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May 2, 2014
by Casey Truffo, LMFT

Why Cheap Shots are Cheap

May 2, 2014 02:55 by Casey Truffo, LMFT

“The person who knows best how to push your buttons,” a friend said to me recently, “is the one who installed them in the first place.” 

“The person who knows best how to push your buttons,” a friend said to me recently, “is the one who installed them in the first place.”

In all intimate relationships—whether with family members, close friends, co-workers, partners, or spouses—we do know how to push one another’s buttons, because these are the people we’ve been around the most. Consciously or not, we’ve learned how to get under their skin: Maybe it is bringing up issues we know are sensitive to them (usually in an insensitive way) or reminding them of a past mistake that should be relegated by now to the “done that, talked about it, moved on” column. Maybe it is comparing them to a family member in an unflattering way, like saying, “You’re just like your (notoriously thrifty) mom!” at moments when he or she disagrees with you about a big financial decision. Looking back, I am sure each of us can think of a moment where a similar occasion has happened to us and know that it never feels good to be treated this way. This moment is a time for reflection.

If you’ve been guilty of doing this—hitting your family, partner, co-worker, or friend where it hurts (often because you’re angry, and you want to hurt them)—the first step is to recognize the habit for what it is: a form of passive-aggressive behavior. Some people truly prefer to avoid confrontation, but by failing to say what is really on their mind, they make the more destructive choice of slyly criticizing their partner in hopes of convincing them to do what they want. For instance, in the above example, let’s say Lisa really wants to attend a friend’s extravagant wedding in the Bahamas, but her husband, Jake, is concerned about the expense. She could talk to him openly about how important it is to her or how she thinks they can cut expenses in other ways to help pay for it. Instead, she just goes for the jugular—and says, “You’re just like your mom!” which may be code for them meaning, “Why do you have to be so cheap!  Because you’re so cheap you ruin everyone else’s fun!”

There are many problems with this approach. One, they’re missing a chance to discuss the issue in a healthy, mature manner, maybe even reaching a compromise both can live with. Two, Lisa is taking advantage of what might be Jake’s Achilles’ heel—his fear of being perceived as tight with money—to try and force him into making a decision he is uncomfortable with, and for the wrong reasons. It is a form of manipulation that can become a stubborn pattern. Meanwhile, it builds resentment: they might ultimately make the trip, but Jake’s resentment about it could linger long after the deep golden tans have faded.

Whether or not Lisa—and others who “push buttons” (which most of us do at some time or another)—“installed” them in the first place, as my friend put it, the point is that she knows how to find them. Using your partner’s unique sensitivities against them make them feel insecure, guilty, lack self-confidence, or even just to provoke a fight is a form of manipulation that will usually come back to bite you by undermining the relationship’s long-term dynamics.

So the next time you feel frustrated, impatient, anxious or angry with your partner and don’t feel that you’re getting anywhere in the conversation, take a breather.  Instead, try more positive coping strategies, such as choosing to go for a walk and spend a little time considering their point of view. You need to be open minded and really try to look at the situation from both sides in order to have a respectful conversation.  Another option is to jot down some thoughts about why you feel so strongly about the issue at hand and revisit the topic when you’re both in a better frame of mind to discuss it. Now, these options might take more time and effort on your part. You still might not get exactly what you want in the long run, but you will be improving your ability to work together towards compromise, listen to each other, and talk like grown-ups while avoiding the potshots. You’ll be a better person—in a better relationship—for making the effort.

If you and your partner are struggling to establish healthy communication habits (and break bad ones), let the counselors at Orange County Relationship Center help you.  Call us today at 949-220-3211949-220-3211 or book your appointment via our online calendar.






About the Author

OC Relationship Center OC Relationship Center, LMFT

You deserve to feel better - in your life and relationships. At OC Relationship Center we want to help you find more love, more joy, more peace...and less conflict and less stress. Our licensed and caring counselors can help if you are single, dating, married, divorced.

OC Relationship Center can be found at
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