The Break-Up Movie Shows How Runaway Arguments Lead to Undesired Results

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To ruin an important relationships follow the easy recipe provided in The Break-Up by Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn: Lose your temper because you've allowed a frustration to build. Give an ultimatum. Keep one-upping the other, even while wishing that you weren't. Repeat.

The Break-Up, the new romantic comedy featuring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, is the latest blockbuster reminder that even relationships with promise can wither quickly when arguments get that “runaway” feeling. The movie’s official website declares that it’s an “unconventional romantic comedy that follows a…journey into the unraveling and deconstruction of a once solid and loving relationship.”

The movie does more, though. It provides the precise recipe for damaging the relationships that matter most. Aniston’s character, Brooke, and Vaughn’s character, Gary, find themselves in a classic couple’s argument about the ways they each wish the other would do things differently. The argument quickly escalates to an all-too-familiar break-up threat that sets the stage for the rest of the movie.

From there, each uses tactics that one-up the other and create further damage to the relationship. Ironically, but not unrealistically, each inwardly wishes that the relationship get back on solid footing, even while continuing to take actions that yield the opposite results.

Having avoided the difficult conversations they should have had long ago, Brooke and Gary get swept up in their own frustration and systematically---though inadvertently---dismantle the very relationship they value. While supposedly a comedy, the important message of the movie is that conflict, unchecked or avoided, creates debris that ultimately builds a very high wall.

Relationship and conflict management expert Tammy Lenski, Ed.D., whose website coaches women in how to engage relationship and work conflict effectively for stronger relationships, agrees. Watching the movie was, in some ways, like seeing the kind of argument that women frequently describe in her workshops and coaching sessions.

“When someone does something that pains us, we tend to strike out or disengage as a way to protect ourselves. Either strategy, done repeatedly, ultimately creates more distance and pain in the relationship. Relationships with strong conflicts can still be strong relationships, if the couple, or even one person in the couple, learns how to prevent the runaway effect of anger or withdrawal. Anyone, if they have the desire and just a tiny bit of courage, can learn how to do it.”


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Tammy Lenski
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