Complimenting your partner can cause relationship problems!
Relationship Advice Tips from Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Thirty-two year upwardly mobile grocery store manager Danny approached life with eager optimism. His colleagues and workers revered him for acknowledging their good points, but his thirty year old wife Rayna, a successful beautician threw his compliments in the trash as if they were dirty wasted hair clippings from her customers.
Danny’s patience was tested to its limits one evening when he came home and found Rayna tearing her hair out with problems printing out flyers for a special offer at her salon. He noticed that she went through the trouble shooting protocol and had called for tech support. He knew exactly how it felt to be faced with a deadline and have technology fail him at the most crucial moment. Filled with empathy and admiration for her efforts Danny said, “it was a smart move to go through the trouble shooting while you are waiting for tech support. Maybe you’ll be able to figure it out and get your flyers out on time.”
“It’s all right for you! You have a ton of other people to do all this stuff. I’m stressed out and I don’t need you standing over me. I told you to get that other wireless printer for business use but you didn’t listen and now look what I have to put up with!” Rayna fired back without even tasting his praise.
Danny breathed deeply bracing for the punch that Rayna’s words inflicted on him. His head was spinning with the way Rayna twisted everything good that came out of his mouth and this time he was furious.
“You turn everything nice that I give you into something bitter and sour. I’m trying to be understanding and show you care and love and you throw it back in my face. You want a fight, you’ve got it!” Danny said, clenching his teeth in rage. He hated it when she was able to transform him from an easy going open guy into an angry combative partner.
“I don’t want a fight! It’s your fault that I had all these problems with the printer. You didn’t listen to me when I told you not to get this one. Now I have to deal with this crap – so what do you expect? I’m not exactly over the moon about not being able to get my stuff done on time!” Rayna complained as she blamed Danny with righteous indignation.
Enemy lines were drawn as Rayna and Danny prepared for marital conflict
The battle went on all night and into the next day – sometimes with silent malice between them and other times with venomous barbs attacking and defending their sore spots. Relationship stress was at its peak, wreaking havoc on their health and well-being. Neither of them slept well and that became the next issue to use as ammunition for accusations and counter accusations. Rayna binged on junk food to manage her anger and frustration. Danny’s comments about risking her health were interpreted as more criticism, fueling the already heated atmosphere. Danny went out on fitness training with his mates prompting Rayna to feel abandoned. She chastised Danny for leaving her alone, setting up another spiral of wounding blows that drove them apart.
Why does Rayna use compliments as an excuse to fight?
When Rayna is upset and angry at Danny she is justified in lashing out and making him the bad guy. But when he is pleasant, understanding and complimenting she can no longer feel legitimately angry. After all how could she continue being angry at the very moment he is praising her? So in order to maintain her need to make Danny the bad guy and feel good about herself, she gets him into a fight.
Danny took the bait and got angry back.
His hurt feelings made him want to retaliate and protect himself. Now Rayna can have all her prior rage and get it stoked by Danny’s frustration and anger.
Rayna found an enemy to fight against.
Rayna’s anger is wiped away when Danny comes to her with softness and praise. Where would she direct it if she allowed Danny’s love and encouragement to push it aside?
She would have no other choice but to direct it at herself. She would have to loathe herself and become self-destructive. For the sake of survival Rayna makes sure Danny gets provoked when she discards his compliments. Then she has an alternative target to aim for and she is saved from her own destructive forces.
Danny doesn’t deserve to be the safe exit strategy for Rayna’s self-destructive tendencies. But he falls for it every time. The couple go to war, have stress related health problems and ruin the foundation of their marriage.
Tips for Danny to avoid Rayna’s angry bait
- Acknowledge Rayna’s mood as you see it rather than try and cheer her up or compliment her when she is upset and angry, for example, you can say something like: “I can see you are angry right now. I get why you are so frustrated.”
Benefit: Rayna has no reason to turn you into an enemy. She will calm down because her anger isn’t being stopped in its tracks or taken away from her before she is done expressing it.
- Match Rayna’s better moods with your own.
Benefit: complementing her moods is better than giving her compliments that she twists into poison. When you are in synch that’s the time for praise! She will hear it, take it and enjoy it. You will feel like your intentions were met in the manner they were given.
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Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Disclaimer: the information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions that you may have when reading the material or using the suggestions contained in the article. Reading this article does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.