'F**ck-you' only gets you so far

I have new neighbours. They argue. A lot. Even more now that our general lifestyles have been somewhat curtailed. I could still try and accept the incessant arguing if I got the impression that they were trying to resolve an issue and get to a better understanding of the situation and each other's point of view. Or tried to actually listen to each other. Or just agree to disagree and keep quiet. Or even leave. (Without slamming the door and shouting "f... you!) Alas, that is not the case.

The entire argument revolves around a series of fuck-yous and fuck-you backs, in ever increasing volume. Dies down because someone else in the building complains and then starts all over again with exactly the same vocabulary and same destructive pattern. Round and around we go…. Same court, same game, same balls, same result.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the value of an explosive well timed swear word. The satisfaction, expressiveness and release that words like ‘oopsie-doopsie you really upset me’ or ‘please go away’ can never achieve.

However, using the same word again and again and again as an insult simply devalues your behaviour and impact in trying to get your point across. It certainly doesn’t lead to a lasting resolution of conflict. Neither does it allow for the emergence of a different narrative and the possibility of empathy and understanding.

Throwing insults at and showing contempt for your partner, friends or colleagues are one of the most destructive behaviours you can exhibit in a relationship. (Other tell tale signs of a relationship in crises are ongoing Criticism, Stonewalling, Defensiveness.You can read more about the Four horsemen of the apocalypse here: Gottman Institute)

The words you use can keep you stuck in a situation or move you forward to a resolution. Words have the power to inspire, soothe, damage, ignite or heal. We all know how we like to be spoken to, yet often when we are in the midst of an argument, frustrated and emotionally flooded, we seem to fall back into an unhelpful vocabulary and tired insults.

Want to try something that might take you and your interactions during conflict further?

  • Next time you have an argument become aware of the word or words you use most often.

  • What is the effect of those words on the other person and the argument?

  • Are you picking up on each other’s vocabulary?

  • Do the words you use escalate, or defuse the conflict situation?

  • Are you making any headway getting across what it is that you actually need, feel or want?

  • What are you really trying to say?

When you are in a calmer state of mind; make a list of the words or phrases you currently use during arguments. Write them down. Now make a list of what you are actually upset about. Finally, make a list of words or phrases you think could be more effective, describe your emotions more accurately and convey what you are actually upset about with more dignity and clarity.

Below are some examples to get you started.

  • Fuck you - I am hurt and upset because…..

  • Fuck you - I totally disagree with your behaviour

  • Fuck you - It’s rough if I feel that you don’t consider me….

  • Fuck you - I’m really irritated right now

  • Fuck you - I don’t agree with what you are saying

  • Fuck you - I find you self-centred and selfish

  • Fuck you - Leave me alone for a bit so I can regroup

It will take a while to use substitutes for ‘fuck-you’ consistently, mindfully and not spin out when the other person doesn't change their narrative. But, when you learn to reframe and use words that the other person doesn't have to decode you will get so much closer to real communication and resolution.

ps. Once you've mastered that, then a well timed, seldom used 'fuck-off' is priceless.

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Tiny Empire,

37 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town

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 naett@naett-atkinson.com

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