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10 Lies Men Tell Themselves In Order to Stay in Abusive Relationships with their Wives or Girlfriends

August 10, 2009 54 comments

pinocchio puppet

We all tell ourselves lies from time to time in order to avoid making a difficult change that we know is in our best interests. Deciding to leave a bad relationship with an abusive woman should be a no-brainer, but it’s often a painfully difficult and heart wrenching decision for many men. The following are some common lies men tell themselves in an effort to avoid making this choice:

1. I’m strong. I can take it. Maybe you can, but that doesn’t mean that you have to take it or should take it. The relationship with your wife or girlfriend is supposed to be about intimacy, mutuality and love; not a sentence at Guantanamo Bay. Psychological waterboarding, anyone?

Furthermore, you can’t take it, at least not without long-term, pervasive damage to yourself, your psyche and your body. Emotional abuse takes its toll in the form of cumulative trauma, specifically betrayal trauma. Sooner or later, you’ll develop PTSD-like symptoms and other stress-related medical conditions.

Yes, you’re strong and that’s an incredible, well. . . strength. You’d have to be strong to endure the covert and overt emotional abuse and host of other crazy-making, toxic behaviors. If you have the strength to survive (*surviving and thriving are NOT one and the same) in this relationship, you also have the strength to end it, whether you realize it or not.

2. It’s not that bad. Yes, it is. If you’re using this particular lie in order to convince yourself to stay in the relationship, keep a journal for the next 30-60 days. You can do it on your computer and keep it on an easily hidden thumbdrive or CD-RW; it doesn’t have to be an old-fashioned diary. Do it in a spreadsheet if that’s more comfortable, but record every outburst, every time she blindsides you, criticizes you, undermines you and rejects or withdraws from you. Read through it and then tell yourself “it’s not that bad.”

Seeing the daily minutiae, the venomous attacks, the disconnection to reality and the disproportionate reactions to minor absurdities in black and white can be a real eye opener. Writing it down makes it difficult to minimize, negate or question your perceptions later on. It also gives you a great record of her unpredictable and abusive behaviors should you divorce her and need evidence in a custody battle or to negate false abuse charges by her.

3. If I just work a little harder at the relationship, it will get better. I call this the “Sisyphus Syndrome.” You keep pushing that boulder up the hill only to have it roll over you on its way back down. There’s no winning with this woman. There’s no pleasing her. You can turn yourself inside out and upside down and it will never, ever, ever be enough. Even if you totally capitulate and submit, it won’t satisfy her. In fact, this kind of woman will then insult your manhood and accuse you of being a spineless coward.

Bottom line: You may as well do what’s good for you and, in the long run, for your kid(s) (if applicable). She’ll never be happy, even if you do everything she wants you to do. Additionally, the more you focus on caring for yourself, the stronger you’ll feel and be in a better frame of mind to decide if you want to remain locked in the abusive pattern or get out of the relationship. Taking care of yourself will also have the added benefit of driving her mad.

4. All relationships have conflict. Conflict is healthy. Yes, BUT it depends on the kind of conflict, how it’s handled and if it’s resolvable. Blaming isn’t part of healthy conflict. Neither are name calling, demeaning, belittling and having the same fight over and over again. It’s also unhealthy to bring up previous conflicts that happened months or years ago.

This kind of woman confuses conflict with intimacy. She substitutes anger for passion. Furthermore, don’t confuse her pathology for passion. Passion and intimacy require a certain degree of vulnerability in expressing your desires. This woman only knows how to express angry demands. It makes her feel powerful and invulnerable. Her desire is for total control and anger is her hook. She uses it to keep you engaged in one pointless conflict after the next.  Do you even know what you’re fighting about anymore or does it all seem like the same god damned thing? That’s unhealthy conflict.

5. Things will get better if I’m more patient and pay closer attention to her needs and feelings. This is a variation of #3. This is also a trap. The nicer you are to this woman, the more she’ll view you as weak and pathetic and interpret it as a license to steamroll you.

6. Sex and affection aren’t important. Yes, they are. Enough said.

Seriously though, sex may not be the most important thing in a relationship, but it’s in the top three along with kindness and respect. Aside from shared pleasures, tension relief and physical closeness, there’s oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter released during orgasm that’s “associated with the ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships and healthy psychological boundaries with other people.” Good stuff.

Small signs of non-physical affection are equally important. It’s not the infrequent big gestures that count; it’s the little things a couple does for each other that really matter over the long haul. For example, picking up the other person’s dry cleaning because you happen to be in that part of town, going to a chick flick when you’d rather gouge your eyes out with red hot pokers, making the other person’s favorite dinner when it’s not your fave, etc.

Emotionally abusive, narcissistic and borderline women are rarely affectionate, considerate or generous. If they do something nice for you, they experience it as a loss and a degradation. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life in a lopsided, nonreciprocal relationship?

7. My kid(s) are okay because she doesn’t yell at them. Witnessing physical and emotional abuse is harmful to children, even when they’re not being targeted. Just because your wife/girlfriend isn’t currently attacking your children doesn’t mean it’s not affecting them. We learn about relationships from our parents and other caregivers.

What do you think your children are learning by observing mom’s and dad’s relationship dynamic? If you could choose a relationship partner for your children when they’re grown up, would you want it to be like your relationship with their mother? By staying in the relationship, you’re telegraphing that it’s okay for the person who “loves” you to abuse you and that one individual’s needs and feelings are more important than the other’s. Additionally, when and if the children ever begin to assert their own identities and challenge mom in any way—that is if they’re not terrified to do so after witnessing the way mom treats dad—they’ll typically be subject to the same hot and cold abuse.

8. I’ll lose my home, my kids and all my assets. Yes, you’ll have to part with some of your assets and you won’t be able to spend as much time with your children. However, if you’re prepared to fight like hell, prepare in advance and arm yourself with strong legal representation, you may be able to recoup your financial losses over time and hopefully forge a new and healthier relationship with your kids. Healthier because you’re setting the example of not tolerating abuse in a relationship. Don’t confuse being a martyr with being a parent.

Your kids are going to have issues, especially around relationships, whether you stay in the marriage or not. You’ll be in a much better place to help them later on if you’re healthy, strong and happy. This half lie/half truth is a fear that’s planted and encouraged by your wife/girlfriend. She controls you through  your fear of loss.

9. Love conquers all. It all depends upon what you define as “love.” Is love control? To these women, love is control, anger and keeping others down in order to raise herself up. Do you really love her? Does your heart skip a beat when you think about her? **Please note, your heart skipping a beat should be accompanied by a smile on your lips and a twinkle in your eyes; not a panic attack.

If she wasn’t your wife or girlfriend, is she the first person you’d want to hang out with? Do you feel loved and accepted for who you are? Or have you convinced yourself that you must love this woman otherwise why would you be trying so hard to make the relationship work?

Now follow the trail backwards and ask yourself where this belief came from? Has your wife/girlfriend told you it’s your job to make her happy and that you “have to fight for this relationship?” Sorry fellas, that’s not love; that’s brainwashing. Break the spell.

10. I made a commitment and I honor my commitments. Okay, but is she honoring her commitments to you? Is she loving, honoring and cherishing you? I’m sure she thinks so. As a former couples’ patient once said, she believed it was her “job” to criticize her husband and tell him what to do to “make him the kind of man she deserved.” You could argue that wedding vows are open to interpretation, much like the Constitution, but come on. My mind still reels when I think about this woman.

Are you honoring your commitments to yourself and your dignity as a human being? Are you respecting yourself by remaining in a destructive and abusive relationship? Are you living your best life by being with this woman or do you feel like you’ve been sentenced to life imprisonment? Healthy relationships don’t feel like a jail sentence. I think when one partner abuses the other, she or he has reneged on the marriage vows (or other form of commitment).Abuse is a betrayal and you ultimately end up betraying yourself by staying in an abusive relationship.

Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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How to Have a Healthy Relationship After Being With an Emotionally Abusive, Borderline or Narcissistic Woman

May 1, 2009 34 comments

Shawshank-Redemption-swimming-through-a-river-of-shit-and-coming-out-the-other-side-Tim-RobbinsThe following is a comment posted by a man who was married to an emotionally abusive woman with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). His advice on how to heal from and get over an emotionally abusive relationship in order to prepare yourself for a new, healthy relationship is so excellent, that I’m posting it as its own blog.

Dr. T,

I stumbled upon this site when I was doing research on how to initiate Mother’s Day events between my ex and my children when their mother is emotionally abusive and has not had a consistent relationship with her children in many (16) months. As I began to read the blog entries, I was struck by the fact that few men had posted. This is an excellent site for men , but only women seem to frequent it.

I am a 45-year old man who finalized an 18 month separation/divorce a year ago. I spent my whole relationship hoping my wife would “grow up” and had no understanding of BPD and its impact. What I got from the relationship was adoration, but not love and I mistakenly confused the two as the same thing for many years. I loved that she adored me, I loved being the savior, I loved having the answers, I loved giving my ex-wife the life that she never had as a child – but that was not a loving adult relationship. It was a parent-child relationship.

I would have continued in this cycle for who knows how long if she had not released me through her behavior during the separation. I give thanks to god that it happened and that I have the opportunity to grow and make changes in my life and emotional well being.

I believe the following:

1. Recognize that you were attracted to this person for a reason. Most likely that you were comfortable with the behavior you received from them. Reach deep into your childhood and recognize parental behaviors that might have felt similar.

2. Do not get into a relationship too quickly (I am talking years). When you have been emotionally battered for years, you need time to heal before you try to jump into another relationship. Also recognize that jumping too quickly might push you back into a relationship with your ex-wife. You may begin to compare the new relationships before you are emotionally ready. In-turn you may go back to what feels emotionally comfortable for you – BIG MISTAKE.

3. You must end your relationship with the ex-wife. As adult as you may think you are being by developing a “friendship”, this is not a normal adult relationship and you need to end the behavior patterns in order to move on. If children are involved, communicate by email with very direct, but not curt communications. Do not initiate or engage in any dramatic episodes even on email – Kind, Direct, Simple, the end.

4. Do not identify with being victimized. Be a big boy and realize that you made decisions and you knew the outcomes whether you admitted them to yourself or not.

5. Frequent a therapist. Try to understand why YOU made the choices that YOU did. It is not always easy, but definitely worth it. I remember one time my therapist told me to “stop going back into the museum”. What she meant was stop looking at the past. There is a time for this, but not too soon. What I told her was that the museum was a mess. Valuable artifacts had been broken, overturned and everything was in shambles. I needed to go back into the museum no matter how painful it was and clean it up. Once it is clean, lock the door and only visit it on the occasion when you determine a better spot for a memento.

It has been 2 1/2 years since I separated from my ex-wife. I have concentrated on my children and normalizing their lives and my own. Recently, people have begun to ask me if I am ready to date since they know someone they would like for me to meet. I feel I am now ready to take that next step and will let you all know how it is progressing.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

I am ready to have an adult relationship and my future seems wide open and full of possibilities. However, I have to admit, there is a little piece of me that is afraid I will be attracted to the same type of person even though the greater part of me is determined not to do it again.

—Man with ex-wife with BPD

Hello,

Thank you for reading and leaving such a heartfelt and well considered comment. It’s all the more impactful when given by someone who’s had your firsthand experiences.

Men who’ve been involved with an abusive woman (or women) desperately want a healthy relationship. Yet, they’re not going to get there unless they do exactly what you describe above. Even men who wait before jumping into a new relationship  can muck it up with a healthy women if they maintain a ‘friendship’ with the ex, don’t do the work to heal from the abuse and/or don’t connect the dots regarding their attraction to abusive women and past relationship choices.

I’ve always found the maintaining a friendship thing puzzling. Would you invite the man who waterboarded you and beat you in prison over for Sunday barbecue after you’ve been released? “Maintaining a friendship” is code for “not ready to let go.”

I’m very happy that you managed to end your relationship and put yourself back together. You’re living proof for other men in similar straits that they can also break the cycle of abuse. I think you’re going to be ok and will find a healthy, loving and reciprocal relationship. You’re an expert on women like your ex now. Pay attention to the warning signs when you meet a new woman. Here’s what I recommend:

How to Avoid Getting Involved with Another Crazy, Emotionally Abusive Woman

1) Do a little gentle digging (i.e., no police interrogation tactics) about her past relationships and why they didn’t work out. Does she blame all of her exes and make them out to be bastards? If so, steer clear. You want to hear a potential love interest take some responsibility for the demise of her past relationships. “I was young and immature. I didn’t know what I wanted. I realize now that I…

Taking responsibility for her choices and holding herself accountable is a good indication that you’re probably dealing with a grown-up. However, don’t confuse self-blame and responsibility. If she trashes herself, puts herself down and blames herself for her failed relationships, get out while the getting’s good.

2) Beware of an inexplicable, instant, powerful and overwhelming attraction to a woman or feel like you already know her because of an instant connection. Odds are you do already know her. She’s probably just another embodiment of the old issues. Yes, instant chemistry exists and this new woman might be as wonderful as she appears to be, but go slowly.

The wonderful, but illusory façade of emotionally abusive women usually cracks fairly soon into the relationship, but gradually, which is why so many men minimize, overlook, deny and/or excuse the abusive behaviors. She seems amazing and then there’s an attack out of nowhere. She goes back to normal for a few weeks and then there’s another incident and another and another and another. In most cases, the period of time between abusive episodes becomes shorter and shorter. Don’t wait that long to get out.

For example, the two of you meet and she’s great. Two weeks go by and she has her first rage episode in which she accuses you of being insensitive or selfish or something equally unfounded. You’re bewildered and left wondering, “What just happened?” This is when you should go on high alert and pay very close attention to what she does next:

  • Does she pretend like it didn’t happen? Does she minimize or deny that it happened? This is called gaslighting and it’s abusive. Get out now.
  • Does she apologize prettily, cry and say she was having a bad day at work and her boss was being mean to her and then when you didn’t call her at the exact minute she was expecting you to call and she just couldn’t take it anymore and snapped? Don’t fall for it. This isn’t really an apology. She’s not taking responsibility for her bad behavior. Rather, she’s blaming her boss and you. Everyone has a bad day from time to time and maybe you want to give her the benefit of the doubt. Ok, but when it happens a second and a third time, she’s not just having a bad day, this is who she is.
  • Does she blatantly blame you for her bad behavior without even feigning an empty apology? There’s no gray area here. She’s an abusive personality and you need to walk away.
  • Does she cry and beg you not to leave her, flushed in high drama, saying things like “I don’t know what I’ll do if you leave me. No one has ever made me feel this way. I don’t want to go on without you. Please don’t leave me!?” Get a restraining order, change your phone number and get a new email account. This is probably full throttle BPD.

3) Beware of grand gestures or extreme selfishness. If she gives you an extravagant gift or orchestrates some incredible fantasy date within a few weeks of knowing her, be alarmed. If she expects you to take care of everything, make all the plans, entertain her, pay for everything and doesn’t reciprocate, be alarmed. The former shows inappropriate boundaries and she’s probably working from the angle of “now he’ll owe me” and the latter indicates you will always do for her and get nothing in return except complaints and criticism. Nothing will ever be good enough for this kind of woman.

4) Getting too close, too fast—BOUNDARIES. Another warning signal is if she tries to insinuate herself into your other relationships and personal space too quickly. For example, you’ve been dating for two weeks, she finds out it’s you dad’s birthday that weekend and buys him a gift. Or she has roommate troubles and could she stay at your place temporarily after only knowing you a month. Or she wants to introduce you to her family in record time. This is evidence that she has poor or zero boundaries and it only goes downhill from here.

When you meet a kind, loving and healthy woman, it’ll probably feel a little strange to you at first. That’s normal. Ride it out. Remind yourself this is what you want and let yourself enjoy it. Consciously make the decision to be open to it and you’ll get there. Relationships really can be that mutually rewarding and satisfying.

You’ve already undertaken the two most difficult steps: You extracted yourself physically and psychologically from the cycle of abuse. You seem to have an incredible amount of awareness and maturity from your experience. I have every faith that if you take your time, exercise good judgment and open yourself up to being treated well, you’ll do just fine.

Kind Regards,

Dr Tara

Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

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Traumatic Love: Is Your Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend Making You Sick?

April 1, 2009 51 comments

woman yelling at manDo you have trouble sleeping? A perpetual knot in your stomach? Do you experience chronic indigestion or gastrointestinal pain? Do you get stress headaches? Are you afraid to let your guard down with your significant other? Do you censor yourself because you’re afraid to speak the truth to your girlfriend or wife?

If so, you may have developed a trauma response from being involved in an abusive relationship. Stated more simply, you’re suffering post-traumatic stress from being involved with an abusive narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, sociopathic or non-pathological insecure and controlling woman.

Trauma, whether it’s physical or emotional, develops in two ways. It can be caused by a single, isolated event like being mugged, a horrific car accident or a natural disaster. Trauma can also develop from ongoing, chronic, relentless stress such as being in a war, being bullied at work or being in an abusive relationship.

Can you really compare being involved with an abusive woman to water-boarding, jail, hurricanes, and war?

Absolutely. Being emotionally and/or physically abused by these women can have the same effects as being in a war or a cataclysmic event. Combat, torture, imprisonment, tsunamis, and life with a controlling abusive woman share the following characteristics:

  • It’s unpredictable.
  • It has the element of the unexpected.
  • You feel powerless to control your environment.
  • The psychological or physical abuse is repetitive.
  • It’s intentionally cruel.
  • The abuse occurs in a setting or is inflicted by someone whom you once trusted and with whom you felt safe.

Being emotionally abused by the woman you love, who supposedly loves you, is experienced as betrayal and a fundamental violation of trust. Betrayal trauma is caused by emotionally abusive behaviors like gaslighting, mood swings, verbal attacks, rages, alienating your child(ren) from their normal affection toward you (Parental Alienation), being nice to you only to lure you in closer for another emotional sucker punch and/or physical abuse.

Being attracted to crazy, abusive women and being predisposed to trauma share many of the same risk factors. An abusive relationship causes psychological trauma and the same reasons you became involved in an abusive relationship also prime you for developing trauma. Because you experienced emotional trauma as a child, you’re attracted to adult relationships that recreate these conditions. It’s a vicious circle.

Some of the these factors include:

  • Having emotionally or physically abusive parents (e.g., they were overly critical, intrusive, neglectful and/or violent).
  • Being a parentified child (having to take care of your parent(s)’ emotional and/or physical needs instead of your parent(s) taking care of you).
  • Having unresolved childhood or adolescent abandonment issues.
  • Having a painfully traumatic first love experience in adolescence or early adulthood with an abusive woman.
  • Being the target of childhood bullying.
  • Being chronically ill in childhood, which may have led you to develop a dependent personality.

What’s the difference between PTSD and Betrayal Trauma?

The primary difference between PTSD and betrayal trauma is fear vs. anger. Historically, PTSD is considered to be caused by extreme fear; betrayal trauma is thought to be caused by anger. Both evoke a fight or flight response.

However, prolonged repetitive emotional abuse can create a third response. If you can’t fight (i.e., because your abusive wife/girlfriend twists reality, blames you for everything and puts you in no-win situations) or can’t or won’t take flight (i.e., dump her warped ass) you default to the third response. You numb out, shut down and experience a pervasive sense of profound learned helplessness.

When most people are hurt or betrayed by someone, they get angry, possibly end the relationship and steer clear of him or her in the future. However, if you’re predisposed to relationships with abusive women and trauma, it’s not in your nature to respond to hurtful behaviors the way most people do.

At first, you may  experience denial and disbelief that the woman you love could treat you so callously and cruelly. Then you essentially ignore her abusive behaviors. You minimize and excuse her indefensible behavior, almost seeming to forget the most vitriolic verbal attacks and rages. In fact, you really may not remember the worst of it.

Men who have developed a trauma response actually dissociate during the most bitter attacks. Dissociation is a defense mechanism in which your conscious mind shuts down, like when she’s screaming at you and you go someplace else in your head. After her rage has subsided, you actually can’t remember what happened. Your mind took you away to protect you from the abuse.

In order to protect yourself, you block out and forget the abuses (a form of psychogenic amnesia) in order to maintain the relationship. It’s a sort of “functional forgetting” or selective memory to protect you from the cognitive dissonance of being with this woman. However, there are psychological and physical consequences to ignoring the painfully obvious.

If you didn’t make excuses for, minimize, forget or deny the pain you experience because of her crazy, hurtful behaviors, then you would have to end the relationship. These are more defense mechanisms you probably developed as a child to protect yourself from the people who loved you. They helped you survive as a child, but as an adult, they’re enabling you to stay in an abusive relationship in which you’re emotionally and psychologically traumatized.

Next week, I’ll post the second part of this post. I’ll explain the three categories of symptoms you may experience as a result of staying in an abusive relationship: physical, psychological, and interpersonal.

Meanwhile, if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, please consider the harm you’re doing to yourself by not ending it. You’re an adult now. You don’t need to depend on this crazy woman like you had to depend on your parents for survival. You can break the psychological dependence and walk or run away.

Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

Donations

If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

Related content:

25 Signs your Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend is Traumatizing You

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Woman yelling at man on corbis.

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