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What Submarines Can Teach Us About Intimacy – Part 2 – Torpedoes

December 3, 2011

Torpedoes.  We all have them don’t we?  Something happens, maybe you take offense, maybe you fear losing control, and the classic Tom Clancy cold war scenario unfolds: You hit the big red button and launch a torpedo.  The thing with torpedoes is they’re made to hurt people, and it often only takes one.  Most people don’t stick around for too long after taking a direct hit.  A minor hit or a miss might cause us to question the relationship, but when someone who knows you hits you where it hurts, it takes a while for them to regain your trust.  You don’t ping back until you know it’s safe.

Torpedoes can be large and explosive, but true to their sneaky nature they can also come in subtle forms.  Passive aggressive behavior can be a torpedo.  The person receiving the person sending the torpedoes does so purposefully so that the person receiving gets a “message” that no one else seems to pick up on.  Some couples have a tendency to torpedo each other in front of other people.  What looks like a jocular remark to others is a knife in the kidney to the person receiving it.  Passive aggressive torpedoes have a tendency to hollow out the core of a relationship to the point where only a shell—a pretense of trust and understanding—remains.  If the passive aggressiveness isn’t stopped and reconciled it will cause the empty shell to collapse for lack of substance.  A structure without a thriving core remains only a structure.

Torpedoes are often sent in response to a ping, but they can also be fired at other things.  For example, calling someone fat can be torpedoing them.  Making fun of someone’s accomplishments or their failures could be a fired torpedo.  Sometimes those words hit deep.

Torpedoes can be so subtle that the sender doesn’t know they’ve fired one off.  Have you ever had a bad day, a painful experience, particularly something you’re trying to make sense of?  Introverts and extroverts alike have a tendency to need to share with someone.  It’s part of being human and relational.  Advice can be a torpedo.  What’s really going on?  Your friend is going through a rough patch, maybe it’s even their fault to some degree, but they’re sending you a ping.  You come back with advice.

“This ______ is how you should handle x, y and z in your life.”

“Who the hell are you to tell me how to respond to this?”

Until you’ve listened how can you advise?    Sometimes what’s needed is an ear to hear rather than advice.  The book of Job draws a blueprint of how to effectively torpedo a person through advice.  Job’s friends were just trying to help, right?  They sat in silence with Job for a week before answering, right?  We all have qualifiers, but do we have an invitation?

We’re just trying to help, trying to get people to move forward, but letting people be as they are can be much more transformative.  Often what people need is an ally, someone who rather than pushes them toward the answers, learns to see things from their perspective.

Personally, I struggle to keep my advice to myself.  I always think I’ve got a good answer.  Learning to let the Holy Spirit give the advice is difficult.  After all, he is the Counselor isn’t he?  The real question is whether or not we trust the Counselor to counsel people.  Will they hear him if I don’t speak?  Will they take my ping as a torpedo?

Another potential torpedo doesn’t even have to come from us.  It’s even more subtle than passive aggressiveness and advice, and potentially more damaging.  It’s receiving a ping from someone, then radioing our friends with their position.  We won’t take the shot, but we’ll tell others where to send their torpedoes.  Have you ever opened your mouth about something only to have someone share something personal with someone else?  Maybe that’s a crime in itself, but when that third party takes a shot at you it’s not just one person breaking your trust, it’s two.  Strength in numbers right?  Want to really wound someone?  Gang up on them.  It usually works like gangrene rotting the flesh of a potentially healthy relationship.

I once heard trust described as a bank account.  You deposit “money” into another person (your bank).  You might do this quickly or slowly, but once that person breaks your trust you pull the money out of the bank.  After our trust is broken, we’re very slow to deposit cash into the account again.  Since intimacy is built on trust, we’ll have to rebuild that trust to ever experience that level of intimacy with that person again.

We all desire intimacy in some way or another, and we’ve all been torpedoed at some point as well.  We live in tension.  We’re not perfect; we’re not impregnable to attack; we can’t control how other people will treat us.  Yet we desire to let people in.  Some of us are so willing to let people in, to have people know us, to love us, to accept us, that we’ll take torpedo after torpedo.  Maybe we’re afraid of the silence.

So yeah, I’m not a psychologist or a submarine expert.  These are simply my thoughts, in no way exhaustive, on a subject I’ve been thinking about for a while.  Comments/insight welcome.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 5, 2011 15:43

    Direct hit on this! It caught my attention because on December 3 my mom called me from her vacation in Hawaii to tell me she would be going on a tour in a submarine. (funny bit of synchronicity that led me to read this post).

    You are right on about unsolicited advice. One of the reasons I appreciate the minsitry of Celebrate recovery is just that….. We are reminded that we are not on our journey to give advice or fix someone else. But we are there to support one another, listen to each other and then get to share the experiences, strength and hope that come from trusting in God. The Holy Spirit does wonderful healing through relationships where we are safe to share love and be loved even in the midst of struggles (or wherever we are). I know because it’s true for me!

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