Relationships are hard work!
Despite our fairy tales any one who has been around for a while knows that they are not always easy.
They are challenging, they require us to adjust, dig deep, become better people, forgive, support and nurture.
This difficult aspect of relationships is a big part of why they are actually so good for us. However not all relationships are good for us, some don’t allow us to grow but require us to diminish ourselves.
It is worth considering some basic principles that are useful to keep in mind when grappling with difficult relationships and dealing with the most basic of all relationship questions – should I stay or should I go?
We can approach this question in a number of different ways but at its heart the question is: “is this worth it?” Translation: Will I be better off staying in this relationship or will I be better off leaving?
Often we don’t know how to assess whether we will be better off in or out.
Sometimes we know we will be better off out of the relationship but we don’t feel strong enough to leave, or we are afraid of leaving. If we really believe that we would be better off out but we don’t want to leave out of fear or lack of self confidence it is important to know that help is available. Some of these sources of help will be listed below.
One of the most common obstacles to leaving (even when you have decided that you would be better off out of the relationship) is the belief that you don’t have the right to leave.
It is important to know that you do have the right to leave. This is a free country and every individual has the right to decide whether to be in a relationship. The relationship does not, and can not, exist without the consent, that is the free choice of both parties.
One party might want the relationship but unless the other party also chooses the relationship there is no relationship.
This way of looking at things is helpful because it makes it plain that the relationship is a matter of choice. You choose to be in a relationship with a certain person and every moment you stay with that person you are choosing to be in the relationship. It is important to actually feel this choice and to get in touch with the choice aspect of the relationship.
Sometimes we try to fool ourselves and believe we are “stuck” in a relationship in the same way as if we were shipwrecked and stuck on a dessert island. Why would we do this?
One of the most common reasons is that we don’t want to admit that although there are lots of things about the person and the relationship that we don’t like we figure that even a broken down relationship is better than no relationship at all.
So it comes back to our choice – we are choosing to be in the relationship – but now we don’t want to admit that it is our choice – we like to think we are stuck in the relationship or being held in the relationship against our will.
This way we can complain about our partner, feel bad about the relationship and ourselves but also don’t have to face the prospect of being alone.
Some people stay in destructive relationships because of this fear of being alone.
Even though they know that they are loosing more and more self esteem and that they are unhappy they believe that the prospect of being alone would be so terrible it is better to stay in the prison they know as their relationship.
Just as a smoker develops an intimate relationship with cigarettes and believes he/she couldn’t survive without them, a person in a destructive relationship often comes to believe that things would be so terrible if they were to be alone it is better to put up with a life sentence of an unhappy relationship.
No one else can make you stay in or leave a relationship – that choice has to be yours. If you feel stuck in a destructive relationship and want to get out but don’t feel strong enough please be aware that there are many people willing and able to help you.
A healthy relationship can be defined in a number of ways but it must fundamentally be a safe relationship – you should feel safe in a relationship you choose.
A relationship that involves violence is unhealthy.
Violence is an extreme form of coercion or control. When one party tries to take the choice away from the other person by using emotional or physical abuse they are being violent and they are violating the first rule of all relationships – it is a matter of choice.
We are not living in a country where anyone has the right to take this choice away from you. But we are living in a country where many people will try and take this choice away from you. This is because they have developed the belief that they can do this and maybe even that it is right to do this.
Mostly people get these wrong ideas from the families they grew up in – maybe they watched their mother or father abuse and control their partner and so they think this is OK – or even normal – and they try to get away with it in their relationship.
It is important to take a stand against this violence.
Everyone has a choice and everyone has their rights. Many have experienced some form of physical domestic violence. Many more have experienced the non-physical forms of domestic violence – attempts to control or coerce through verbal, emotional and psychological abuse.
Develop a “radar” for any signs that your partner is trying to dominate or control you or coerce you – for example with emotional blackmail.
Attempts to control or coerce are most likely to come out at the time when a women chooses to exercise her rights and leave a relationship.
It is important that if you feel like you are with someone who could get violent that you have a safety plan – that means a carefully worked out plan to get away from where the violent man will be and where he knows you will be.
If you are planning to leave a relationship and there is any suggestion or possibility of physical force being an issue – plan your move carefully, get to a safe place somewhere he doesn’t know about and break the news over the phone or with a letter – this gives him time to absorb the message and calm down.
Don’t be fooled into putting yourself at risk for any reason.
Controlling Partner Questionnaire
There are graduated degrees of controlling, and the more extreme, the more difficult it is to improve the relationship.
The following is a questionnaire that will help you determine what degree of controlling there is in your relationship.
Indicate how many of these statements apply to your relationship with your partner:
1. Your partner tells you in subtle or not so subtle ways that your perception of reality is wrong or that your feelings are wrong.
2. Your partner seems irritated or angry with you often, even though you haven’t done anything that you know of to upset him/her.
3. You often feel that issues don’t get fully resolved so that you can feel happy and relieved.
4. You frequently feel confused, sad, frustrated or outraged because you can’t get him/her to understand your intentions.
5. You are upset not so much about concrete issues, but about the communication – what he thinks you said and what you heard him say.
6. He/she rarely wants to share his/her thoughts or plans with you.
7.He/she often denies things that you know he/she did or said.
8.He/she seems to take the opposite view from you on many things you mention, but the way he/she says it, your view is wrong and his is right.
9.You often feel unseen or unheard, and sometimes wonder if he/she perceives you as a separate person.
10.He/she is either angry or has no idea what you are talking about when you try to discuss an issue with him.
11.You feel abused or negated by him/her, but he/she insists how much he/she loves you.
12. When you try to communicate how you feel about something, you feel no empathy from him/her, or he negates your feelings.
13. He/she often frightens you with rage to silence you.
14.You often feel no empathy from him/her when you are describing how you feel about something.
15.He/she often manipulates you by ignoring you or withholding affection.
16. You feel diminished by the time he finishes his/her conversation with you.
17. He/she always needs to be one up or right.
18. He/she attempts to define you eg You’re only doing that for attention.
19. He/she blames, accuses, judges or criticises you.
20. He/she counters, blocks or diverts your conversation.
21. He/she confabulates, ie makes up something negative about you and speaks it as if it is the truth.
22. He/she often is well behaved in public, but abusive in private.
23. He/she will not ask for what he/she wants, so that you can negotiate fairly.
24. He/she will not respond at all to your requests, or will respond with frustration, or will only seem to respond, but not follow through.
25. Your attempts to enhance the relationship, improve communication, and find some happiness all lead to difficulties.
26. Whenever you try to explain that you are not thinking what your partner is saying you are thinking or doing, your partner will not hear or understand, or negates you in some way.
27. You partner behaves well towards you when you are of one mind with him/her, but the trouble starts when you express either different views from him/her or your own feelings.
28. You often find him/her angrily accusing you of the very things he/she is doing himself/herself.
29. The way your partner treats you has deteriorated radically since you became more settled together (moved in together, got married, started having children)
0 -5 – There is likely to be some misunderstanding between the two of you. Learning some communication skills should be all you need.
6-10 – There is some level of a control connection in your relationship. It is likely that your partner is trying to test how far he/she can go in developing a control connection with you. You might like to read more about this topic in the articles here, or I highly recommend both of Patricia Evans books The Verbally Abusive Relationship, and Controlling People. The best practical advice is to nip it in the bud on each occasion, as soon as he/she starts by saying something like “Cut it out!” or a repeated “What?”
11 – 20 – Your partner is almost certainly attempting to control you to a reasonable degree. Also, in not being able to see or understand fully what has really been going on, you have unwittingly allowed it to continue. I suggest you get help on your own first, as soon as possible. We can help you form an Agreement with your partner against controlling and abuse, and can also help each of you individually in managing this process.
20 and above – Your partner is very controlling. Get help on your own first. There is only a small chance that you will be able to re-engineer a more healthy relationship while stillliving with him/her. We can assist you and support you in this process.
Before you can have a loving relationship with someone, he or she has to see you as a separate person.
The Difference between Real Love and a Control connection.
|You feel heard, and he/she attempts to, or is open to understand you.||You don’t feel heard or understood no matter how hard you try to explain yourself.|
|You feel a warmth and gentleness of spirit between you.||Your partner seems against you.|
|You feel your partner is on your side, or at least recognises your truth as your truth, even if he doesn’t fully understand or agree with it.||You feel your partner is trying to erase, ignore, belittle or negate you at times, while at other times acts in loving ways.|
|There is always an energetic space that your partner creates for you and your expression of yourself (and vice versa).||Your partner attacks you or ignores you unexpectedly.|
|Your partner delights in, or at least can smile at your idiosyncrasies.||You partner complains or has a dig at you for your idiosyncrasies.|
|Your partner regularly expresses genuine love and appreciation for you in his/her life.||You partner mostly takes you for granted and is angry when you show signs of separateness.|
If you feel you need some help in dealing with a partner who may be controlling, please contact us at the Hart Centre. We have relationship Psychologists in Sydney and all capital and large regional cities across Australia. Please call us now.