It's a common scenario: you talk about a certain topic with your girlfriend and you have contradicting opinions. You try to explain your side and she does, too. But instead of enlightening each other, you find yourselves in a heated exchange. Out of nowhere, she suddenly tells you: "Mag break na lang tayo." Sometimes you can't help but ask yourself: "Why the hell does she always threaten to leave me when we fight?"
Kay Vardeleon, RPsy, counseling psychologist at Childfam-Possibilities Psychosocial Services, explains that there are many possible reasons, and among these are poor skills in conflict management and the want to gain power in the relationship.
"Arguments are normal in any relationship, but if a person has low tolerance for conflict they may think that breaking up is the best way to escape the tension. This means that at the time they made the threat they may mean it because the negative emotions feel intolerable, but once the high emotions have passed they realize that they may have been too hasty in issuing it," says Vardeleon.
Sometimes, threatening with a breakup is a means to gain or retain power in the relationship. In other words, she threatens to leave you so you'd give her what she wants.
The psychologist further explains: "This is a dysfunctional way of dealing with a problem as it puts one on the losing end which doesn't make for a good relationship. It also means that the problem doesn't really get solved properly. The relationship just gets hostage to get what one party wants."
If the situation happens quite regularly, where the threat is always taken back after, there is a good chance that it's a pattern that deserves closer attention. She may not be serious with her decision to leave you, but it can still be a serious threat to the relationship if the behavior keeps going, according to Vardeleon.
"Growth in relationships can only happen if there is stability, so if there is constant threat, it's hard for the relationship to grow. For sure, problems don't get resolved properly and fairly, so negative emotions will constantly simmer under the surface," she notes.
If you don't want to lose her and maintain a healthy relationship, it would be best to sit together and discuss how to handle arguments better. Make sure you are both calm so you would have a more rational discussion.
"Being responsible in how you express your side and listening with empathy to the other party are keys. You can say something like 'I can hear that you're very upset right now, but is breaking up with me something that you really want to do?'", Vardeleon advises.
Let her know how her insensitive remarks affect you as she may not be aware about the impact of her behavior. "Explaining to her how the threats affect your self-esteem, your optimism about solving the problems in your relationship, and even your desire to remain in the relationship can underscore the need to restrain one's self from making threats."
If there is already a "give me what I want or else I leave you" kind of vibe, you may need to get professional help like counseling to surface the underlying causes of said behavior.
"Get help. A trusted common friend or a professional counselor can act as go-between so that you can get to the root of this issue and find alternative ways of arguing or communicating your needs," Vardeleon advises.
Kay Vardeleon, RPsy is a counseling psychologist at Childfam-Possibilities Psychosocial Services, #5 West Ave. Quezon City. She may be reached through (02) 404-06-99, (+63)910-126-9540, (+63)927-224-4558 or firstname.lastname@example.org.