Saturday, September 8, 2007

Why The Terminator Is Deadly In Relationships

I've heard people often laugh about Arnold Schwartzenegger's well-known phrase, "I'll be back" from the first Terminator movie. You may recall that Arnold played a futuristic Cyborg, called a TERMINATOR, intent on destroying the mother of the leader of the resistance, John Connor, in one of his landmark roles. While we may have laughed or found the phrase and the intense nature of the relentless terminator exciting, it is no laughing matter when a dating partner or spouse uses a terminator in a relationship.

You may ask, what is a terminator, in this context?

My understanding of a terminator is when we issue a form of communication that basically states we intend to end or terminate the relationship.

I first learned of the concept of relationship "terminators" from John Gottman, an expert on relationships and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert ( I found the idea very enlightening and the concept of terminator-avoidance has since changed how I communicate in relationships.

I'd like to reference one of my theories on relationship success, which I call The Love Triangle, here:

Love = Friendship + Passion + Commitment
Friendship is basically when we like being with someone. It is about spending time together, experiencing trust, respect, caring, and sharing. You can be friends whether dating someone or married. And friendships is a cornerstone of love.

Passion is more about sexual desire, a longing to be with each other intimately. Passion without friendship or commitment is considered infatuation.

Commitment is the agreement to stick with the relationship even when things happen or are said that we may not like. Commitment may expand beyond that, to not sharing passion with other people, or to be together according to vows we often hear in marriage ceremonies (richer or poorer, better or worse, etc.). Love needs commitment to see it through.

All of that sounds good, doesn't it? Yet, even though you may have all of these three things in alignment, you can still blow it. Your relationship may not last even if you have love, commitment, and passion! Why is that? Well, according to Gottman, If you communicate in ways that are disrespectful (examples include stonewalling with "the silent treatment", snide remarks, criticism such as "you always/you never") or if you don't own your issues, you may have problems in the long run.
But the worst of these communication problems is the terminator. Why?

Because the terminator is a verbalization of an intent to end the relationship. According to the laws of attraction, if we state a terminator when emotions are high, such as when we're in a fight or tense situation, we're basically stating that we'd rather end it than be committed. True commitment won't issue a terminator. True commitment won't issue a terminator. Yes, I said it again. Because I wanted you to NOTICE that if you're saying "okay, this won't work" or "why am I doing this?" or "what's the point of this?" or "if that's how you feel then I'm out" or any myriad of comments like this, you're giving a terminator.

Out of ignorance and just plain self-centeredness, I once totally violated the idea of avoiding terminators in my own marriage, back in the early 1990's, when my wife was complaining about something she didn't like about me, I replied with "if you don't like it, then why don't you just divorce me." Hey, I didn't really mean it. But, guess what... well, that's right, we're not married any more. For her own part, my ex wasn't any better with her communication, calling herself a "SEGA widow" when I played video games for an extended period one winter. So, the terminator obviously manifested and had a hand in dooming that relationship.
When you are in a heated situation, it is better not to issue a terminator unless you truly intend to end the relationship. After all, a terminator's intent is destructive in nature. And, I'll add that common sense dictates that if you really want to end the relationship (catch yourself using terminators), then maybe the most loving thing to do is to end it while things are good, rather than in the heat of the fight. Easier said than done, though, huh?
Overall, I think it is wiser, healthier, and more loving to not use terminators at all. After all, we may attract others using terminators on us. And, that's not fun, now, is it?

I think I may modify The Love Triangle to be Love Squared Equals Lasting Love:
Love = [Friendship] + [Passion] + [Commitment] + [Respectful Communication]
Makes sense, doesn't it?
So, if you want your relationships to feel strong, to seem solid, make your own commitments to avoid using terminators in your communication and see if you don't have more love over the long haul. And more love is critical to living an empowered life full of meaning and happiness.
You can learn more about Smooth Sailing relationships at
Please note: the author of this article is not a registered therapist. Please seek professional assistance if you need help.

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