We can be such experts at making relationships hard as though we can’t wait to generate animosity. Even though I know that when people do these things they are feeling hurt or betrayed, it is still a surprise. There are lots of ways we try to make ourselves feel better, feel one up, or just want to put someone else down. Some of the most successful attempts fall into these six categories.

1.      Sarcasm can be funny but it is usually at the expense of someone else. It says to them, “I’m better, stronger, smarter, bigger, richer, etc. than you.” We can get away with a little sarcasm when the relationship is healthy and strong. The problem is some people use it often when things are already rocky.

2.      Needing to be right can also feel good. It too is at the expense of someone else. Many couple issues have no right or wrongness to them and when explored in depth can lead to a way to honor each person—in other words to a win/win.

3.      Controlling can be withholding money or affection. It can also be rigidity about how things are done around the house or a limitation on each others social life or activities. So many arguments are about cleanliness, children’s behavior, money, tasks, and time. It helps to identify what is really important and focus on positive and inclusive ways to handle them. Dictatorships seldom work at home and tend to generate distress and distance.

4.      Unbridled self expression (verbal vomit) is a boundary violation. No one has a right to emotionally or verbally regurgitate on someone else. We are all responsible for managing our emotions. If we want someone to listen to us, it doesn’t help to keep going until their ears are exhausted.

5.      Retaliation may feel good to the one who wants to get back at someone, but seldom creates closeness or understanding or opportunities to repair. At the core it is resentment acted out in unhealthy ways.

6.      Withdrawal leaves others feeling abandoned and a sense that efforts to repair and recover are not available. It is also a form of payback that creates bitterness and despair.


As couples and families we can choose to handle tough times with emotional maturity and availability, humility, mutual understanding, and humor. It does take skill and personal awareness to successfully negotiate turbulent waters. The first awareness we can have includes admitting that we use one or all of these sabotaging techniques and apologize and change. If not sure what to do or say, we can find help. Sometimes we just need some information in order to form new habits for connection.


Contact Pamela Simmons, Licensed Professional Counselor, at 214-674-8759 or Contact Me.