The Relationship Puzzle
A Few of the Pieces

The Importance of Avoiding Scorched Earth

There are moments in every relationship where the intensity of communication reaches a fever pitch. The frustration and sadness seeps into our word choice and tone of voice. As the escalation continues, each person’s survival response becomes activated leading to a moment of no return. The previously thought yet never dared said, spills out of our mouths. What remains of an attempt to understand is replaced by the intent to do harm, with little caring for the other-all bets are off and so are the verbal gloves. This is a verbal brawl-acting with impunity, we allow ourselves to engage in scorched earth communication.

A significant precursor to going as far as the scorched earth way is the activation of the fight survivor response. Of the 3 survivor responses, (fight, flight, freeze), the fight response is the one that leads to the scorched earth stance. When our fight response is activated, at a heightened enough level, the essence of our being feels threatened. Our connection to the other is severed. We are fighting for our existence. We do not care what we say or how we say it. We give ourselves permission to engage in this approach as we feel we are matching the intent and tone of the other. This verbal warfare, is retaliation for a look, a tone, a hurtful insinuation that we feel cuts to our emotional bone and deserves a harsh rebuttal. We need to prove a point-we will not be treated this way. With disrespect, contempt and dismissiveness. While what we feel may have legitimacy, and we may feel justified in our need to retaliate, there is a consequence for our choice, and a significant one at that- we believe we win the battle, and we do not realize we also begin to lose the relationship.

Too many of these scorched earth interactions and we are reluctant to engage. We are less willing to step in and share, we are less willing to communicate our vulnerability, we hesitate to provide comfort or solace, we find ourselves withholding emotionally. If we do this long enough then emotional stagnation encroaches and we live parallel lives, functional parents/roommates, not intimate partners who are emotionally engaged.
Yet many of us complain to our friends that we don’t feel emotionally connected to our partner. We feel more separate, two ships passing in the night, living parallel lives. The spark has disappeared. This isn’t what we want-this isn’t what we signed up for. Attempts to re-engage are frustrating as a circular and ultimately frustrating communication pattern has become the default norm. Each of us remains unwilling to allow for sharing our vulnerability-there have been too many scorched earth interactions. We don’t feel safe. The way back to each other feels too painful and arduous. We carry on, doing the right thing, resisting interaction and feeling a gnawing frustration that what we once wanted seems gone forever.

What we forget when we choose this stance of emotional warfare with someone we love, is it leaves scars. Emotional scars couple with grave reservation about stepping back into the emotional fray with one another. This hesitation

This reluctance to engage is not always clear to the person. They are a bit indifferent, more withdrawn, less engaged, less receptive and responsive to relationship affirming overtures.