Responding Assertively to Game Playing

Responding Assertively to Game Playing

I will illustrate the topic with an example from the story of “Lyn” and “James”.

At one time Lyn decides to take her children on vacation with a girlfriend and her children for a few days. But when Lyn tells James of the plan, he is not OK with it. When she asks why, he just says, “Because I said so.” When she says she is definitely going but would like his consent, he again refuses to give it.

Earlier in their relationship, Lyn would have backed down, but this time she decides to go anyway. James remains angry and revengeful. On Lyn’s return, James refuses to speak to her, and they go to bed in silence. The next morning, Lyn wakes to discover that James is not there. She finds him in the living room with her wallet and a pair of scissors cutting up her credit cards.

She asks what is going on and James hands over her wallet with nothing but five dollars in it. He says, “When you have spent that, give me the receipt, and I will give you another five. You will never disobey me again.”

James has “upped the ante” in the game he is playing, going to an extreme to get Lyn to comply. It implies that if Lyn doesn’t remain in her position of Helpless, James will do whatever it takes to put her back in it. His actions are very aggressive.

The situation may have started as a first-degree game—banter about Lyn taking the kids on a trip while James stayed home—but turned into a third-degree game that had nowhere else to go but divorce court, which is exactly where it ended up.

In theory, it sounds easy to say what you really think, without fear of being judged, but we know that when the time comes things can get a bit emotionally intense.

It really is best to speak up and say what you’re not okay with, but not always. Sometimes the best thing to do is to back off and say nothing. The reason why sometimes saying nothing is the smarter thing to do is because it can actually prevent escalation to a third degree game: Removing yourself from a situation can be difficult and the other person may try constantly to drag you back into the game which could lead to serious issues for the relationship or for the safety of the individuals in the relationship.

And as with Lyn and James sometimes the initiator of the game, most likely James in this case, will up the ante in order to complicate the game playing even more taking it to another level. Hopefully though that person will come to accept the withdrawal of the other and withdraw as well.

Every couple has their own history, marked with ups and downs, and only they know what really has happened in their relationship in the past. But incidents like this one in the story above indicate a problem that probably has existed for a long time and the couple reacts this way because now neither of them is willing to speak up and compromise their egos for the good of the relationship or to find another outcome.

Of course they could have done it another way and the outcome could be completely different.

Since a real power-play went on here, it indicates that something in their relationship seriously needs to be addressed. Maybe it has decayed so badly that only professional intervention can bring a good resolution.

To the wonder of you,

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