A raised voice here, a nasty remark there, a thoughtless comment, a “harmless” observation. . .and chip, chip, chip these every day cruelties slowly, painfully, but surely destroy love.
The other day while surfing the stations on my car radio — yes, I even surf on that medium — I heard the announcer say that, “Today, our guests will be talking about those ‘small’ hurtful every day remarks that destroy confidence and can eventually destroy a marriage.”
In the case of this program the focus was mainly on couples, the relationship in which one believes love and kindness trump the often difficult or heartbreaking events that are outside our control.
Guests for the conversation included a psychologist whose expertise is in couples counselling, a psychiatrist and a journalist who investigated the common phenomenon. Callers into the program related their stories. They explained how their partners regularly ridiculed them in private and public with condescending expressions, aggressive words and off-hand snarky rebuffs.
“You’re not going to eat that piece of cake, are you?” one woman used as an example of how her husband was browbeating her with remarks about the post baby weight she hadn’t lost.
Men were hurt most by remarks that diminished their sense of masculinity and from the number of male callers who told their stories, many women know how to effectively attack in that territory.
Men, according to the women, were most apt to attack on several fronts: weight, general appearance, homemaking standards that didn’t meet their criteria and emotional fragility as in: “All you do is cry. All you do is complain,”
As anyone who has ever read a pop-psych article knows there are a few trigger words that are off limits when talking or arguing with someone. They include: all, always and never. One would be hard-pressed to find a human being whose comportment was all, always or never something and clearly that includes “all loving.”
The conversation was never about physical abuse. It was entirely about how words hurt. Eventually the discussion broadened to friendships, work relationships and the way in which parents and authority figures speak to children.
The psychologist offered explanations for every day cruelty directed at the person we are supposed to love above all others: insecurity, unhappiness for myriad reasons, narcissism, ennui.
Then add to the poison posturing two more distress inducing behaviors: silence and a refusal to listen.
Of course the experts suggested straight-forward conversations as opposed to confrontations with the offending party, in which the “victims” explain how hurt, diminished and ultimately powerless and insecure every day cruelty makes them feel.
The experts admitted that in their practices they see a disturbing facility many individuals have for wounding with words and somehow feel kindness is weakness. They try to explain empathy and the power of kindness and respect. Sometimes the therapy works, sometimes the pattern of every day cruelty is so ingrained in the construction of a relationship that love is lost. Forever.