How to recover from a cheap shot at your partner

Story by Barton Goldsmith
(Scripps Howard News Service)
Thu, Jan 5, 2012
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It just happens. You don’t think about it. Something your partner did or said triggered you and you fired off a nasty retort or two. He or she may have just said “hello” in a weary voice, which pushed your buttons because of something that happened in the recent past. Your other half was not even thinking about trying to upset you, and may be bewildered at your over-the-top reaction.

You saw an opening and took a shot; you just had to get it out of your system. But you never considered the collateral damage.

There are some who think taking potshots at the one they love is part and parcel of being in a relationship but that is so untrue. I enjoy razor-sharp repartee as well as the next guy, but when we engage in that behavior we are dancing on the edge of a sword and someone is going to get cut.

Unfortunately, sometimes you can say something so hurtful that it will cause irreparable damage to your relationship. You may actually scare your loved one away. Depending on the level of disrespect or bullying, he or she may well become afraid to be around you. That won’t allow love to flow, or for things to get better on their own. At that point, you need professional assistance.

Carrying around the pain of a mate’s hurtful words is like trying to climb Mount Everest with a 500-pound pack on your back. Many people don’t realize the impact of belittling, saying things that they know will hurt the other’s feelings. It can make that person doubt him or herself and the relationship with you.

After you have said something to purposely hurt the other person, you must immediately do damage control. If you can muster up the statement, “Oops, I’m sorry, I never meant to say something that would hurt your feelings; it will never happen again,” you’ll make a lot of headway toward getting things back to normal.

If you are on the receiving end of the hurtful comment, tell your partner that what was said hurt your feelings and made you anxious to be with him or her, and you want help to fix it.

Make sure you are looking into each other’s eyes and keeping the tone of the conversation serious, but do not engage in any conflict. Keep your voices soft and ask for clarity as to why the hurtful words were said.

You also need to avoid getting so twisted that you won’t make room for the offending party to apologize. Even if what was uttered makes you want to run away, stay and try to figure out where things went wrong. People say stupid things they don’t really mean for millions of reasons. It’s an unfortunate part of life.

The trick here is to never try to win a war of words with someone you love. And if you have said something unkind, ’fess up, apologize, make up and move on.

Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of “100 Ways to Boost Your Self-Confidence” (Career Press, 2010).

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