DEAR DR. JENN,
Whenever I get into a fight with my boyfriend, I make threats I don't mean. I have said I'm going to reach out to other men, move out, break up — the list goes on. We have been together for years and I know I shouldn't do this, but I can't seem to shake the impulse to lash out and go below the belt. How can I break the habit? —Sticks and Stones
DEAR STICKS AND STONES,
All relationships have their conflicts and no one is a perfect partner. If we are in a romantic relationship for any significant period of time, conflict is inevitable. How we handle that conflict is often the difference between a healthy, successful relationship and a painful, high-conflict one. All of us have said things we regret while in a fight with our partner. When we get hurt, angered, triggered, or scared, we are most likely to lash out. The goal is to learn to recognize those moments and to have the impulse control to stop so you can turn a difficult moment into a productive discussion, instead of escalating it and derailing your relationship.
Threatening to break up, divorce, withhold love, deny sex, or anything else along those lines sends a message to your partner that you are not committed to the relationship. That kind of manipulation ("If you go to that nightclub, I am going to file for divorce!") pushes the other person out the proverbial relationship door. This includes veiled threats ("The last woman who did this with me is gone!"). Furthermore, making a threat can back you into a corner and make you feel that you have to follow through, even if you don't want to.
8 More Reasons Why Threats Can Destroy a Relationship
Instead of Making Threats, Try This
Breaking a bad communication habit can be difficult. Oftentimes people who say things like this in an argument come from families that did the same. In order to make changes, it is always best to address the behavior on multiple levels: Learning new things that you can say, addressing the underlying issues, and taking preventative measures. Here are a few things that can help you do that. The more that you do, the better the chance of stopping the behavior.
These kinds of threats are paradoxical to having a healthy loving relationship. Whether it's with this partner or someone else down the line, you need to address what drives you to do this. Words matter and learning to express yourself in a more mature and loving way will undoubtedly help all of your relationships.
In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.
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