You and your hubby are embroiled in a box-spring battle. He is a hard-core cover hog and you are sick of waking up with a frozen fanny. Your sister, a take-no- prisoners type of gal, suggests that you dump a bucket of ice on his head while he's sound asleep. You have more subtle torture in mind...
Last week, I explained that millions of couples are clueless about how to transform angry feelings into constructive communication that, in turn, leads to conflict resolution. Some couples engage in Open Warfare tactics (faulty fighting behavior I call "Fight Traps"), which we discussed last week. Others engage in Secret Warfare, which commonly occurs when one or both partners choose to be silent when a conflict arises. This means that the issue gets swept under the rug instead of being resolved. The resulting feelings of resentment are eventually communicated indirectly or covertly through various Secret Warfare tactics.
People who engage in faulty fighting tactics unknowingly make their marital conflict worse.
People who engage in Secret Warfare think that they are releasing their anger, and they may, in fact, experience a temporary sense of relief. But Secret Warfarers unknowingly make their marital conflict worse, because the partner who is the target of Secret Warfare feels furious and strives to get even. In turn, the Secret Warfarer becomes angrier and delivers even more Secret Warfare paybacks, and soon the couple becomes locked in a downward spiral of conflict that has divorce written all over it.
The only way out of this vicious cycle is to replace Secret Warfare with healthy conflict resolution skills. Identifying your Secret Warfare Fight Traps is the first step to eliminating them. The following test highlights some of the many Secret Warfare Fight Traps. You will find a complete list in my book, Til Death Do Us Part (Unless I Kill You First).
Do you engage in Secret Warfare? Take the test and find out.
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Take this test and find out the Secret Warfare behavior you use. Choose all the responses that apply.
Your husband was recently promoted to head of his department. Soon after, he developed a strange sexual disorder, which you call "Premature Intercourse." He rushes into sex, finishes the "job" quickly (you call him the "three-minute manager" behind his back) and sinks into a deep sleep. At first, you drenched your pillow with tears, hoping he would hear your sobs over his snores (yeah, right!). Then for months you waited patiently for some decent (or rather some indecent) foreplay. Lately, you've lost interest in sex and avoid his advances altogether.
Early Sunday morning you awaken to the roar of the vacuum (he never does housework, so he has your attention). You stagger to the kitchen, where you now find him feverishly drying dishes -- a sure sign that his arousal has reached atomic proportions. If he thinks he's going to bribe you into sex, he's got another thing coming. What do you do?
1. You don't say anything about it, and simply deny him sex again that night.
Secret Warfare Fight Trap: Withholding
2. You wait until later and then whine, nag and complain -- in general -- about how mistreated you feel.
Secret Warfare Fight Trap: The Three Scrooges (Nagging, Whining and Complaining)
3. You cry and tell him that you were happier when you were single.
Secret Warfare Fight Trap: Guilt Tripping
4. You don't talk to him all day.
Secret Warfare Fight Trap: Silent Treatment
5. When you are out with friends, you drop comments about his flimsy foreplay.
Secret Warfare Fight Trap: Indirect Digs
6. You burn his dinner three nights in a row and pretend that it's an accident.
Secret Warfare Fight Trap: Sabotage
7. You agree to take his shirts to the cleaners and then don't do it, leaving him with nothing to wear to work.
Secret Warfare Fight Trap: Paybacks
8. When you both are visiting his folks, with whom you are close, you tell his mother about your lousy sex life, hoping that she'll take your side.
Secret Warfare Fight Trap: Recruiting Allies
9. You go on strike and stop cooking, cleaning and doing the housework.
Secret Warfare Fight Trap: Torture
10. When you and your mate are in the middle of dinner at your neighbor's house, and you know he's cornered, you initiate a discussion about your sex life.
Secret Warfare Fight Trap: Ambush
11. You tell him that if he becomes more responsive to you, you will perform his favorite sex act.
Secret Warfare Fight Trap: Bribing, Manipulating
Now that you have identified some of the Secret Warfare tactics you use, remember that they are standing between you and marital harmony. Find out how to eliminate them.
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Eliminating your Secret Warfare tactics may not be easy. Besides the fact that these tactics have probably become as comfortable as a cozy pair of slippers, there are other reasons why you might want to avoid directly communicating your needs and feelings. For starters, women are especially resistant to stating their needs, thanks to centuries of conditioning urging us not to be assertive. The unassertive woman brushes her issues and the feelings attached to them under her emotional rug, but invariably resentment oozes to the surface through one Secret Warfare tactic or another. Secondly, if as a child you witnessed your parents' out-of-control arguments, you may have consciously or unconsciously chosen to swing to the other extreme and not speak at all when conflict erupts. Childhood abuse might also be at the heart of your silence in the face of conflict. If you were mistreated in childhood, you learned that keeping quiet was a way to survive (and avoid beatings or other forms of abuse). Even though you may consciously know that silence is no longer key to your survival, you may still fear your partner's reaction if you dare to speak up about what is bothering you.
I have given you some clues as to why you may believe that not directly addressing your conflicts is the safest course of action. You must remember, however, that Secret Warfare tactics keep you far from safe. When you launch sneak attacks on your partner, he becomes furious -- more furious than if you dealt with your issues constructively and in the moment. Losing your Secret Warfare Fight Traps and replacing them with healthy conflict resolution skills is your greatest form of protection from being retaliated against, as well as your only way to put a stop to marital conflict.
The following steps will help you say good-bye to your Secret Warfare Fight Traps:
1. The next time you are upset with your mate, let your observing ego come to the rescue. As I mentioned last week, the observing ego is a part of the psyche that can watch with an objective eye and prevent you from falling into old behavioral habits.
2. Allow your observing ego to assist you in identifying the particular Secret Warfare Fight Traps you are tempted to drop on your mate.
3. With your observing ego at full throttle, you can make a conscious choice regarding how you intend to handle your anger. You can either drop every Secret Warfare missile in your arsenal, or you can choose to resist falling into old, destructive patterns and introduce better ways of handling your angry feelings instead.
Now that you have vowed to say adios to your Open and Secret Warfare tactics, you will need to put alternate conflict resolution strategies in place. Tune in next week to learn more about the one skill that is the backbone of conflict resolution.
In the meantime, head to the Relationship Saving message board and share your experiences and stories.
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