Have you ever been in a situation where everything you say or do seems to start a fight or argument? Even the good things you say or do are taken wrong. And no matter what you do, it’s like starting World War III in your marriage, in your friendships, or with other members of your family.
There are basically three reasons why people react negatively to positive actions. Both are indicators of serious problems in your relationship and will need to be addressed appropriately.
First Reason: Guilt
Guilt shades every action, every word in colors of your guilt. Someone with a guilty conscience is automatically on edge. They are looking to protect their secret and anything they perceive to be a question of their integrity is attacked viciously in an effort to deflect from the truth coming out.
Even positive actions and words can be construed as an attack when you are feeling guilty or attempting to hide something. It is amazing how much guilt can dominate a person’s life and perceptions.
If, for example, a spouse looked at something on the internet he or she was not supposed to view and is questioned, even innocently with a statement like, “I saw you were on the computer. See anything interesting?”, the guilty one may respond sharply with, “Don’t you trust me? Are you my mother or something? Why do I have to answer for every little thing I do?”
This type of reaction is typical of someone with a guilty conscience. Everything is an attack. Everything is an affront. They may even get upset if you just happen to walk into the same room unexpectedly. They may react as if you are spying on them or trying to control them.
What can you do in this situation? You need to involve a third-party as soon as possible. Preferably, someone the other person trusts. You will need to be forgiving and accepting. There is a chance that, once revealed, you will be hurt by what the other person is hiding from you. If the relationship is important, such as a marriage, you need to be prepared to love them anyway. Make the relationship more important than your feelings. Love covers a multitude of sin, the Bible teaches (Proverbs 10:12).
Second Reason: Insecurity Due to Emotional Injury
Emotional injury is just as common as guilt for why everything seems to end in a fight or argument. I would be careful trying to attribute “guilt” every time your spouse, friend, or family member defaults to fight or flight mode even over innocent things you do. Someone hurt by another automatically puts up defenses to prevent being hurt again. They become suspicious of even your good intentions, feeling as if they are nothing more than temporary bribes to trick them into lowering their defences so that they can be hurt again.
You may not even be the one who hurt them. It may be something in their past, something you just remind them of that they never healed from. It doesn’t matter. If the injury hasn’t healed, just brushing up against it with a word or an innocent action can spark a fight or argument.
Someone expecting to be hurt will be wary of everything you say or do. Wonderful actions like bringing flowers or writing a loving note will be seen through the eyes of suspicion and doubt.
Here are some common phrases you may hear if this reason is true:
- “It won’t last.”
- “You’ll go right back to the way you were!”
- “I don’t trust you.”
- “You don’t really mean it.”
- “You’re only doing this to win me back.”
- “I don’t believe you.”
This position is very difficult because, on the one hand, the other person is hoping for, desiring, and even praying for change, but on the other hand, suspicious and mistrusting of everything as nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Because of their insecurity, they are always ready for a fight or argument.
What can you do in this situation? You need lots of time and patience. And you need to prove either that your changes are permanent or that you will not hurt them as they were hurt by others. You need to demonstrate you mean business. You can’t get frustrated when your efforts are dismissed, attacked, downplayed, or not trusted. Involve a counselor or pastor to help the both of you through this.
Third Reason: A Power Struggle
In some cases, there is a power struggle within the relationship that is always starting a fight or argument. This reason is rarer than the others, but can’t be left out. Two people (or even one person) positioning for dominance, authority, or even security will invariably be put off even by the positive things another does.
I recall an instant at a job where I was being careful not to abuse my “break time.” I left to go on break when I was supposed to and I returned when I was supposed to. Another employee who had gotten used to abusing his breaks by leaving five minutes early and returning five minutes late approached me and demanded, “Are you trying to make me look bad?” Doing right can be seen as an attack when there is a power struggle going on.
Power struggles are not just about who has the authority, but who has the upper hand and therefore the justification to act on a specific action. Some spouses want out of their marriage, but don’t want to look like the bad guy, so they look for any reason, any excuse to justify their desired action. Therefore, even the positive things done or said by their spouse will be construed negatively to help provide that excuse.
I’ve witnessed many power struggles between already divorced couples who are trying to gain the upper hand with their children. They will attack even the positive things their former spouse does for the children in an effort to gain the “upper hand” with their children. They always seem to be in a fight or argument.
The reasons for power struggles are many. Sometimes it is because one is looking to get out of the marriage. Sometimes it is due to insecurity and feeling as if he or she has taken a back seat in the relationship. And sometimes it is the result of a misunderstanding.
What can you do in this situation? Involve a good counselor or pastor. The Bible teaches us that in counsel purposes are established (Proverbs 15:22). It is hard, when you have an emotional stake in a relationship, to be objective. A third-party has more ability to help often than you do.
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