Q&A: Relationship Advice

I’m going to break this “question” into two pieces. They’re related, but they really need to be addressed separately.

Wow if someone expected me to automatically know their triggers without telling them and then threw me without making sure I was okay after, I’d leave them. You can’t expect your non-combat s/o to do all the work and for the combat s/o to none. I have several triggers but I make sure to tell my s/o what they are.

In broad strokes, I agree with completely.

If someone expects you to automatically know who they are; that’s a problem. It happens, but it’s a problem, and it’s not the kind you should dismiss. Relationships require communication. They require work. They require mutual respect. There’s the romantic ideal of an effortless relationship, but that is just a fantasy; kinda like being a superhero.

It’s very easy to fall in love with someone that does not exist. People do it all the time. They think they know the object of their attraction, but they never really take the time to pay attention and find out who that person is. To some extent, this is human nature. You meet someone, start a crush, fill in the blanks, and then expect them to still be the same person in daylight.

It doesn’t work that way.

Like I said, honest communication is vital. You need to talk to someone to start to get an idea of who they are. Watching them is also important, but if you don’t communicate, you don’t have a baseline. You can’t expect everyone to be able to explain everything about themselves; most people aren’t that introspective. However, it will go a long way. So, yes, talk to them. Learn who they really are. Be honest, because if you’re not, you’ve only yourself to blame if they believe you.

What’s worse are the people who expect someone else to magically conform to their ideal version of them. This is abusive, and depressingly common. Many people, when presented with the reality of their significant other, expect them to cede their identity in favor of the illusory version.

It sucks, but you can’t have a relationship with a dream. Sooner or later, someone’s going to get hurt.

With only one exception, every single incident I can point to, where someone tripped another’s reflexes, it’s come out of a lack of respect, so let’s talk about that.

Relationships require mutual respect. Not, one way. Not, “you must respect them,” because the inverse is also true. If you’re not respecting one another, it’s not really a relationship of equals, or even healthy.

Ambushing someone, regardless of what you think their feelings on the subject will be, is disrespectful. You’re saying that what you intend to do is more important than them consenting to your action. Then you’re taking the extra step to deprive them of the opportunity to consent. You can’t say, “I’m going to do what I want without permission,” and say you respect that person. These are mutually exclusive.

Context is important, and there are plenty of situations where people will engage in behavior with each other that you wouldn’t. There’s also plenty of behavior you might participate in that someone else wouldn’t.

How do you know this context? Get to know your partner. Seriously. If you don’t know them, you don’t have a relationship with them, you’re involved with an illusion, and cannot respect the actual person you’re using as a proxy.

If your friend says, “hey, I do martial arts.” You might express interest in trying to figure out what that means. The same goes for your crush, regardless of their sex or gender.

If your friend says, “hey, I don’t like it when you startle me like that.”

Don’t do it.

The signs are there long before you ever trigger someone’s reflexes, and that starts with paying attention to what they tell you a long time before anything drastic occurs. If you respect another person, you respect their boundaries. You want to get to know them, learn the situations where they’re comfortable. You’ll pay attention to their body language. These reactions don’t come from nowhere, and, in general, the extreme examples are when the other person ignored every other sign leading up to the moment where the combat response happens.

Like I said, this experience happened once with a significant other in my teens. It has never happened with strangers, or other kids in High School, or in college. The only other person who has ever triggered my reflexes is my brother, who is a fourth degree black belt. These stories are always about an intentional act taken by another person when they disregard stated boundaries and comfort zones.

Tripping the fight reflexes are not common occurrences. They’re extreme examples that happen with a specific trigger action and are a result of ignoring the other person’s boundaries. You’ll figure it out if you respect the other person enough to pay attention to them.

If someone engages in unprovoked violent towards you, leave. There’s no room for debate here. It’s over. Time to move on.

However, conflating physical abuse with these specific instances is also a problem.  But… I didn’t do anything wrong. Yes, you did. If this happens, then you ignored the warning signs to the point where a response that occurs once in a decade (and only with provocation) happened to you.

You’ve learned a concept exists and, like a kid in a candy store, think the natural occurrence of combat reflexes unintentionally damaging a significant other because they stepped wrong is far more common than it actually is — which is next to never.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you don’t know anyone who actually has these reflexes, or been in a community where they’re common. So, trust me, when I say I know more about this situation and what triggers it than you do.

You know what this behavior gets used for, don’t you?

Bullying.

Kids without combat training, just like you, will use this on kids with combat training or just sensitive reflexes because they A) don’t believe the other child when they say stop, and B) because they know they’ll get sympathy when/if the other child goes off. They get away with bullying and look like a victim when the inevitable occurs. They want the emotional response you had to protect them from the big bad child over there, even though they were the instigators.

If you think this doesn’t happen in relationships, think again. Abuse goes both ways, and having a capacity for violence doesn’t necessarily protect you from it. You do get a lot less belief and sympathy when the abuse, be it emotional or physical occurs, because of uninformed attitudes which buy into the idea violence equals strength.

I have more stories about these kinds of people than I do the other.

 I think, in a romantic situation in fiction, the non-combat s/o shouldn’t be ‘punished’ in the narrative and trauma-related responses shouldn’t be ‘weaker’.

As with the above statement, I agree fundamentally, but it’s a little more complicated. If you’re writing a couple, it’s important that they have some kind of equilibrium between each other. The advice above still applies: they need to be able to communicate with one another, there needs to be a baseline of trust and respect, but they also need to both bring something to the table. I in the real world, that’s work, but in fiction it can easily be their skill set.

It’s easy to become fixated on violence as an overly useful skill set. This isn’t true to life, and it can be very important to remember that non-combatant characters have lives beyond violence.

The simple thing is to remember that all of your characters, whether they’re in a relationship with one another or not, need to be characters in their own right. You need some balance to show them as functional people, or they become trophies and McGuffins; which brings us to your complaint.

At a certain level, combat is like any other skill your characters may have. A character who doesn’t have any combat skills can’t fight effectively, a character who can’t pick locks, can’t sneak into places, a character who is unskilled with computers can’t diagnose their own technical issues, a character who isn’t trained in criminal investigation isn’t going to know how to investigate a murder. A character who’s basically honest will have an extremely hard time lying convincingly.

You can have battle couples, where both of them are trained and proficient in combat. They may be in the thick of it together with similar skills, or they may have different focuses that they can work together. By the same measure, you can have couples with similar skillsets, such as hacking, or subterfuge, with similar considerations. Or, you can have characters that have very little overlap in their skills, but can still work together in differing capacities.

The problem comes in when you say, “this skill set” is more valid than that one. In some occasions that may be true, but it’s something you want to be careful about.

On a related issue, it is worth pulling characters out of their comfort zone regularly. A character who never encounters a problem they need to get creative with can easily become monotonous, in a, “when all you have is a hammer,” kind of way. This is one of the times where having a couple with mismatched skills can become incredibly useful. Especially if your combat capable character is just as out of place when they’re in their partner’s area of expertise.

If you have a character that’s permanently out of their depth, especially pairing them with someone who’s hyper-competent, that’s flirting with bad writing. I can think of a few counter-examples, but this is something you should be very cautious about.

There’s a real trend in the real world of people not believing people when they say, “don’t do this. I don’t like it.” This is the basis of the trope we were discussing. If you triggered someone’s fight reflexes, chances are very good that it wasn’t an accident. The person who did it just didn’t believe the other person when they said, “don’t do that.” You made a bad assumption that the non-combat S/O is going to be the one with the trauma responses or even that the combat triggers are trauma related at all. Or that they’d cause trauma to the non-combat S/O. If you interpreted one as “weaker” than the other because they don’t have the same skills as their combat S/O, then that one is on you.

Relationships are built on trust. Trust is built on communication and mutual respect. These mishaps happen specifically when boundaries are not respected, when the other person is not believed because these aspects of who they are doesn’t fit the image their S/O has of them. While these are ingrained reflexes, it does actually take work to get someone to reflexively lash out.

Modifying your behavior for the person you love is not a big deal when they’re doing the same for you. If someone you like says, “I don’t like you tickling me.” Then, don’t tickle them. If they say, “Please, don’t flash your hand in my face.” Don’t flash your hand in their face.

If you feel adjusting your behavior is unfair, don’t date.

-Michi

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