The last word

Do you or your partner — or both — always have to have the final say in your conversations? It’s called last-wording, and it’s a habit that can be destructive to your feelings and your relationship

Special to The TribuneJuly 20, 2012 

‘My girlfriend always has to have the last word,” the young man complained in my office. “No matter what I say, she needs to be right. She makes me really angry at times, and we get into horrendous fights.”

Last-wording is a habitual, inflammatory conversational style in which members feel the need to prove themselves superior to their mates. It’s similar to other relational power plays, such as namecalling, swearing and demeaning.

Last-wording exacts a heavy toll on relationships. It creates unnecessary conflict and hurt feelings. Spouses feel discounted by their partners. They feel as if they’re continually in the wrong. Last worders often have take-charge personalities. They’re quick to assume the alpha role. They harbor intense passions and are quick to share their viewpoints to everyone within earshot.

They may also have specific rules they like others in the family to follow. For instance, a wife may insist that her husband remove his shoes before he walks in the house so that he doesn’t track dirt on the floors. In spite of his pleas and protests, he’s unable to change her cast-in-concrete thoughts.

Relationships with last-worders fall into two distinct categories, depending on how many last-worders are involved. When there’s only one last-worder in the household, relationships are lop-sided affairs. One partner assumes a dominant stance, which means the other must perennially back down. Although couples in these relationships engage in less conflict, submissive partners feel intimidated and overpowered.

If there are two last-worders, the relationship is more explosive. Neither partner is willing to end the conversation. There’s always more fuel to toss on the flame. Tiny issues gain monumental status as both partners continually raise the ante. Compromise is nearly impossible. Partners feel exhausted and continually at odds.

Last-wording is closely correlated to levels of agitation. The more irritated couples feel, the more likely they are to want the fi nal say.

It’s equally linked to personal power. Folks who experience inner confidence don’t need to wrest control from their loved ones. They’re already satisfied with their lives. Winning an argument doesn’t make them feel any happier. Emotionally bullying someone else feels downright wrong.

Insecure people are just the opposite. They gain status when they degrade others. If they perceive they’re being threatened, they strike back to regain the upper hand, even when the foe is their beloved mate.

Fortunately, last-wording is a habit, and like all habits, it can be changed. When one or both partners choose to communicate differently, the relationship will drastically improve.

TRY THESE TIPS TO BREAK THE LAST-WORDING HABIT

Tune in to your level of anger. Last-wording increases as your emotional thermometer climbs. Keep tabs on your personal heat and be willing to cool down as needed.

Be polite. A calm, polite demeanor prevents arguments from getting out of hand. Select your words with care. Aim to be respectful. Maintain a conciliatory tone.

Sum up your disagreement. If you reach an impasse with your partner, say, “It’s clear we have differing opinions. We may not be able to reach an agreement at this time. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about you.”

Take a break. Many topics require successive discussions. They’re too big to tackle in one sitting. Allow yourselves a breather. Try again when you’re both fresh.

Focus on the larger picture. Nothing is worth destroying your relationship. Remember why you’re together. Keep that image in the forefront.

IF YOUR PARTNER IS A LAST-WORDER

Don’t take it personally. You’ve selected a person who likes to say the last word. It’s not because of something you’ve done. Understand the dynamics, but remain above the last-wording fray.

Disengage from the discussion. Don’t attempt to talk logic with a last-worder. They want control more than a rational conversation. Instead, say, “Let’s talk about this when we’re calmer.” Then politely excuse yourself from the room.

Be willing to give in. Last-worders like being in charge. They like doing things a certain way. Sometimes it’s easiest to say, “Yes, dear,” in order to keep the peace.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.

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