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How To Destroy A Relationship

So, some weeks ago, rollick had a poll in her journal, asking, "What's the most potentially dangerous, relationship-destroying thing you can say to someone?" There was then some later discussion of the issue, as well. The whole thing has been percolating in my mind ever since, and I think I'm finally ready to write some of my thoughts down in more detail.

As some of you may have been able to guess if you read the journal entries in question, I was the person who answered, "Nothing. I think refusing to talk is far more harmful than anything you can say." rollick disagreed with me, but I couldn't really explain what I meant at the time. Now I'm ready to try.

There are terrible things that people have said to me, terrible things I've said to other people. "Fuck you" is a big thing for some people, Shannon included. I think I've only said that to him once, in the few weeks leading up to his filing divorce papers. I, personally, am not fond of "Shut up," which only two people who are still in my life have ever said to me, and that would be my mom and my brother (and even my brother hasn't said it to me in probably a dozen years).

But most of the truly damaging things that people can say to each other aren't damaging because they're said. They're damaging because they're meant. They're damaging because they're felt. And whether they were said or not, they most likely would have damaged the relationship eventually. You don't have to say something out loud in order for it to be true, and you don't have to say something out loud in order for it to hurt someone else.

Yes, words are sometimes spoken in haste -- maybe we don't mean that, not really, not exactly -- but the person who says, "Shut up," to me in a moment of thoughtless anger is still implying an underlying lack of respect for me. And if anything is going to damage the relationship, it's going to be that underlying truth and not the words that revealed it.

If you say something and you truly don't mean it on any level, I think it's pretty damn unlikely to damage a relationship, because you probably have Tourette's or are just terminally stupid (which is going to fuck up your relationships without any help from your choices about speaking or not speaking). And if you say something that reveals a truth that would be "best left unspoken," well, then, it's still a truth. It would be there anyway, working its hidden, unspoken, unfixable magic, fucking up the relationship without the other person even realizing what's going on.

In short, it isn't words that damage or destroy relationships. It's truths, spoken or not.

And even the most offensive thing anyone can say to you can still make the relationship better ... if you keep the communication open, figure out why the person said what they did, find out where that reaction is coming from, and try to change things for the better.

If you speak, you are revealing something to the person who is listening ... some part of yourself. If you choose not to talk, then you are shutting that person out. I, for example, have a difficult time opening up when I'm angry. I don't yell. I don't shout. I go quiet. And that isn't very helpful, because it means that Shannon gets stuck trying to read my mind, uncertain why I'm pissed off, making ill-informed guesses. And that sort of game-playing will fuck up a relationship far easier than talking will. It would be far more constructive for me to yell and scream and say things I don't mean ... because then at least we could discuss whatever rubbish came out of my mouth. It would give us a place to start. It's awfully difficult to work anything out with a person whose mouth is closed, a person who is shut up inside their own head and not giving you a glimpse of what's going on in there.

So I say: Rant and yell and say what you will, even if it's rough and rude, even if it hurts my feelings. I'd rather have you talking than silent. At least that way I have some idea of who you are and how you feel. And, without that, what sort of meaningful relationship is possible?

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
webmacher
Jul. 2nd, 2004 08:30 am (UTC)
So, so true!
wild_irises
Jul. 2nd, 2004 09:52 am (UTC)
I you!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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