September 30, 2013

The Art of Undermining your Significant Other

7 ways to be a mindful jerkP. B. Law

One of America’s most under-appreciated talents is the sheer genius of its married and unmarried couples in using the language and insights of therapy to destroy their relationships. Decades ago, when psychoanalysis was all the rage, husbands and wives found that throwing a few Freudian insights into their arguments gave both an air of authority to their dismissive judgments of each other and a death-dealing blow to the survival of a healthy relationship. If your parents knew any Freudian jargon, you may remember exchanges like this:

A: (Emptying another ashtray) “I’m sick and tired of cleaning up after your filthy oral fixation all the time. Why don’t you just suck your thumb instead?”
B: “Well, darling, if you weren’t so anal retentive about keeping this room antiseptically clean, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

Those times are past. Freud is out, but mindfulness is in, and a new generation of couples have found that the vocabulary of radical acceptance is a powerful new weapon in the ongoing fight to have the final word—“final” in the sense of bringing the relationship to an end.

Consider these examples:

A: “I just feel that it would only be fair if sometimes I got to…”
B: “You’re clinging to your opinions, darling. When will you stop clinging???”

A: “Honey, it’s midnight. Why are we even talking about this?”
B: “Well, we are talking about it, so just accept the way things are, okay?”

A: “I can’t believe you did this to me!”
B: “Look, what I did was in the past, all right? Why don’t you do us both a favor and just stay in the Now?”

A: (Drops dish while cleaning up the kitchen)
B: (From the living room) “Not being very mindful today, are we?”

A: “I can’t stop thinking about the mean thing you said last night.”
B: “You should know better, sweetie. Just note, ‘thinking, thinking,’ and it’ll go away.”

A: “But you promised me!!”
B: “Everything’s impermanent, okay? Some promises have an expiry date.”

A: “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t say that.”
B: “There you go again, sweetheart: judging mind, judging mind.”

In all these cases, the common denominator is that the person using mindfulness vocabulary is assuming the role of a teacher dealing with a failing student. This assumption of superiority, together with the use of spiritual wisdom delivered with sarcasm, is enough to doom any attempt at reconciliation. The added beauty of mainstream mindfulness is that it’s so mindless. Unlike psychoanalysis, the insights of mindfulness can be reduced to short sound bites just right for a culture that wants everything quick and easy, especially the end of conversations and the demise of relationships. Given that mainstream mindfulness takes almost no time to master, we can expect its vocabulary to become an even more popular tool for bringing future relationships to an end.

P. B. Law, a longtime Tricycle contributor, has a website.

Want to read more about love and relationships? Download our newest e-book, Tricycle Talks: Love & Relationships, free to Supporting & Sustaining Members.

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Dominic Gomez's picture

A: "What? You didn't vacuum under the sofa?"
B: "I have no attachments, Honey."

deannies's picture


conroy.r's picture

Thank you. I laughed aloud in the middle of a day that was otherwise barren of laughter.

Jack Foreigner's picture

One hand clapping! ;-)

Dolgyal's picture

I appreciate the observation that jargon is often appropriated and misused for aggressive effect. Here is an excerpt from an account of someone leaving a Buddhist cult and the kind of verbal abuse she suffered.
"I was told to report to the teacher about what people were talking about in the centre. I was expected to tell people off for their behavior so that the teacher would not look bad in front of her peers.
One class was on Mother's Day. Some of the students missed the class and I was told to put black marks after their names, 3 or 4 black marks and you were expelled from the study program. I was also expected to tell them off for not attending the study program.
One day, I found a young girl who did some volunteer work around the centre, she was in tears because of something the teacher had said to her. When I pointed out to the teacher that she was a very sensitive person the teacher said no she is a very self cherishing (a term used frequently in NKT centers to torture students) person! Another girl borrowed a centre pen to write with, she got a telling off in front a study class ... why? Because she was stealing ink belonging to the centre!. What nuts, I could go on more.
As for me, I decided to move to another centre in the NKT, the teacher told me they don't want you, they are taking you because they have to. ( she was saying this to a broken woman, that was doing her best to stay ordained), she said who would want someone like you in there centre. You have let everyone down you have let your spiritual guide down and lots more. As if I was not feeling bad enough.
In the end, I left the tradition, I disrobed. It has taken me two years to recover. I'm still in recovery. Thankfully I have a good family and friends and they support me."

Jack Foreigner's picture

What the freak is "NKT"??? I went to your site and couldn't immediately tell what organization you think you're exposing....

UPDATE: Okay, got it -- after a lot of should have a more concise introduction if you're trying to advocate or warn against something! A conventional "about page" would be a good start. :-)

jackelope65's picture

I'm sorry, tell me more about it so that I can better understand, but let's take a deep breath first and breathe out slowly so that we will be really able to communicate properly. How can I make it up to you. In the future I will try harder. ( Long Pause ) Let's hug.

Sarah11.11's picture

This is cute, and familiar :)