Anger and Relationships: When Spite Spoils the Night

Couple after quarrelRebecca phoned Elise the other day and asked for some help with her boyfriend. They have been seeing each other for about six months. They just had a fight, and she’s trying to figure out what happened.

“Last week,” Rebecca said, “John and I spent the weekend together. We had a loving time, I thought everything was going great, and since it was my turn to pay I treated John to a special dinner in a restaurant we both like. We made the reservations together.

“I thought we would have a good time, like the last time we ate there, but John sat with his head in his hands throughout the meal, speechless and motionless. I was worried that there was a problem. Was he sick? Was something wrong? I asked, but he didn’t answer. I tried starting conversations, made some jokes, talked about stuff that interests him, but still, no response.”

“Finally,” Rebecca told Elise, “he admitted that he was lost in memories about the last time he ran the New York Marathon, and that he couldn’t help himself—he just had to stay there. I asked him what running the marathon was like, but he didn’t want to talk about it. I felt rejected and tried to get him to at least look me in the eye, but he remained eyes down, head in hand. I went from worried and upset to angry and upset, but John seemed not to notice.”

“Has anything like this ever happened before?” Elise asked.

“Yes,” Rebecca answered. “Once or twice. The thing is, that day we had spent an especially amorous afternoon together before dinner, and I just naturally assumed we would stay like that emotionally. But then as we walked to the restaurant he seemed annoyed, and things got worse from there. It’s like he just turned off. I couldn’t understand what was going on. He changed from loving to hating in five fast seconds.”

Instead of savoring a leisurely and delicious meal, they ate at high speed, skipped dessert, and went home early. Rebecca felt angry. She felt that John had spoiled the meal. Even the waiter noticed that there was a problem.

“What did you do?” Elise asked.

“He’s so changeable. It’s like I can’t always tell what’s coming. One minute we’re in love with each other; the next minute he can’t stand to look at me.”

“I couldn’t wait to get home,” Rebecca said. “He’s so changeable. It’s like I can’t always tell what’s coming. One minute we’re in love with each other; the next minute he can’t stand to look at me.”

“It’s hard to know what’s real,” Elise said.

“The morning after that horrible dinner,” Rebecca said, “John told me that he hadn’t wanted to eat out with me, there was something else he really wanted to do instead. Since we had reservations at the restaurant he decided go along with our plans, but he resented it. He resented me, and he showed it by ignoring my existence. He told me he acted out of spite. I was shocked.

“I told him off, and at first he didn’t seem particularly upset, like he didn’t care at all, like it was nothing and I should just forget about it. That made me really mad and I called him a big baby, and then John got angry, too, like my anger justified his and he turned things around so that now the argument was about my anger and became my fault. I guess I’m not allowed to get angry. But when he got mad, he finally got honest. Clearly, he was angry all along—angry and spiteful.”

“So what about this spite thing?” Elise asked Rebecca.

“This is what I think,” Rebecca said. “John got mad and hid it because he didn’t have the courage to be upfront about his feelings. There’s an old saying: to ‘cut off your nose to spite your face,’ which is what happened that night. John spoiled the dinner not just for me but for both of us, and he changed the memories of what had been a lovely weekend into something ugly.

“Generally, John is mostly a good guy, but every once in a while he can be mean and selfish.”

“I wonder what will happen next time,” Elise said.

Note: The preceding article describes a fictional situation between fictional people and is intended only to illuminate elements of real-world relationship dynamics. Seeking a therapist to help resolve dynamics such as these is highly recommended.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 8 comments
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  • Sherman

    Sherman

    June 9th, 2015 at 10:19 AM

    I’m sorry but I am not gonna waste my time on someone who chooses to live in the past on memories.

  • Dana

    Dana

    June 9th, 2015 at 2:20 PM

    So you describe a situation many people have probably been in, but don’t offer any tips or insights in how to handle this in a healthy way? That seems like a waste of an opportunity to help people.
    What a wasted blog post.

  • Lena

    Lena

    June 9th, 2015 at 3:58 PM

    My boyfriend always finds the worst times to pick a fight and you know what? I am sorts getting sick of all of the nitpicking. I would like to tell him look, if you have something to say to me then say it in the moment and don’t be bringing this back up days later when I have already forgotten about in the first place! But that’s like his ammunition, it feels like he holds onto stuff until there is this perfect time that he thinks that he can use it against me. I swear it’s like he’s hording these passive aggressive weapons and it’s starting to drive me away.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    June 10th, 2015 at 11:10 AM

    Hi Lena,
    Maybe this bears discussion with your boyfriend. Thanks for writing in.
    Take care,
    Lyn

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    June 10th, 2015 at 11:11 AM

    Dana, sorry you don’t like the post. What suggestions or tips would you like to see?
    Thanks for writing.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Paige

    Paige

    June 11th, 2015 at 1:19 PM

    We all have had someone in our lives who is like this. I hate to say it but you just kind of get to that point where you have to see that this is a person who only is thinking about themselves and they are being a big baby about a very adult reality. Why do I even need to keep someone like this in my life when all they want to do is focus on the bad times but never on the good? That takes way too much energy in life to live like that, so I think that the best thing is to keep calm and carry on… without them.

  • donnie

    donnie

    June 12th, 2015 at 11:52 AM

    I hate the mood swings, I hate not being able to tell from one minute to the next whether we are supposed to be happy with each other or not. She can be like a ticking time bomb at times, and it is very confusing to me.

  • Nolan

    Nolan

    June 15th, 2015 at 5:11 PM

    My girl is just so dang jealous, I can’t look in another woman’s direction without her going totally off.
    I mean, in someways it feels nice to know she cares that much. But in another way it seems sort of unhealthy.

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