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. Its 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 theyre continually in the wrong. Last worders often have take-charge personalities. Theyre 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 doesnt track dirt on the floors. In spite of his pleas and protests, hes 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 theres 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. Theres 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.
Its equally linked to personal power. Folks who experience inner confidence dont need to wrest control from their loved ones. Theyre already satisfied with their lives. Winning an argument doesnt 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 theyre 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, Its clear we have differing opinions. We may not be able to reach an agreement at this time. That doesnt mean I dont care about you.
Take a break. Many topics require successive discussions. Theyre too big to tackle in one sitting. Allow yourselves a breather. Try again when youre both fresh.
Focus on the larger picture. Nothing is worth destroying your relationship. Remember why youre together. Keep that image in the forefront.
IF YOUR PARTNER IS A LAST-WORDER
Dont take it personally. Youve selected a person who likes to say the last word. Its not because of something youve done. Understand the dynamics, but remain above the last-wording fray.
Disengage from the discussion. Dont attempt to talk logic with a last-worder. They want control more than a rational conversation. Instead, say, Lets talk about this when were 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 its 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.