Requiring Perfect Communication Is Another Way Of Asking You To Shut Up

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 0.603% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“I want to help you, I do,” the nobly saddened partner says. “But you keep asking for help wrong. When you’re upset, you get mad, and when you get mad you get quite irrational, and when you’re irrational I’m not under any obligation to listen.

“So what you need to do when I’ve erred is to refine your communication. Because I can’t help you if you’re forever blundering across my sensitive spots!”

SPOILER: This is a person who will never help you.

Look, I’m by no means saying that “learning to speak your needs more clearly” isn’t a vital thing in relationships. Nor am I saying that stumbling through in arm-flailing upset, paying zero attention to who you’re elbowing in their emotional eye, is life goals.

But I am saying that any relationship has to be able to tolerate imperfections. Because when you hurt someone – and you may, accidentally, even with the best of intentions – expecting them to react like harmless porcelain dolls is a form of control.

Because sometimes you hurt someone and they’re reduced to incoherent tears, unable to tell you what they need because they’re melting down inside, except they don’t want to be held and they need you to do something now but they can’t get the words out.

Sometimes you hurt someone and they snap, not phrasing things with clean precision but raising their voice and claiming you “always” or “never” do things and ripping off a hurtful insinuation or two.

Sometimes you hurt someone and they’re so hurt they retreat into silence, sulking as they swirl everything over and over in their minds, trying to determine whether this is worth talking about and maybe it’s just them and even if it isn’t how will they phrase their eventual complaint?

None of those things are ideal, of course. And if they crop up routinely, then that’s a communication pattern that needs to be addressed. Nobody’s saying that you should put up with unending misfires in communication.

But there is a type of person who looks at your pain and stands aloof, claiming that your pain isn’t their problem until you cease all this imperfect discussion and speak to them in the proper way.

Which is another way of saying “It doesn’t matter how badly I screw up, but you have to be perfect.”

And this sort of person exerts a continual control, because they’re wandering about stepping on ancient traumas and stretching boundaries and breaking unspoken agreements in ways that seem almost designed to cause major meltdowns. They’re acting in ugly ways that should cause upset, and yet refusing to take responsibility for that pain until it’s laid as neatly at their feet as a five-star concierge presenting a bill.

Real relationships allow for a little messiness, ya know?

And strangely, these “I won’t handle your upset until you’re nice to me” folks often date people with a history of trauma, homing in on people who are stunned into incoherence whenever their boundaries are crossed, which allows them to dance away from responsibility whenever they push another button.

Here’s the truth: expecting everyone to be kind to you when you’ve been cruel to them is a way of exerting power. Jabbing at someone’s sensitive spots and then demanding they calm down before you’ll take responsibility for them is a shitty way of prioritizing placid words over damaging behavior.

In grown-up relationships, sometimes you hurt someone and, in responding, they hurt you back. And sometimes you suck that hurt down temporarily because yes, they’ve put your fur up, but the person you wounded is in more pain than you are. And demanding that they always drop everything to cater to your needs is a way of saying, “It doesn’t matter what I do to you, I come first.”

And if you hang around these people long enough, what you’ll find are beaten-down hangers-on. They’ve stopped reacting when their partners hurt them because they’ve internalized that idea that they’re not good enough, that they’re swinging wildly out of control and hence they need to cling on to this nice, stable partner because they never get upset, they always have the right words, they don’t overreact.

What these poor, benighted souls never ask is, “Is this person calm because they’re enlightened, or are they calm because they’re secretly getting everything they want out of this relationship?”

But it’s a question worth asking. Because seeking perfection is a delightful goal.

Demanding it is often a twisted way of requesting silence.

1 Comment

  1. Wendy
    Nov 21, 2018

    Just wow. Aspects of this hit really close to home and explain with great clarity why I’m currently in the process of getting divorced.

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