Patterns of Relationship Discourse

by F.

Some random observations from various dysfunctional relationships and dysfunctional periods in functional relationships. Your mileage may vary.

Pattern #1: Reopening the Wound.

“I’m sorry that I did that.”
“That’s OK. You really were a shit, though. Why did you do that?

Here, the movie should end after “OK.” But how many times do we do this? Seems pretty common unless you consciously train yourself not to.

Pattern #2: Raising the Bar

“I have a surprise for you.”
“You bought me a new Mercedes?
“No. Um. Here.”
“What is it?”
“It’s, uh, a new cheese spreader.”
“Oh. Thanks.”

This is probably less common but can make the other person feel like shit. You do something nice. It’s a small thing, maybe. Maybe it’s not enough. But then the bar gets raised. I worked with a guy who was a pro at this one. Every time I told him something that I had accomplished, he Raised the Bar and I felt like shit. So if I said, “I got accepted to law school!” he would say something like, “You got into Harvard on a scholarship?” to which I could only reply, “Uh. No. I got into to Butthole State.”

Pattern #3: The Non-Agreement.

“You can take out the garbage if you want, but don’t worry about it.”
“OK.”

…later that day…

“Did you take out the garbage?”
“No.”
Why not?
“I thought it was optional!”

One person remembers an agreement to take out the garbage. The other doesn’t. What’s the truth? Who cares. You’ll never know and it doesn’t matter if you could find out, because, after all, the goal is to get along, not to win an argument.

Pattern #4: Lowballing

“Can you fix this lightbulb?”
“Sure.”

climbing down from the ladder after replacing the bulb…

“And that stain on the wall needs to be washed off. Can you do that?”
“Sure.”

…after the wall is clean…

“Ok, got that. I’m going to go to—”
“Can you do the laundry while your over there?”

This is known to many (male and female) as “Just the Tip” (use your imagination) but the principle is the same: there is an initial agreement and that makes further agreements more likely. Car salesmen do this. They get you to “agree” on a price, then they go into the office to “check with the manager.” A moment later, they come back. That “special discount” didn’t fly with the manager (they say), so the price is higher. Since you’ve already agreed, generally you’re more likely to say “fuck it” and just pay—because you’ve already agreed.

Who is “at fault” in these cases? The question is unproductive. They just occur and can be avoided through conditioning. Tasers work well as a motivator if Cherry Garcia Low Fat Frozen Yogurt doesn’t.

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