“Scorching Earth” Approach in a Relationship: 7 Tips to Avoid It

Alfred and Jessica have been together in a relationship for 10 years but recently their relationship became a little bit toxic due to frequent arguments and a lack of trust. During arguments, Alfred accused Jessica of lying and cheating without any concrete evidence and Jessica pulled out Alfred’s past relationships and tried to show him a loser.

When the situation becomes out of control, Alfred shares Jessica’s inappropriate pictures on the internet and tries to embarrass Jessica on social platforms. On the contrary, Watching these, Jessica feels betrayed and struggles with mental health because she believes Alfred cheated on her and played with her trust and emotions.

“Scorched Earth” approach in a relationship

The above example perfectly describes the “scorched earth” approach in a relationship as Alfred tries to harm and defame Jessica’s reputation which can end their relationship soon. Also, sharing inappropriate pictures of Jessica on social media not only harms Jessica’s reputation but also harms Alfred’s reputation as well. Hence, the scorched earth approach in a relationship hurts both parties and may have some long-term consequences.

What is the “Scorched Earth” approach in a relationship?

When in a relationship, both partners engage in a destructive approach that aims to inflict harm, defame, and damage one another’s reputation and character without considering its long-term consequences on both parties. Such behavior often includes a variety of actions such as emotional damage, spreading rumors, public humiliation, and sabotaging. 

The goals of the scorched earth approach are usually taking revenge, expressing anger, or exerting more control on the partner. Whatever the goal is, it ultimately results in erosion of trust, breakdown of communication, and destruction of relationships.

Origin of the “Scorched Earth” approach:

The concept of the “scorched earth” approach initially came from the military strategy which includes deliberately destroying everything that could be useful to the enemy, such as burning crops, destroying infrastructures, poisoning ponds or rivers, etc. The main goal of this approach was to leave the enemy with no resources to survive. 

The use of this term in a relationship is mainly used as a metaphor that defines a destructive approach to ultimately damage a relationship. In this context, “scorched earth” in a relationship also describes similar destructive behaviors that aim to destroy the other person’s personality, reputation, and other important factors that are very essential for survival. 

Why is the “Scorched Earth” Approach used in a relationship?

There are multiple factors that drive the scorched earth approach in a relationship, such as:

1. Revenge:

A person may feel betrayed by the partner and want to inflict harm or damage another person to take revenge as much as they perceive they’ve been hurt. It is one of the most common reasons for applying the scorched earth approach.

2. To Exert Control:

The scorched earth approach is also used to assert dominance or control over another person. Individuals often try to control the relationship either to maintain power or to punish the other for his/her failure.

3. Anger and Insecurity:

Unresolved disputes and insecurity of losing often lead to anger and ultimately result in destructive behavior that possibly could end a relationship.

4. Lack of Conflict resolution skills:

A healthy conflict resolution and understanding often help boost mutual understanding and respect. Without having proper conflict resolution skills, the disputes between partners don’t get resolved which leads to anger and sometimes a destructive attitude is also expressed.

5. Past Trauma:

 Previous experience of heartbreak, abuse, and betrayal, often shapes an individual’s experience towards the relationship. A bad experience in the past often makes people rude and aggressive towards a new relationship.

Most the people use scorched earth approach in a relationship mainly when they feel desperate and have no options left to express their feelings or emotions or deal with the challenges. 

Tactics used in “Scorched Earth” Approach:

There are several tactics used by individuals to sabotage someone’s personality and harm the other person. The tactics include public humiliation, emotional damage, to financial or legal troubles. 

1. Emotional Blackmail: 

Emotional blackmail is often the first weapon that someone uses during disputes. Using your guilt, fear, mistakes, and other unintentional activities you have done, the aggressor tries to emotionally blackmail the victim.

2. Public Humiliation:

Sharing personal information in the public domain or discussing something about the person publicly with the intention of defaming the person is considered a powerful tool for scorching the earth in a relationship.

3. Spreading Rumors

Spreading rumors or lies about someone to defame them is another tactic used by the aggressor. However, there is a need to present certain strong proofs to make the rumors more believable to the audience. 

4. Financial Sabotage:

Interfering in someone’s financial space, asking for compensation, revealing financial details in public, depleting joint accounts, raising debts for partners, etc are also commonly used by one partner to harm another one.

5. Isolation:

Withholding communication and interaction with another partner as a form of punishment leaves another person isolated. It sometimes causes huge mental pressure and loneliness to that person.

6. Domestic Violence:

Sometimes the aggressor becomes so desperate, frustrated, and angry that he/she seeks a way to take revenge on his/her partner by domestic violence, beating the partner, or using other abusive methods.

7. Legal Manipulation:

It is one of the rarest methods someone uses in the scorching earth approach because it is the costliest method. Legal threats, such as custody battles, lawsuits, etc used to threaten the victim.

Impacts of the Scorching Earth Approach on Individuals:

Several lifelong impacts are possible of having the scorching earth approach in a relationship that includes the following:

Erosion of Trust:

Erosion of trust is the first step of diminishing any relationship and mutual trust and respect become near to zero when you apply a scorching earth approach in your relationship.

Communication Breakdown:

The scorching earth approach results in discontinuity in communication as both parties decide to stay defensive to avoid any kind of further conflicts. 

Emotional Damage:

As mutual respect and trust break, it causes a lot of emotional damage to individuals. The result of such emotional damage can be long-lasting as individuals cannot trust their future partners and often become aggressive due to the betrayal. 


Due to the conflict, one or both partners often feel isolated as the disputes break them mentally. Both parties feel better staying alone rather than sharing their problems with people.

Increasing Anxiety:

With the increasing tension and intensity of the conflict, individuals feel stress and anxiety that overall affects their health, growth, and well-being.

Potential End of Relationship:

With the end of mutual trust and respect, scorched earth tactics lead to the end of a relationship as both partners start to feel that this is not their preferred relationship.

The negative impact of the scorched earth approach in a relationship doesn’t only affect recent relationships but also affects the future relationship as victims of such situations cannot trust their future partners.

What to do if you are at the receiving end?

If you are a victim of the scorching earth approach, or you are at the receiving end, do the following steps to ensure your safety. 

Keep Safe Distance:

At first, you need to create some distance with your partner, physically and mentally, and also minimize communication with him/her to avoid any further conflict or tension. Let your partner know you are strong enough to react in such a situation.

Ask for Support:

You can reach out to people who are trusted and can help you emotionally and physically. Ask for their support and guidance about how to get rid of such a situation. 

How do you avoid the scorching earth approach in a relationship

Stay Calm:

Most people feel anxiety in such situations and commit some mistakes that further accelerate the tension and harm them even more. Hence, it is very important to stay calm and composed during such a situation and analyze your next move before attempting it.

Avoid Retaliation:

It is normal that an individual will try to retaliate, and may try to take revenge on what happened to him/her. But it is advised not to do so such actions because it can accelerate the tension and even in a legal battle such actions will go against you.

Evaluate the Relationship:

A true relationship makes individuals happy and healthy. But when the scorching earth approach is applied in a relationship, it is not a healthy relationship anymore. So, it is advised to analyze and evaluate your relationship status correctly to understand if it is worth staying in the relationship or exiting it.

Take Legal Help:

If necessary, you need to seek legal help and advice to get rid of such situations. If you are wise, keep a document of incidents that occurred to you using the scorching earth tactics. This will be very helpful to you if you ever need legal help or support regarding this situation.

Protect Yourself:

If the situation becomes very violent, abusive, and out of control, prioritize your safety, ask for help, and call the police if needed to ensure you are safe. Don’t be stuck in moral battles about what is right or wrong. Instead, do what is needed for the hour.

How do you avoid the scorching earth approach in a relationship?

Sometimes it is very difficult to avoid the scorching earth approach in your relationship. But if you are careful from the beginning, you can avoid it to many extent.

1. Effective communication:

Practice open, honest, and effective communication from the beginning of your relationship because it allows your partner to understand you properly. The habit of effective communication often prevents misunderstandings and conflicts in a relationship.

2. Show Empathy:

Remember, nobody is perfect. If your partner makes any kind of mistake, it’s understandable. Try to think from your partner’s perspective and if possible, try to justify it. If you show empathy and understanding to your partner, it’ll help strengthen your relationship.

3. Keep your personal Space:

In a relationship, most couples ignore keeping their personal space. If partners interfere in each other’s personal space, it often creates a conflict and misunderstanding between them that often leads to the use of the scorching earth approach.

4. Cool Down Before taking any action:

During a conflict or fight, individuals often get hyper and say or do something that hurts their partner. Such behavior leads to a bigger conflict if don’t know how to cool down before taking any action. When you are angry don’t talk or do anything, give yourself some time, and then take any action.

5. Criticize the mistake, not the person:

Every human commits mistakes and hence punishes the mistake instead of criticizing the person. Show them why it is wrong and also support them so they don’t commit the same mistake again. 

6. Practice Self-realization:

Conflict doesn’t need to occur only due to your partner’s mistake. Sometimes conflict occurs from your own mistakes as well. Hence, before criticizing your partner, try to look at your actions and behaviors and analyze them. You can bring down the number of conflicts to a large extent by improving your actions, speech, and behaviors.

7. Focus on Building Trust:

It is very important to build trust in a relationship. Without trust, no relationship can thrive for a long time. If the couple has a strong trust between them, they can overcome many difficult situations together by avoiding conflicts on small topics. 

By implementing these 7 tips you can overcome the scorching earth effect in your relationship. Foster a healthy and respectful environment in the relationship, it’ll decrease the troubles for you to maintain the relationship. 

Also Read: 7 Easy Steps to Manifest Your Dream Relationship

Also Read: 7 Reasons Why Creating a Boundary with Friends from Opposite-Sex is Important

About Ronald Snyman

Ronald Snyman is an experienced author, writer, and psychiatrist who has shared tips and advice to couples to solve their marital problems for over 10 years.

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