In our last post, we looked at how we end up in emotionally abusive relationships and an example for your edification. This week, we recap a bit and add two more examples. Do you see yourself in the information below, or someone you know? Read on…
What defines an Emotionally Unhealthy Relationship
Controlling — your partner prevents your access to money, isolates you from family and friends, monitors your whereabouts, determines what you wear.
Berating — your partner constantly criticizes you, humiliates you in public, tells you that you are worthless, destroys your self confidence
Withholding — your partner doesn’t listen to you, only meets his / her own needs — not yours, fails to give you affection, love and support
Intimidating — your partner threatens to leave you, reveal compromising facts about you, or harm him or herself if you don’t comply with their demands
If any of these behaviors is a recurring theme in your relationship, past or present, or you know someone in an emotionally abusive relationship, read on…
Why We Go Back: Could this be you?
They stayed too long
Handsome, athletic and charming, Joseph prided himself on cool detachment. But his longtime, live-in girlfriend Gina knew about his temper. Never physically violent, he lived one way: his. A contractor in the Northeast, he provided well. Married twice, he swore he’d never marry again. Gina, who longed to marry, reluctantly accepted him as is. Joseph’s tantrums unnerved her. Her inability to stand up for herself infuriated him. As the relationship slowly unraveled, the partners pretended not to notice — until Joseph had a major heart attack. While Gina picked up the pieces, Joseph seized his freedom. “For his health”, he headed South. Alone. But once he settled in, he was miserably lonely. Was he missing Gina or experiencing the solitude of the newly single, a feeling that would pass?
He begged Gina to join him. Disaster followed. His tantrums increased. Far from friends and family, Gina felt fearful and trapped. She moved back to her home. Joseph and Gina read the inevitable loneliness they felt as a sign that they belonged together, which madean already painful loss even worse. Their “forever” had ended.
On-line but off base
Shari was a former Pageant Queen. She still carried her gym-obsessed body as if Pageant judges were grading her. When she crossed a classy restaurant’s floor to meet Matthew for the first time, he was waiting with a single red rose. The woman he’d met on-line was even prettier than her photo and looked more like 40 than the 50 her profile indicated. Matthew had hit the jackpot. Finally.
At 35, Matthew made the cliched decision to retire at 50. With canny Market choices and liberal stock options at the major corporation where he spent a decade, he did retire. After purchasing a small condo in a sketchy section of Coco Beach Florida, this bachelor left the chill of New Jersey behind. With him, he brought enough money to support himself, the partner he longed to find and a burgeoning drinking problem.
During their first thrilling year together, everything came up red roses. Shari was a stellar cook. Her amazing meals lowered his cholesterol and shrunk his waist line. Matthew upgraded to a magnificent new condo with sweeping ocean views. Shari rented a couple floors up. Inexperienced with kids — he bonded with Shari’s teenage daughter.
Matthew sobered up in a 12 Step Program their second year. Although she was extremely supportive of his sobriety, Shari felt he “owed” her. Payback was pricey. Matthew needed a larger condo so Shari could move in. Which meant new furniture. And stainless appliances — 2 of each!
Both grateful and guilty, Matthew complied. Indeed, Shari became a sort of sexy jailer. While grocery shopping, he texted photos of each item for her approval. When he seemed to tire of these endless demands, a dinner fit for Royals was presented. How could he leave this beauty queen who (sometimes) treated him like a King? Especially when she’d put up with drunkenness and fortressed his Recovery.
After their second year, Matthew felt his “debt” was repaid. When hisfriends encouraged him to move on, Shari invited them to dinner. When Matthew hinted at leaving, Shari suggested he book a cruise to renew their love. When he seemed to be gathering boxes, she humbly apologized for being so demanding, and then booked a 5K trip to the Grand Canyon (on his credit card) because Matt loved nature. Shari had an (expensive) answer for everything. For Matthew, passivity was easier than confrontation. After all, he rationalized, Shari always backed off when she went too far. Until she decided it time for them (actually, Matthew) to buy a house.
The investment and implied commitment shattered his passivity. The ensuing breakup was nasty, endless and avoidable. Both Matthew and Shari ignored red flags that signaled abuse. Control and passivity are equally abusive. Honest communication might have helped each partner see that it was time to move on.
Give me one more rep
Kasey and Liam were exceptionally attractive work out fanatics. They met at the gym in their early 30s. Barely dressed, sparks flew. Beautiful and well educated, Kasey’s self image was distressingly poor. Her social life had been about 50 first dates; she’d never had a boyfriend. Liam had recently been mesmerized by a troubled girl who repeatedly loved and left him. Plus, his sexual orientation had never been clear, nor had his relationship with pharmaceuticals.
Kasey’s behavior demonstrated a desire to quickly become attached. She was acting as if the relationship was real, that wishing would make it so. Liam’s motives in the relationship were also questionable.He quickly introduced Kasey to his family — which usually sends a “this is serious” message. Unfortunately, Liam’s intention was probably to assure his parents that he wasn’t gay.
Kasey had planned a coed Mexico vacation with a few friends. Liam accepted her invitation to join them — another “serious message”. Kasey planned some minor plastic surgery in Mexico, where the savings were significant. When Kasey and Liam went through Customs on their return to the States, Liam had Kasey hold his large Mexican purchase of Vicodin. He mentioned a vague sports injury. If it occurred to Kasey that Liam’s visit to Mexico was more about Vicodin than her, she rejected that notion.
Although this lopsided relationship made it to the one year mark, it deteriorated into Liam’s broken promises and Kasey’s woeful begging. The damage it did to her already flimsy self esteem was a predictor of another heartbreak dead ahead. As to Liam, “getting away” with his behavior of sending mixed messages to get his needs met would simply extend his complicated relationship with the truth. Nobody wins.
Here’s the take-away our anecdotes suggest:
They stayed too long: Missing a recent ex is normal. Infusing those feelings with a “We belong together” message is almost always a self deception that ends in magnified emotional abuse.
On-line but off base: Most relationships don’t last forever. Once the bad begins to outweigh the good, particularly if your partner seems unable to feel compassion, move on.
Give me one more rep: Emotional abuse usually shows up at the relationship’s onset, when the players don’t yet know where the hot buttons are. Tempting as it is to ignore it, you do so at your peril.