“..Threats cannot provide a solution to a problem. They only exacerbate feeling and make a clash inevitable.” - Stafford Cripps
“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.” - Marcus Aurelius
Recently a man confided some of his fears about his marriage to me. He and his wife have raised their children and are now that that fifty-something stage of catching a breath. The last two years they have gone to counseling, and he shared an exchange during a recent session that caught my attention.
It seems that for the last couple of years his wife has taken to sleeping away her days and eating lots of food. Any attempts at rousing herself are short-lived, and when the subject comes up she resorts to wailing and self-flagellation. This has caused significant problems and come up numerous times with the counselor. But regardless of what conversation is had or agreements are reached or actions he takes, the behavior persists. In the last counseling session he stated that this is unacceptable. “Well, what are you going to do about it?” inquired the counselor, mirrored shortly thereafter by his wife.
The man’s response is what gave me pause. He told the counselor and his wife that once anyone crosses the threshold of making threats in a relationship, there is no going back to a mutuality. He didn’t get married to be a father figure or someone’s “boss.” He married to enter into a partnership and regardless of how much goading his wife or the counselor do he is unwilling to make threats and thus put the relationship and himself on treacherous footing.
The first thing that struck me is the man’s wisdom about relationships. Having an illusion that we can control other people is just as naïve as buying into the illusion of ownership in the material realm. The more we are the “boss” of someone the more we tie ourselves down with responsibility for them and the less self-reliant they become. Any short term “results” won through intimidation boomerang as the person finds a way to “get even” with us. Being a “king” or even a “boss” is not something a spiritually mature person aspires to.
So when we are letting someone know that we don’t approve of their actions, what are our options? We can leave, but if and when we return the problem is still there. That leaves just a few options. We can point out the natural consequences of one’s behavior, we can draw boundaries in the relationship or we can make threats. Is there ever a circumstance that making a threat is the most effective tool? Perhaps Webster’s will be helpful.
A boundary is a line that marks the limit of a subject or a sphere of activity. A consequence is something that logically or naturally follows from an action or a condition. A threat is a statement of intent to inflict pain, injury, damage or other hostile action on another as retribution for something done or not done.
To threaten then is simply to menace someone with a promise of revenge. Yes, a promise – a promise that given the right set of circumstances we will engage in some action with the motive of retaliation. We thus put ourselves in a box – even if the action we ultimately take is the correct action, we have created a negative motive for doing it. And “living in a threatening environment” is sure to give the other party plenty of justification for the self-pity they need to CONTINUE their negativity. At best threats are a crude tool, and strong arguments can be made that they are NEVER the most effective option.
That leaves us the options of pointing out natural consequences, drawing boundaries and removing ourselves from the situation. If our intent is to be of maximum service to God and our fellows our answers will eventually become clear. And we can remember that no matter how bad our situation, there is no circumstance that a kind word won’t improve and a hostile attitude make worse.
Today, may I be choose my words carefully.
Have a great day !!