If there's one thing I've mastered in my life, it's how to turn a minor disagreement into the battle scene from Braveheart where he's smashing all those dudes' heads with that hammer thing. Metaphorically. Mostly. I've been working on changing that part of me for several years, and though I can't say I've achieved a monk-like zen, I've at least figured out which conflict tactics serve no other purpose than emotional battle paint.
#5. "I'm on Strike!"
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The house has been a festering shithole for weeks. Every time you get it in somewhat respectable condition, your roommate or spouse or live-in llama groomer comes along and fucks it all up. Wherever they sat last is marked with a steadily growing pile of empty Red Bull cans and used hypodermic needles. It's a blatant lack of respect and appreciation for the hard work you put into keeping the place free of encroaching parasitic life-forms.
You've had enough. You're going on strike, and you're not telling anyone that it's happening. Let's see how long it takes them to notice that they have no clean dishes or clothes. You wonder how long it will take for them to get fed up with an overflowing trashcan and take the garbage out on their own free will. Yep, you're just going to sit back in total silence and wait for them to learn their lesson. This plan is foolproof, baby.
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"Nope. I don't see a damn thing."
Why It Doesn't Work:
Almost everyone I know has tried this at one point or another, and I have never seen it work. Not once have I ever heard of the other party suddenly having an epiphany and announcing, "What a fool I've been! All this time, you've been tirelessly working to keep our home beautiful and sanitary, and I've completely taken advantage of your sacrifice. I have learned my lesson, and I hereby vow to do my fair share."
What actually happens is that the other party starts resenting you and thinking you're getting lazy. It doesn't matter if they're wrong. What matters is that before the conflict, they very likely considered their life and actions to be totally normal. To them, your cleaning doesn't get a second thought because that's just something you do, like playing video games or writing racist limericks. When you stop doing what they've grown accustomed to (in this instance, the cleaning), it appears like you've just suddenly decided to stop working.
"You can't just sit around on the couch all day in your pajam- waaaait a minute."
What they're not seeing is that this is your passive-aggressive attempt to feel justified in your anger. If they don't take over the chores that you've given up (and they most likely won't), then you have tangible proof that they don't do anything around the house to help out. It's direct evidence to support your claim of, "Without me, this house would go to hell!" And since you're doing this behind-the-scenes by not telling them, you've already set up the game to make sure you win. You've put them in a conflict without them even knowing.
In the meantime, as the house gets dirtier and dirtier, both of you are quietly building up resentment until it boils over and a huge argument erupts. That's when you spring your trap ... and that's when they go from resenting you to hating you. And then this happens ...
#4. "You Need to Calm Down. Relax."
So the situation finally explodes, and your llama groomer, Lorenzo Llamas, becomes a tornado of cursing in ever-increasing volume. He can't believe that, instead of coming to him and discussing the problem, you'd harbor it and pull such a dick move. He calls you a butt face and a booger picker and throws a tuft of freshly cut tail hair at you. He is clearly insane with rage.
Someone has to be the adult here, so you gather all of the level-headed authority you can muster, look him dead in the eyes, and demand through gritted teeth, "You need to calm down." To your surprise, he doesn't calm down at all. In fact, he does the exact opposite of calming down. Or ... wait ... would that be calming up? I don't know, he just gets really mad.
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"Oooooh, shit. It's about to go down."
Why It Doesn't Work:
Yes, it is a pretty good idea for everyone to calm down during an argument, but in my experience, that's not the intent when that line is delivered. More often than not, it's used as a form of control, like telling a kid to not eat his broccoli so the little bastard will do it before you feed it to him by jamming it through the pores of his face. So does that mean you're trying to make the other person angrier by saying it? Not exactly. At least not consciously.
It's all in the tone. If a person really wants the other to calm down, you can tell. It's done in a truer voice and usually in a more pleading manner. "Chad, can you please try to calm down? This is getting out of control." Demanding that a person calm down sets up a situation where the recipient jumps to auto-rebel mode like an emotional dick-shaped Transformer, whereas the person saying it appears to be the collected, logical party. Like maybe a ... I don't know, condom-shaped Transformer?
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"Careful, man. That thing comes equipped with rocket launchers."
It's a roundabout way of being dismissive, because once the "calm" person sets up that environment, it automatically strips away any merit from what the vocally angry person is saying. How can their argument be logical? They're clearly in a blind rage, whereas you are thinking and speaking rationally. You automatically win because you've effectively taken away their ability to compete.
#3. Cold Dead Silence
Lorenzo "Curse Tornado" Llamas still hasn't calmed down. Because of your last exchange, he's now adding in jabs at your mother, calling her a "fat mean fatty" and claiming that she always hated him because she's jealous of his sweet combing skills. You know this is going nowhere. He's just saying things to hurt you because he's no longer in control of his anger.
You throw up a hand and tell him, "I can't talk to you when you're like this. I'm done." Then you walk away. For the next week, you speak to him only when you have to, and even then it's in as few words as possible. "Llama. Hair. Purple." When he tries to start a conversation, you walk away in a huff, leaving him standing there with his teeth in his mouth, looking like he just stole something. Point made, baby.
"So ... just like ... dye the whole thing, or ..."
Why It Doesn't Work:
For the most part, "I'm too mad to talk about it right now" is a ruse. Yes, there are instances where that's true, but not if it's followed by an extended silence that lasts for days. The brutal reality is that it's a means of punishing the other person by withdrawing all connection. In fact, their physical presence is only there as a reminder that, "Yep, I still exist. But you don't get to interact with me on any level. I am the pie that will never become your poop."
That silence is every bit as stress-inducing as a full-blown argument. In some cases even more so, because at least an argument has the benefit of being able to release some of the steam through explaining your side of the story or flat-out screaming. Silence denies all of that. The other person has to walk on eggshells around you, never knowing when you're going to pick up where you left off. Or if you ever will at all. If that llama ever figures out how to escape the kitchen, what happens to the relationship?
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No, in those situations, you're not just waiting to talk again when you're less angry. You're claiming control of the entire conflict by refusing to participate until it's under your exact terms. In that context, the silence isn't a defense -- it's a weapon.