Thursday, June 16, 2016

The soft insult and reducing marital or relationship conflict

My experience in contested child custody litigation has provided great insight into the root causes of marital conflict. For over 10 years I have viewed marriages from the dysfunction perspective and helped at least one side in each relationship to mitigate the causes of the contentiousness of the post-marital relationship. In this rationation I will attempt to provide to you some strategies for recognizing and understanding insults that you may be delivering and how to modify your delivery so as to not have your audience perceive your utterances as demeaning.

Some insults jump straight out of the gate and hit you dead on. Everyone recognizes those by their content which often includes applying some diminutive term to the recipient. You have likely also experienced what I refer to as the “soft insult”. You may hear it called a back-handed compliment, indirect insult or drive-by insult.

The soft insult may require a more discerning ear to recognize. A spouse or someone of a similar relationship is best suited to both recognize and deliver these insults because they are context dependent. Motivations for the soft insult vary but I suspect that they serve the speaker’s desire to be satisfied by imparting the verbal slight without becoming engaged in a full-scale confrontation. It can provide the sense of having bested the target and also bring to a close the engagement without having to support the position.

A healthy relationship includes vigorous argument. Arguing demonstrates a sense of caring or concern. One does not argue for the sense of self satisfaction but, rather, to persuade the other party to adopt the proponent’s position or convince him or her of its efficacy for his or her benefit.

Arguments in marital relationships are more often brought to my attention in the post marital child custody litigation phase whereupon they usually are of an unhealthy nature. It is at this time when the ultimate benefactor of the debate should be the child. So it is also critical that the argument be conducted in a manner that reduces the potential for it to devolve into a fight.

The soft insult can easily take a healthy argument and turn it into a non-productive fight. The introduction of an adverb such as “finally” can change the tone of an innocuous sentence to one that is hostile. Read the following three sentences in the context of parents discussing a health issue for their son;
“I am glad to see that you have an interest in his well-being.”
“I am glad to see that you have taken an interest in his well-being.”
“I am glad to see that you have finally taken an interest in his well-being.”
Do you recognize the hostility in the third sentence? It says that your interest is long overdue. The message being conveyed is that you are selfish and haven’t been concerned about him until now, likely just to cause me grief by seeking an alternative course of care. The second sentence may not be as easy to recognize as being a soft insult but it is. It says that you have not had a prior interest. The message being conveyed is that I am assuring myself that I have been the one who has been the caretaker for our son.

That type of soft insult which attacks the efforts or motivations of someone may be more easy to recognize than this next type. From a speaker’s perspective there may be genuine concern for the well-being of the target of the next type of insult. Insulting conveyances are still just that though regardless of intent.

Intercessory prayer seeks to have an imaginary omnipresence intervene on behalf of someone, generally to bring about some perceived positive change. Prayers that the cancer invading a person’s body be eradicated are a common type of request for intercession. It is the seeking of this positive change however which may lead to the insult. By implication a positive change applies to a negative situation or state.

Of course seeking to have someone freed of cancer could hardly be perceived as insulting. Apply this same prayer model to any of a range of disagreements and the soft insult becomes more apparent.

Imagine a conversation with a friend over the issue of school choice. One of you holds the position that parents should receive vouchers to be applied to whatever school they would like for their child to attend. The other holds the position that parents should seek to improve the public school in their local district instead of abandoning the school.

After a lively debate about the pros and cons of each position as well as the obligations to one’s own children and the children of a community as a whole it becomes obvious that you are both caught in a stalemate. It is the closing of this debate upon which a remark such as, “I will pray for you” is made.

Recall that the basis of intercessory prayer is to correct an error. Thus, what is being said in that prayer statement is I know your position is incorrect, I have been unable to convince you otherwise, and I am going to seek supernatural intervention to help you pull your head out of your ass. When stated that bluntly the insult to the recipient is clearly evident and the person delivering it is quite aware that it is demeaning. It is intended to be so but delivered in a way that allows for plausible deniability.

The person with integrity will not parse words but will directly say what is intended. The “I will pray for you” quip in an argument is used euphemistically for implying that the recipient is a brainless moron and such an implication should be avoided. If such an insult is not intended then the phrase should not be used.

Monitor your language carefully when engaged in argument. If you experience the feeling that you wouldn’t make a particular quip to anyone else but that person in the spousal type relationship then you probably should avoid making it. It is these soft insults that take healthy debates and turn them into fights in which the objective changes from seeking to convince to winning the battle.

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©2008, 2016 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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