When dealing with a baiting partner, silence is golden

By • Nov 4th, 2009 • Category: For Couples

I often get questions on this site from people asking what to do or say in certain situations, usually when their partner has said or done something unpleasant. It may be the case that an insult or accusation is hurled their way or they are being asked uncomfortable and proving questions.  This is a tough question to answer since it depends so much on the particular situation. However, general rules do follow-  do not raise your voice or escalate, do not lower the dialogue with insults or accusations of your own, do not take an overly aggressive of your own. Any of the above will just escalate the situation. As I discussed in a previous article, you can deflect the conversation by trying to paraphrase what the other person has stated and ask for clarification or simply refuse to engage in the topic by saying something like “I’m sure we can have a discussion about this without raising our voices and escalating.”

However, I’m about to mention another technique that can be used SELECTIVELY to deal with a person or subject we would rather not deal with- IGNORE THEM. The reason that I stress that this should be used selectively is because it can actually backfire if done in an improper way.  For example, if someone is confronting you directly, you probably wouldn’t want to just ignore them because that would enrage them further, especially if the issue is that they are already feeling neglected.  Instead, you can use some of the other techniques mentioned above.  So when should you use the silent treatment? When someone is trying to BAIT you. A bait can be best understood as a loaded question or statement. There is a big difference between an argument resulting from a concrete situation that has organically arisen and an argument that was created when another person baited the other person into arguing.  Many arguments are actually caused by baiting, rather than a tangible issue that needed to be promptly addressed. Have you ever got into an argument and afterward wondered what on earth you were arguing about?  If so, you have been the victim of baiting.

Baiting usually occurs for one of two reasons- the partner has some resentment built up towards the other partner and is looking for an activating event to unleash their feelings or is taking out their negative emotions regarding something else in their life onto their partner. Either way, these kinds of arguments created by baiting create further resentment and animosity in the relationship, when in actuality, they could have been easily avoided.

One way to nullify the efforts of a baiting partner is to recognize baiting behavior as such and call attention to it. For example, if you realize you are being baited, you can tell your partner “Honey, I know you are trying to bait me, but it’s not going to work.” This simple sentence brings the partner’s hidden agenda into open light and thus, diffuses its dynamics. If your partner responds with “I am not baiting you”, the conversation is now on your terms and you can respond with “I would like to have a pleasant evening and will not participate in conversation that seems to be baiting me into a negative frame of mind.” There are many ways to go with this, but you have successfully changed the frame of the conversation to be less about the content of the bait and more about the desire not to be negative.

Perhaps an even better strategy is to just snuff out the bait immediately by not even acknowledging it. This way you don’t give it any oxygen at all to ignite by not giving it any legitimacy whatsoever. How does this work? Let’s use an example as illustration. Let’s suppose your partner is feeling a little frustrated at work and wants to take out his/her aggression on you. Let’s also suppose they come home hungry and the fridge is empty. You’ve also had a busy day and did not have time to go food shopping. Instead of ordering in or suggesting to go shopping together, your partner aggressively says to you “How come you never do anything around the house?” (even if you usually do).  What is going on here is that they are not simply reacting to the fact that there is literally no food in the fridge, but rather feeling hostile and not in control due to frustrations at work and looking for an explosive element to allow them to take their hostility out on you and so feel a stronger sense of control again. If you say something like “What do you mean I never do anything, I do more than you!” then you are working within their “frame” and playing right into their hands, feeding the fire until it becomes an explosive situation.  Instead, you can change the frame by bringing attention to their true motives (as mentioned above) by saying “I realize you are trying to bait me, and it’s not going to work”, or even better still, you can ignore the frame entirely and not acknowledge it at all. In that case, you would not even respond at all to the accusation “you never do anything around the house” and instead create your own frame by saying “let’s order in” or “let’s go out and go food shopping.” Or you may entirely ignore the entire subject and talk about something else entirely (especially pleasant) like plans for the weekend or something like that.

The important thing to remember is that you are not obligated to respond to anything that bothers you, especially a bait.  Remember to keep the conversation civil and positive and recognize a bait when you see it. When it comes hurtling your way, remember to keep the conversation framed on your terms. The easiest way to destroy a bait is to snuff it out before it has a chance to explode by depriving it of oxygen. In this case, the old adage applies- “Silence is golden.”


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One Response »

  1. I feel that the way you respond to your partner’s baiting seems to ignore her emotions. She might only want to express her frustrations and pent-up emotions. The way you ignore and try to block her way to express may only accumulate her emotions or make her feel you’re not respecting her feelings. You may stop an argument, but it doesn’t seem to be good for an open and respectful relationship.

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