What makes emotionally abusive relationships impossible to change?

21 Oct 2013

Emotionally abused women stick around in their emotionally abusive relationship long after they know – in their heart of hearts –  that it’s dead in the water. They know, because they have all the proof they’ll ever need, in terms of their emotionally abusive husband’s behavior. Yet they’re so heavily into denial that they can tell themselves the ever growing mountain of toxicity in the relationship is reversible. 

With a bit more effort on their part, and a little more focus – or whatever – on their emotionally abusive partner’s – the whole process can go into reverse – can’t it?  Which means, doesn’t it, that mountain of damaging words can shrink into something small and manageable, like an ant-hill, maybe? 

Emotionally abused women labor under the illusion that their abusive relationship is quantitatively different from a good relationship, rather than qualitatively different. They choose to believe that it’s the number and frequency of damaging behaviors that differentiate it from a good relationship – as opposed to the behaviors themselves. 

Emotionally abused women struggle to understand that good men – that is men who are NOT abusive – behave differently from men who are abusive. It’s not that some men are further along the abusive continuum than others: there is no abusive continuum. They are two different species. 

The simple fact is this: abusive men get a lot of their needs met in an abusive relationship. 

They may fantasize – from time to time – about another way of living, but an emotionally abusive relationship gives them an awful lot of pay-offs. It makes them feel relatively good about themselves. Chances are, at some level, they are aware that they lack a certain je ne sais quoi, in terms of lovability/likeability/self-worth. Which is why being with you is so useful for them. 

At least, when they look at you, they see someone who makes them feel: 

  • stronger
  • more intelligent
  • more attractive – if only because they have you
  • more powerful
  • more worthwhile 

You make them feel better about themselves. 

Not in any healthy way, of course. It’s not about your love making them feel whole, or anything. (Not that that is a particularly healthy way of looking at things. It’s just less toxic than their way.) 

For an emotionally abusive man, having someone to push around reminds them that they are not at the bottom of the pecking order. That works for them. 

So, why would they want to change that? 

You can answer that question by telling yourself that in a truly loving relationship everyone wins. 

But that is just the point. 

An emotionally abusive relationship is NOT a truly loving relationship.  

Emotionally abusive partners don’t ‘do’ truly loving relationships. 

What’s more, they don’t understand the concept of Win-Win. In an emotional abuser’s world, it doesn’t work like that. In their world there is only: Win-Lose. For them to win, someone else has to lose.

Conversely – just in case you’re still trying NOT to see how this relates to a ‘so-called’ loving relationship – if and when you win, they must lose. 

Emotional abusers don’t like losing a single battle; and they tend to see their world as one long war. 

That’s the reason why they aren’t too keen on apologising. Apologising, in their eyes, means waving the white flag, and admitting that they’re in a weak position. They really don’t like to do that. 

When you hang around hoping for an emotionally abusive partner to have that mythical change of heart, you’re only kidding yourself. First, his ‘heart’ hasn’t been much engaged in the relationship for a while now – if it had, you wouldn’t be feeling nearly as miserable as you are. Second, you don’t share the same agenda for the relationship. 

Holding on to the fantasy about “Love” finding a way is naïve. It’s awfully useful to him, of course – because it gives him carte blanche to carry on doing what’s he been doing, and get his core needs met. But it’s awfully damaging for you – cumulatively damaging. 

Isn’t it time that you stopped thinking and feeling like an emotionally abused woman?


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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