“What Would An Emotionally Abusive Man Do?”

by Annie Kaszina on March 19, 2013

When you’ve been in an emotionally abusive relationship for a while, it’s easy to imagine that every relationship is like an emotionally abusive relationship, and everyone’s partner behaves the way your emotionally abusive partner does.

This week a client – let’s call her Glenda – sent me one of those ‘tip of the iceberg’ questions: “Aren’t all long-term relationships indifferent?” 

What she was really asking me was: 

  • Don’t all relationships go downhill with time?
  • Isn’t it normal for one partner to speak horribly to the other?
  • Isn’t everyone in the same boat?
  • Aren’t all long-term relationships miserable, really?  Isn’t it just that some people are better at hiding it than I am?
  • Should I just accept that this is the way things are for most people, and tolerate the emotional abuse, and feeling worthless?

Not for a moment do I believe that all long-term relationships are indifferent… or worse.  Emotionally abusive relationships are a separate category.

Let me tell you a story that crystallizes the gulf between an emotionally abusive relationship and a loving, supportive one.On Sunday, I was speaking at an event, travelling 159 miles – each way!!! (In the UK that’s a BIG distance.)  As ever, my lovely partner volunteered to drive, and be there for me. Before we left, he took the initiative to load the car, while I trotted around like an antsy prima donna, agonising: “Which dress?  Which shoes? Which LIPSTICK??!” 

When we arrived, I opened the trunk (boot) to reveal….  no dress. Between the two of us focusing on ‘taking everything’, the dress was  at home, 159 miles away, hanging right by the front door.  And there we were in a tiny, shop-free town (1 horse, 3 pubs).  I’d travelled North in full ‘scruff’ mode, with a damp, slightly smelly Basil Shih Tzu (aka Prince Wet and Soggy Dog) on my lap.  

Was I ever peeved? 

Homicidally peeved doesn’t even come close. 

Was this a great trigger for C-O-N-F-L-I-C-T? 

(Wo)manfully, I resisted the temptation to point the finger and screech: “YOU!!!”  Although I did a bit of: “WE-ing.”  (As in, “What can we do to make sure this never happens again.”) 

What did my partner do? 

Let’s start with what he didn’t do. 

  • He didn’t start out by pointing out everything he’d done for me, already.
  • He didn’t tell me I was lucky to have him
  • He didn’t use the ‘stupid’ word
  • He didn’t get angry and justify himself
  • He didn’t go into the ‘Never Routine’ (as in “I’ll never give up my Sunday to help you again, since that’s all the thanks I get.”)
  • He didn’t dredge up all my past failings
  • He didn’t have a hissy fit, in fact
  • HE DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING, AT ALL

How did it pan out? 

Because we had avoided The Nuclear Option, I was able to think clearly.  I managed to find a dress at the venue.  Since I wasn’t nursing a sense of grievance, or getting caught up in negative self-talk, so my talk went well.  

The whole episode was a blip, not a catastrophe, or a nuclear explosion. 

Now, how would it have panned out with an emotionally abusive partner? How would it have panned out with my emotionally abusive husband?

  1. He would have started with a ‘good yelling’
  2. He-Who-Always-Cast-The-First-Stone would have thrown stones, wouldn’t he? Tons and tons of stones
  3. Using the “search” capacity of his long, long memory he would have reminded me of every wrong I had ever done (right back to The First Time I Hadn’t Paired His Socks Properly!!!)
  4. My stupidity and worthlessness would have been demonstrated exhaustively
  5. My lack of gratitude would have been pointed out repeatedly
  6. He would have given the dog a hard time… just because!
  7. He would have created an icy “atmosphere” that would have chilled the whole venue
  8. He would have scowled his champion scowl at me constantly from the front of the room – except when he closed his eyes in boredom.  (And I’d have been unable to think clearly for fear of his fabled 100 decibel snoring starting up)
  9. The journey back would have been hell on wheels
  10. He would have told as many people as possible, both at the venue, and for as long as it took until I finally planted a pick-axe in his brain, how U-S-E-L-E-S-S I was
  11. My self-worth would have shattered, yet again, into tiny pieces
  12. For good measure, he would have told me my whole talk was absolute garbage, and everybody hated it.
  13. He would have told me how awful I looked
  14. I’d have ended up envying the dog who could, at least, have hidden from view in the footwell.

 In short, for Glenda, and anyone else who isn’t sure, yet: 

An emotionally abusive relationship is one in which a lot of bad behavior occurs, and is tolerated. 

A good relationship is one in which a lot of good behavior occurs, and is appreciated.  

If your partner doesn’t appreciate you, he doesn’t deserve to be with you. 

Don’t settle for The Nuclear Option.

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