Did you know that according to relationship expert John Gottman, “96 percent of the time, you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the interaction?” In other words, if you begin a conversation with someone in a harsh, disrespectful or negative tone, it’s highly likely it’s not going to end well.
We see this all the time in online spaces. Suppose you put up a post about how much you admire a celebrity couple, and before you know it, your comment thread is filled with critical, hateful and downright ugly responses from your social media “friends.” This is called trolling, and it often leads to a lot of anxiety, frustration and discord. But did you know that your approach to conflicts in relationships can follow the same patterns and lead to the same disastrous effect—destroying your relationship!
What is trolling? In cyberspace, trolling is a deliberate attempt to cause conflict and controversy. Trolls will launch a personal attack against your character, question your motives, use inflammatory language just to make you mad and will even threaten your physical safety. For some people, dealing with trolls on their social media posts is annoying, but it can also be very abusive.
You may be able to spot an online troll fairly easily, but it’s often harder to admit that you’re a troll in your romantic relationships.
If you do these four things in an argument, you just may be a troll:
1. You make assumptions
When someone is trolling online, she will make assumptions about your real intentions.
“Assumptions are the termites of relationships,” actor Henry Winkler said, inferring that they silently eat away at the foundation of your connection. When you make assumptions about your partner, you are making up a story in your head about what the other person means or how they feel about you. This leads you to accuse or blame your partner, instead of listening to him. It goes something like this:
Suppose your man told you he’d call you at 6:00 p.m., but you don’t hear from him until 7:00 p.m.. When he calls, instead of saying, “I was worried about you. When you don’t let me know something came up that changed your plans, I feel like I’m not important to you,” you say, “I guess I’m not good enough for a phone call? What were you doing anyway? I bet you were on the phone with some side piece…”
Because you assumed the worse, you just took the issue from zero to 100 because you assumed your man was cheating instead of expressing your feelings and letting him explain to you what caused his delay.
2. You attack the other person
Online trolls are notorious for launching personal attacks by name-calling, insulting your family or making fun of your appearance. This is an attempt to change the conversation and disrupt the focus off the discussion. Relationship trolls also use this strategy by attacking their partner’s character during a heated conversation.
“There you go again, dismissing how I feel. This is probably why your last marriage didn’t work! I’m not your ex, okay? I’m not gonna take this!”
When you attack your partner’s integrity and bring up his failed relationships as a way to show he’s not a good person, you take the focus off the real issue.
3. You use anger and abusive language to make your point
You’ve probably seen how unchecked assumptions and unnecessary attacks lead to anger online; and before you know it, people are cussing each other out over a Beyoncé post! Likewise, using inflammatory language in an argument will lead to name-calling and even worse: emotional abuse!
“You’re a liar and a cheater! You think you’re something just because you have a house and car, but you’re just a mama’s boy.”
At this point, you’re causing damage to your relationship that may not be reversible.
4. You fight to be right
Online trolls often take the stance that they are ALWAYS right. In fact, they don’t come to a online forum to discuss. They come to make a point.
Similarly, if you approach a disagreement with your partner to prove “I’m right, you’re wrong,” you may win the battle, but you’ll lose the love! Always being right will lead you to criticize and put down your partner. The bottom line is, you can either be right or you can have a happy relationship. So instead to trying to prove that you’re right, look for ways to reconcile.
Online trolling is so harmful because people can hide behind a computer and say whatever they’d like without thinking about the consequences. Most of the time we just ban, block or delete them from our social media list and keep it moving.
But trolling in relationships will always lead to disasters. If you don’t want to be a troll in your relationship, practice being mindful of how you begin your disagreements with your partner. Pay attention to your tone, and be careful that you’re not making up negative stories in your head about the other person’s intentions. Tone down your anger and instead be intentional about listening to your partner’s perspective.
BMWK: What do you need to work on when it comes to handling conflict in your relationships?