Have you ever found yourself saying cutting, sarcastic remarks to your partner after being blindsided by hurtful words or actions? If so, you're not alone.
It can be the most natural thing in the world to automatically come back with zinger words or actions to try to defend yourself or get back at your partner, but here's the problem: we call this the "Gotcha Game," and it always leads to distance, bitterness, and disconnection. It never leads to greater peace or understanding.
It's a payback. Although "gotcha" is usually an unconscious protective device, it ends up being an intentional act to make someone else pay.
Take Carol for instance. She and her husband Paul had been separated for several weeks, and they were at each other’s throats whenever they tried to communicate, especially about their daughter. Carol had never been a vindictive person, but she found herself saying and doing things to make Paul pay for his "friendship" with a woman at work.
Although Paul said he'd stopped the friendship with the other woman, Carol was still very angry and found herself getting back at him by putting up roadblocks between him and their daughter. She knew it wasn't right, but she couldn't stop herself from playing the "Gotcha Game" so he'd feel the hurt she felt.
Their fights were getting more intense, and they were unable to talk calmly and rationally about anything anymore.
The "Gotcha Game" can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes:
- Withholding love, affection, or sex
- Verbal disrespect
- Physically walking out or refusing to talk
- Physical and emotional abuse
- Busyness and avoidance
Most people don't realize when they are in the middle of it that they are acting from their pain, fear, and from past patterns. It's almost as if someone, or something, takes over your mouth and body and find yourself saying and doing what you know will not get you what you want.
Here are three suggestions to help you quit playing the "Gotcha Game"...
Step back when you're calmer and look at your part in it, as well as patterns in your interactions.
When Carol wasn't triggered by her thinking about what Paul had done to her (which wasn't very often, but enough time to see something new), she replayed their last argument and what her words and actions were doing to keep their conflict alive. She saw that when Paul said something kind to her or loving about their daughter, she came back with a sarcastic remark to let him know he wasn't forgiven. Then he became defensive, and both their anger ratcheted up.
Choose what you really want in this situation.
When Carol was thinking more clearly, she saw that even more than making Paul pay for what he did, she wanted their daughter to have a good relationship with him—and she wanted to see if it was possible to find love for each other again. To help her remember when her thoughts got the better of her, she wrote out what she wanted, and kept it handy so she could read it often.
Talk with your partner in a neutral way about what you see happening in the "Gotcha Game" and listen to what you both want.
Carol asked to talk with Paul in person, and even though it was difficult because this way of looking at the situation was so new to her, she was able to talk about what she had discovered and what she wanted. It's not that she was instantly forgiving, but she was open to exploring what their future might look like—either together or apart. Paul was overcome with emotion, and for the first time, they were able to talk about raising their daughter, about the future, and how they might take a step toward discovering what was still there between them.
Written by Susie & Otto Collins
In 1997, Susie and Otto Collins were just two acquaintances who were coming out of flat, painful, long-term marriages that had ended in divorce. Shortly after, they had a "soulmate experience,” and as they say, the rest is history. They now serve as coaches and mentors to thousands of men, women, and couples all over the world who want to experience more love, passion, and connection in their relationships, marriages, and lives. They’ve written and created an array of successful and helpful books, courses and programs, including "Magic Relationship Words,” "Should You Stay or Should You Go?," "Stop Talking On Eggshells,” "Relationship Trust Turnaround,” "Hypnotize His Heart,” and many others. Learn more about Susie and Otto at SusieAndOtto.com.