Stop – Don’t Push That Button

It’s been a long day.  You are tired, frustrated and have a headache just waiting to take over.  Your partner walks in the door and somehow you can just tell that he or she has had a pretty rotten day as well.  The kids are squabbling in the background and you can smell dinner starting to burn.  You ask your partner to go deal with the kids, but instead of saying, “of course sweetie, I’ve got it covered,” he or she says “Can’t right now, gotta go return a call” or check my email, or whatever.  And before you know it, before you can stop yourself, that perfect sarcastic zinger flies out of your mouth, hitting your partner in that tender vulnerable spot that only you can find so perfectly.  And because your zinger was so perfectly aimed, your partner responds with a well sharpened zinger of his or her own.  And pretty soon the two of you are squabbling, or screaming, or sulking, the kids are crying and the dinner is burned.  Oh dear.

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The above scenario happens thousands of times a day, in households around the world.  It is an unfortunate aspect of human nature that when we are tired, stressed and at the end of our ropes we tend to lash out at the people we love.  This is bad enough, but what so often makes it worse is that we are uniquely situated to know our partners’ buttons, their soft tender spots that when hit with just the right jab will hurt the most.  Perhaps our partner struggles with feeling good enough and we find a way to tell them that they are just not measuring up.  Perhaps our partner feels unattractive, or worries that they are “fat” and we somehow find a way of weaving a nasty zinger about their looks into the conversation.   Perhaps our partners feel that they are rarely listened to and that what they have to say doesn’t matter, and without thinking of the consequences we say something like, “I don’t have time for this,” or “you don’t know what you’re talking about anyway.”  There are so many ways we can say or do the one thing that will hurt the most.  And all too often we realize the damage we’ve done the moment those hurtful words slip out of our mouths….and it’s too late to take them back.  All the apologies in the world won’t help.

We all know what it feels like when someone “pushes our buttons.”  It hurts!  It hurts a lot, especially when it is the person we love the most who we count on to nurture, support us and make us feel good.  The problem is that when we are tired, stressed, or hurting ourselves it is so easy to reach out and push our partners’ buttons.  When we do so we start a predictable chain reaction of hurt and more hurt that can go on and on and on for days (or weeks, or months).  So the challenge lies in the title of this post – just say no.  Catch yourself and turn away from that tempting vulnerable button.  Try to remember that this is the person you love and lashing out at them will only cause pain to both of you.  Take a break, do something nice for yourself, remind yourself that you are worthy, lovable and good enough – really.  Sometimes, as Pia Mellody says, the best you can do is “zip your lips and sit on your hands,” and that can be enough.  Later on, when you are both calmer and have had a chance to center yourselves you can reconnect and talk quietly about what happened and what you both need.  And sometimes the best solution of all is simply to smile and hold each Intentional Dating Seminar

Posted by Laura

Laura Marshall, LCSW, is the founder and director of the Sagebrush Center for Relationship Therapy. Her experience spans thirty years of supporting couples and individuals to create healthy and meaningful lives and relationships. She is also adjunct faculty for the New Mexico Highlands School of Social Work. She lives with her husband Steve and five sons in Farmington, New Mexico.

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