boils down to is she does not like the change you made, and she is going to punish you to get you to change back. Odds are she will deny she is doing it. Trying to prove she is doing it just gives her the drama/crisis she wants. Retaliating by doing the same to her also gives her what she wants.
Solution: Again, if you let her actions affect your choices, the marriage loses. Giving in once in a while, say because you just have to have sex, or you need her to go to a family event and be nice, means encouraging more of the same from her. If her tactics work, even occasionally, she has good reason to keep doing it. Accept that this is the current reality, and work to make the best of it. Do your best to give her grace and love, even though she is likely to react by being even worse to you.
What I’ve suggested here is difficult, but it’s the best (and probably only) way to get past what’s happening. This is fighting for your marriage by NOT fighting! You can’t do these things forever, but we can do far more than we think – especially if we are walking with the Lord.
It may be helpful to consider why she is doing what she is doing. As bad as things were before, she understood it, and on some level, it worked for her. Change is scary. If she needs to feel in control, you unilaterally changing things means she is not in control. Not being in control feels unsafe. Ultimately, the issue is this: is she acting out because of fear, or is she just deeply selfish? The first can be dealt with; the second is far more difficult. If it’s the fear, standing firm while loving her and trying to give her a safe place will most likely bring about a change in her behaviour. If she is acting out of selfishness, she will only change if it seems to her to be in her best interest to change.
One spouse can unilaterally start change, but both have to work at it for a real fix. Sometimes one can change it enough to be able to live with it, but not always. Sometimes the changes made by one spouse make the other uncomfortable enough they are willing to try something different. If you see any willingness to change, suggest trained third-party help – this kind of thing goes much better with an impartial third-party.
A personal note: While Lori and I have not gone down this road, I do have first-hand experience. I dated, and thought about marrying, a young woman who was all about drama. When I stopped playing, it got ugly. She threatened to break things I cared about – I said it would not get her what she wanted. She did things expecting me to cover for her (as I always had) – I did not cover for her. She tried to manipulate me with sex – I managed to resist. She even hinted at suicide – I didn’t think she was serious, and I told her such talk was a sure way to get me to leave her. Ultimately, she broke up with me. I don’t think she felt she could live in a relationship she could not control. While it was a heart wrenching time for me, I am glad I did not end up married to her. I learned from, and I made sure to avoid such women moving forward.
I share this so you know I have some idea of how hard it is to do this. I was not married to the woman, and it was still extremely painful and difficult. What kept me going was knowing how it had been would lead to a horrible marriage – for both of us. I was ready to lose her if it was the only option other than a horrible marriage. I suspect prevailing on something like this in a marriage means being willing to have her divorce you. If threat of divorce gives her control over you, and she finds out, all is lost. Ironically, being willing end in divorce may well reduce the changes of it happening.
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