Bad Relationships: Change your Role and the Rules of Engagement

Many people engage in abusive behaviors, covert and overt, to get what they want. Whenever you appease, capitulate, ignore or simply stay in an abusive relationship, you reward and reinforce your partner’s abusive behavior.

An abusive personality will continue to rage, withdraw, name-call, degrade, shame, guilt-trip and other more subtle abuse tactics such as dirty looks, smirking and gaslighting as long as there aren’t any consequences for doing so. Even when there are consequences they’ll often continue to engage in destructive, abusive behaviors. It’s their nature; just like it’s a snake’s nature to strike at you with its fangs when you get too close.

Unhappy couples tend to engage in what psychologist John Gottman calls the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. “They get stuck in negative, destructive patterns, have fewer positive interactions than happy couples and are unable to resolve problems.” These four behaviors are frequently how abusive personalities, particularly narcissists and borderlines, control and communicate with their partners.

When you tell someone that their behavior is hurtful and unacceptable, there are several possible outcomes. She or he can:

  1. Hear what you say, hold themselves accountable, respect your feelings and actively try to change. Translation: I love and respect you. I care about your feelings and will make every effort to change.
  2. Hear what you say, hold themselves accountable, respect your feelings, communicate which of your behaviors are contributing to the situation and you both actively try to change. Translation: I love and respect you. I care about your feelings and will make every effort to change.
  3. Acknowledge their hurtful behavior, but hey, you knew what they were like when you married them so get used to it and stop complaining. Translation: I don’t care about your needs and feelings. I won’t change.
  4. Acknowledge their hurtful behavior and then blame you for it. Translation: I’m not responsible for my actions. It’s your fault. You deserve it. I don’t care about your feelings. I won’t change.
  5. Acknowledge their hurtful behavior, make a lame apology while justifying their actions (blame you), repeat the same hurtful behavior over and over again as if you never talked about it and become angry if you don’t forgive them. Translation: What I want is more important. I don’t care about your feelings. I won’t change.
  6. Deny their hurtful behavior and accuse you of being the abusive one. Translation: I’m above reproach. You’re crazy. My needs and feelings are the only ones that matter. You need to adapt yourself to my silences and rages and pretend like nothing is wrong. I don’t care about your feelings. I won’t change.
  7. Minimize their hurtful behavior and accuse you of being oversensitive and unreasonable. “It’s not that bad. Don’t be such a baby. You’re so thin-skinned.” Translation: I’m not accountable. Your nose broke because it got in the way of my fist, so your nose should apologize to my fist. I don’t care about your feelings. I won’t change.

People persist in both positive and negative behaviors because there’s a payoff; a primary gain or secondary gain. They’re rewarded with pleasure, they avoid punishment or an unpleasant consequence, their beliefs are validated or they get to feel good about themselves. There’s always an emotional, psychological and/or physical stake—feeling good or avoiding feeling bad.

Scenarios 1 and 2 are the only mutually satisfying long-term relationship outcomes. Scenarios 3-7 are either “get out now” or “live a life of resignation” outcomes. This may seem black and white, but if someone won’t acknowledge their bad behavior, blames you for it or acknowledges it and refuses to do anything about it, you’re not in a mutual two-way relationship. You’re in an abusive, one-way relationship.

Staying in the relationship and engaging in the same pattern over and over again, telegraphs that the abuse is okay—even if you actively complain about it to your partner and specifically say “it’s not okay.” If you really weren’t okay with it, you’d communicate with your feet.

If you’re not ready to end the relationship just yet, you need to change the one person you can change: YOU. If you’ve told your partner how hurtful her/his behavior is and she/he refuses to acknowledge it and/or attacks you even more, you need to change how you react and respond to the hurtful and abusive behaviors.

A relationship is a “field.” Field theory was developed by Kurt Lewin, a Gestalt psychologist and founder of Social Psychology, in the 1940’s. “Field theory holds that behavior must be derived from a totality of coexisting facts. These coexisting facts make up a ‘dynamic field,’ which means that the state of any part of the field depends on every other part of it. Behavior depends on the present field rather than on the past or the future” (Wikipedia). In other words, a change in one part of the system creates a reaction or ripple effect throughout the entire the system, just like throwing a pebble into a pool of water.

Changing how you respond to your partner’s hurtful behaviors, will change how your partner responds to you. If you’re dating or married to an abusive personality, they’re unlikely to respond well to any changes you make. Abusive individuals make the rules and break the rules. Thus far it’s been your role to go along with her whims, tirades, and more subtle forms of abuse. Her hurtful and insensitive behaviors are designed to get a reaction from you. She wants to see pain flicker in your eyes. She wants to see you wince and become crestfallen. She wants you to sink down to her level and lash out in return so she can play the victim and portray you as the bad guy—never mind how much she provoked you.

Here are some possible primary and secondary gains for remaining in an abusive relationship:

  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of losing money and assets
  • Fear of losing access to children and parental rights
  • Fear of being viewed as the “bad guy”
  • Fear of “failure”
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Need for approval
  • Need to be liked or loved
  • Need for acceptance
  • Need for affiliation or feeling like you “belong”
  • Reinforces your beliefs that you’re unlovable
  • Reinforces your beliefs that you have to be perfect to be worthy of love
  • Reinforces your beliefs that you have to work hard to earn love
  • Reinforces your beliefs that the people who love you are supposed to hurt you

These needs, fears and beliefs are what make it possible for your abusive spouse or partner to hurt you and keep hurting you. They prey upon these fears, needs and beliefs even if they’re not consciously aware of it. Many abusers, narcissists, borderlines, sociopaths and bullies are intuitive predators. They intuitively know what buttons to push to get a reaction. In order to change your role and the rules of your relationship, you need to rewire your “buttons.”

Since your abusive spouse or partner is unlikely to change their behavior, real change is up to you. Here are some alternative ways to respond to her abusive behaviors:

  • Practice emotional detachment.
  • Develop a blank, benign facial expression when you’re under attack, baited, ignored or made to feel stupid, wrong or bad.
  • Work on maintaining a non-defensive body posture.
  • Learn to modulate your voice so that it doesn’t betray any anxiety, agitation, fear, hurt or anger.
  • Meet her attacks, put-downs, smirks, eye rolls, hysterics, etc., with unblinking calm and firmly state, “These tactics of yours don’t work anymore. Let me know when you’re ready to respectfully discuss these issues one at a time” and then end the “discussion.”
  • Plan ahead and designate a place you can go if she won’t let the matter drop like your office, den, workshop or a friend’s house.
  • If she follows you and continues to try to get a reaction out of you, look at her as if you’re watching a toddler throw a tantrum and tell her you’re taking a timeout.

When you change your role in the relationship dynamic, your partner will probably begin to escalate her hurtful behaviors. Another tenet of field theory is that all systems fight to maintain homeostasis or the status quo. An abusive partner will use every weapon in her arsenal to keep you under her control. When you refuse to give her the reaction she wants she’ll frantically try pushing all of your buttons at once—kind of like when the TV remote control isn’t working and you push the power button repeatedly so you don’t have to get off the couch.

If you can maintain your cool, she’ll eventually give up and walk away in frustration or pout. She may even become physically aggressive when she realizes her typical verbal aggression isn’t working. Adopting the above behaviors and changing your role in the relationship is for your well-being; not hers.

Behaviors and beliefs are strongly related. When you change the way you behave, your beliefs and attitudes will change, too. You’ll grow out of your old familiar role of target/frustrated spouse/scapegoat-for-everything-wrong-in-her-life-and-every-bad-feeling-she-has and become a person who stands up for and respects himself. This is a significant piece of identity development that may very well cause you to outgrow abusive, one-sided relationships altogether—and that’s a good thing.

When she sees that these are lasting changes and she can’t control you anymore, she’ll accuse you of having changed, engage in projection and tell you that you’re being abusive and controlling and/or may actually end the relationship herself. She may enlist friends, family members and professional therapists or pastors to force you back into your old role in an effort to maintain the status quo.

Alternatively, she may withdraw entirely and become the sullen martyr. Nevertheless, her power over you will be gone because she won’t be able to manipulate you and your emotions like a puppet on a string anymore. Are you ready to change your role, the rules and the balance of power in your relationship?

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/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.


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.

Photo credit:

Ripple effect by Tom Bunny on flickr.

  1. January 17, 2010 at 9:03 am

    I entered the mental health field in 1980 and worked counseling alcoholics and drug addicts until 1999. During that time I witnessed, and for a while unfortunately participated in, the co-opting of treatment services by feminist ideologues.

    By the time I figured out what was happening it was too late. I fought back as best I could and spent the last 8 years of my work in that field trying to hold my own and counter the misandry that had taken over. I won some small battles and frequently got my butt kicked.

    If there were even ten Tara Palmatier’s in the whole country I think it would have made a difference. I come here now to this site from time to time to read her fine work and am always struck by the gravity and importance of her message and the courage with which she delivers it.

    With the misandry prevalent in the world today, and a psychological field that brazenly ignores the issues and needs of men, I must say how very grateful I am that Tara Palmatier is actually doing something to address it.

    On behalf of myself and all the men and boys I ever tried to help, Dr. T, thank you.

  2. KS
    January 17, 2010 at 8:36 am

    Hi Dr T.

    Lovely article. I’ve been reading most articles/comments here and all seem spot on. I was wondering though if you could have an article specifically on covert BPDs. My experience has been with a covert type – Charming, passive, extreme lack of intimacy and denies you love and affection as a punishment, threatening withdrawal, at first she’ll be like a listerner only to later distort everything you say, lazy to do almost anything, never tries to resolve any issues. extremely insecured (the only time she’d want to communicate is when she suspects your’re cheating), when challenged she’ll tarnish your image to family and friends and will resort to even more lies, distortions, disrespect, insults, etc.

    In my view these types are the masters at their craft (or should I say pseudo-craft ) because hardly anyone (family/friends) are like to see what is really going on. In that case (and without S4MEN) you are litterally on your own. I’ve been through this for the past 10 years and at times thought I was the one who’s insane. Actually ALL of these ended applying to me:-

    …Fear of being alone
    Fear of losing money and assets
    Fear of losing access to children and parental rights
    Fear of being viewed as the “bad guy”
    Fear of “failure”
    Fear of the unknown
    Need for approval
    Need to be liked or loved
    Need for acceptance
    Need for affiliation or feeling like you “belong”
    Reinforces your beliefs that you’re unlovable
    Reinforces your beliefs that you have to be perfect to be worthy of love
    Reinforces your beliefs that you have to work hard to earn love
    Reinforces your beliefs that the people who love you are supposed to hurt you

  3. January 17, 2010 at 2:00 am

    Hi Doc – I HAVE to second the comment above. This is the best site for men or women I have come across. My BPD wife left about a month and a half ago – I guess I should count that as a blessing. I still hold out hope that we can reconcile, however, I realize that the principles you put forward in your articles are dead on. I don’t know where our relationship will end up – but I know that for the first time in a long time I am starting to feel whole again. I am doing like you said and getting off of the gerbil wheel.

  4. .abc
    January 17, 2010 at 12:09 am

    hello doc
    i have been in relationship with my girlfriend for over 3 years now and as obvious it has not worked well. i love her a lot and even a thought of living a second without her fills my mind with slew of pains and discomforts. eventually the relationship turned into a LDR because of unavoidable circumstances and it didnt helped either. as the conditions grew worse i became an addict to smoking and drinking .sometimes i feel whether or not its me who is at the fault. as in case of jared,s post how can i know whether or not i am the main abuser. what are the main personality traits of abusive men? ( if you have any expertize over that area i shall be very helful)

    • Nick
      January 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm

      To .abc not saying that you me or anyone else can’t engage in abuse…verbal or otherwise but beware of one thing. BPD/NPD’s are masters of what the shrinks call PROJECTION….i.e you are accused of the very thing they are guilty of. My ex whacko was, without question, an emotional abuser. I “pushed her buttons” “Brought out the bad mildred” (not her real name.) Any shortness
      snappiness, anger brought on by her craziness was termed as “abuse” abuse abuse abuse… She would work into her sentences whenever she could. It was absolutely weird! It threw me off balance…made HER the victim…and made me question my sanity. Read up on projection and be honest with yourself if you do abuse. My guess is one hell of a lot of projection is going on.

    • chris
      February 13, 2010 at 1:01 pm

      If you have ever questioned whether or not you have NPD then you don’t. People with NPD don’t ever consider that something is wrong with them and their behavior. I went through a similar period of wondering if it was me that was creating the problems. It wasn’t me. She’s just that good at projecting her hateful bile, guilt tripping, and accusing.

      • jp
        February 13, 2010 at 5:46 pm

        You know that feeling you get when she says something so weird, off-base or hurtful it stops you in your tracks, fogs up your mind and leaves you wondering WTF and questioning yourself for hours afterward?

        Pay attention to that’s your own psychological alarm system telling you your dealing with someone who’s acting cuhrazeeeee.

        • skip
          May 4, 2010 at 9:16 am

          NAME REMOVED would do these things, and I use her name openly because I now realize that her goal was to purposely wound me so that she could feed off my reaction to her. NOTE FROM DR TARA: DO NOT USE REAL NAMES ON THIS SITE. IF YOU DO SO AGAIN, I WILL REMOVE IT. HOWEVER, THIS REQUIRES TIME I’D RATHER SPEND DOING SOMETHING ELSE.

          It’s so sick that I feel a very strong need to warn people about her and her type.

          You are so correct it’s amazing. I wish I knew about what she was doing when she was doing it and spare myself all of that misery.

          This person wore me down to the point where I truly believed I was insane after our interactions.

          I was insane. I was crazy for putting up with her BS for so long and not cutting her out of my life and I guess my biggest regret is that it took me so long to understand what she was doing and how it affected me.

          It makes me nauseous thinking I once loved this person, that I would tolerate something like that makes me feel like a failure, the shame is overwhelming at times.

          The sad part is that it’s been a long time since we last spoke and these issues in my case relate strongly to abuse I endured growing up as a kid in my home, things which as you described the revelation has brought on a lot of punitive behavior from those who fear the truth.

          The truth set me free and I don’t fear it one bit. It’s a very liberating feeling.

  5. Norbert
    January 16, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Dr. Tara,

    I’ve been following your articles/blog for the past eight months and am surprised at how well you describe my wife. Lately, I have felt extremely isolated by her tactics of being the “professional victim”. A day does not go by where she doesn’t tell me or others that I am angry, mean, etc.; however, your statement, “…tell you that you’re being abusive and controlling and/or…enlist friends, family members and professional therapists or pastors…” has brought me back to reality. It amazes me that I can get a good read on other people, but it took eight years of marriage and a little help from you to see this in my own spouse. Thank you for what you do.

    • shrink4men
      January 17, 2010 at 7:24 pm

      You’re welcome, Norbert. Best wishes to you.

  6. Jenny
    January 16, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    I know this happens to a lot of men, but it happens to a lot of people period. Your page is the best written on the internet, and I have done a lot of research. It can be of incredible value to anyone in this situation. I simply change pronouns. I hope this isn’t insulting to you considering your special role in helping men…which has been a sadly lacking service. But, you hit areas that others do not with complete and sometimes chilling accuracy.

    I also truly hope that abusive individuals are sometimes reading, or being given this material to read by their partners, and gaining insight.

    • shrink4men
      January 17, 2010 at 7:19 pm

      Hi Jenny,

      Thanks for the positive feedback. Changing the pronouns is perfectly fine and, yes, the information applies whether it’s to female or male emotional predators.

      It’s been my experience that most of the abusive women who have been given my material by their husbands/bf’s either find a way to discredit me—e.g., “she’s an Internet therapist” (don’t know what that means), “she’s bitter and jealous” (err, yeah, right), “she’s a woman basher” (nope, I’m an abusive personality educator), “she’s a right wing, conservative christian” (often my material ends up on more conservative men’s websites/blogs, but these sites don’t represent my political or spiritual beliefs–far from it), “shes a misogynist” (not true—this is the default “argument” for many women when they don’t want to be held accountable), etc., etc.

      If the partner of an abuser has been unable to get them to admit their bad behavior, it’s unlikely any book or website ever will. If they recognize the truth to themselves then they either have to do something about it and change or admit that they’re miserable, nasty creatures. The closest any of them seem to get is evidence by the borderlines who claim they’re “in recovery” who surface here from time to time.

      They accuse me of having no empathy for them re: they’re disordered and can’t help themselves, they rage that not all BPDs are alike (meaning they’re not like that) and then they make personal attacks about me being a bitter lesbian (I’m not) or that I’m “splitting” etc. Their diatribes are usually perfect snapshots of their pathology, which is why I publish some of them. However, they’ve yet to fully hold themselves accountable. They write, “yes, I behave this way sometimes, BUT. . .”

      My advice: If you’re involved with an abuser, the only person you can help is yourself. Lead by example and if she or he doesn’t follow, move on.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  7. Derek
    January 16, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    shrink4men :

    Of course, she’ll respond badly and or freak out. Her usual tactics won’t be working and she’ll sense she’s losing control. She’ll try even harder to get a reaction out of you. If you give it to her, she gets rewarded for her bad behavior. Not losing your cool and setting a boundary punishes her for her bad behavior.

    Dr Tara, where does this strategy end? I’ve done this and have endured 3 months of increasing abuse and threats. It finally calmed down when she ran out of steam and came to some sort of realisation after taking my mobile phone off me for a few days because she thought I was going to record her – which I was and have been doing. I didn’t react. This way of dealing with a person like this triggers a tirade of abuse and you have to be ready for it. The end is separation, unless they change their ways. But how often does that happen?

    • shrink4men
      January 16, 2010 at 10:33 pm

      Hi Derek,

      It either ends with one of you ending the relationship or with her withdrawing into sullen defeat and both you remaining in a relationship of resignation and emotional detachment. In most cases, if your partner has a character disorder (in other words, poor character) it just doesn’t get any better than this.

      Practicing these techniques and learning to be emotionally detached isn’t to make her better and loving. YOU CANNOT CHANGE THESE WOMEN. The only person you can change is yourself. These techniques are to make you less vulnerable to her abuse by not rewarding her for her abusive behaviors for as long as you remain in the relationship.

      You deserve better. You deserve to live an abuse free life and I hope you get there.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

    • shrink4men
      January 16, 2010 at 11:16 pm

      Just thought of something else. Don’t know if you’ve ever had a dog. I had a pug for a very long time who had some behavioral issues. I went through 3 rounds of obedience training with him.

      His trainer showed me how to physically restrain him without hurting him. When he would act out and wouldn’t listen to voice commands, I had to show him who was the alpha dog by restraining him. I would lay him on his side with one hand firmly across and pushing down on his head/neck/shoulder and the other hand firmly pressing down on his butt and haunch, so that he couldn’t move or nip at me.

      I would keep him in that position until he would heave a great sigh and finally go still. I’m not suggesting you physically restrain your wife/gf, but rather you need to wear her down. Let her exhaust herself. Let the abuse go in one ear and out the other. It’s just like a dog barking and snapping and yapping for a table scrap. As soon as you relent and throw her a bone, you reinforce the bad behavior.

      • Steve
        January 17, 2010 at 1:33 am

        LOL Dr. Tara…
        I’ve used the dog metaphor for my own life many times… I’ve characterized her attempts to get me to stay as a cranky dog owner enticing the pooch to “come” with a loud voice and a rolled up newspaper ready to “smack!” ya… I’ll come to that. … lol

  8. FranzFerdinand
    January 16, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Thanks again for the writings and advice. I’m now free from my STBXW and have thankfully stuck to not talking or communicating in any way since I walked out the door in late October. That was one of the healthiest things I ever could have done. It wasn’t until I wasn’t living with her anymore that I became aware of just how warped my reality was and how much I was being controlled by her.

    In my case I tried to stand up for myself once I realized what was going on. I wasn’t mean or confrontational, but I let her know that her behaviors were corrosive to our union and that I needed her to change – and that if my behaviors needed changing as well to facilitate that then I was willing to work anything out. The first area that I realized was really wrong was our sex life – in addition to great infrequency, I came to realize that the only time she was turned on was after she had reduced me to tears or worse. Emotional manipulation and abuse was foreplay to her! But after I started standing up for myself and asked her to go to counseling it got so much worse.

    The more I refused to be moved by her abuse the harder she tried. This spiraled further and further out of control until, after weeks of rages and threats of suicide, she finally made plans to stab me when I came home from work (on this particular day she was upset that I left the hall light on again and failed to make the bed). She decided not to go through with it however, and told me about this in some twisted attempt to show me how much she cared about me. Suffice to say that I wasn’t sticking around to see what she came up with next. I am pathologically afraid of failure and that was probably the main reason I stuck around as long as I did – but I wasn’t going out like Phil Hartman.

    I gave her some muscle relaxants, put her to bed, called the emergency number for our couple’s counselor and stayed up all night. I made her breakfast and got her off to work. Then I left without saying a word.

    Anyway, I’m not sure where I was going in all of this – but don’t expect improvement when you stand up for yourself. You may get far worse abuse than you’ve seen before. The important thing is that you stand up for yourself and stick to it. This may destroy your relationship – and if it does, that’s probably a good thing after all.

    • shrink4men
      January 16, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      Wow, FranzFerdinand. She wasn’t showing you how much she “loves” you by telling you about her aborted plans to shank you, she was trying to menace and intimidate you. I’m so glad you finally got out.

      Don’t expect improvement when you stand up for yourself. You may get far worse abuse than you’ve seen before. The important thing is that you stand up for yourself and stick to it. This may destroy your relationship – and if it does, that’s probably a good thing after all.

      Yup. Thanks for sharing the wisdom of your experience and here’s to better times ahead.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  9. soontobesingle
    January 16, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Dr. Tara:

    years ago when my STBx had an affair I was scared of being alone, didn’t want to be the bad guy, wanted to be loved, belong, and I believed the counselor when they said “it takes two to make a marriage work…and two to make a marriage fail”(!). It was almost as if “I” was to blame for her affair(??!!!).

    Years later I discover more affairs and was fearful of the same things listed above, and additionally fearful about money, children, etc., etc., etc. There just came a point in my life when I said “enough” and walked away. It’s amazing to read your site…it’s like the road-map for my STBx’s behavior. I can see clearly now…Thank you soooooo much!

    • shrink4men
      January 16, 2010 at 6:15 pm

      You’re welcome, soontobesingle.

      When we make choices based on fear, it almost always backfires and guarantees that our worst-case scenarios occur.

      I’m glad you got out. Intimate relationships shouldn’t be a source of fear, pain, dissatisfaction and defeated resignation. That’s when a relationship becomes a jail sentence. Here’s to your new life!

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  10. January 16, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Great post – much appreciated Dr Tara.

    This all rings so many bells with my relationship with my ex-wife (let’s call her ‘Eva’). Sometimes she appears to be utterly lacking in empathy or emotional intelligence, such as when she learned that my wife and I were planning to have a child and she complained bitterly that it might affect her child support payments (she’s not short of money btw). And sometimes she seems to actually be sadistic, looking for that ‘flicker of pain’ such as when she heard our plans to marry the first thing she said was that that my wife ‘Penny’ (who has slightly thin hair) was ‘going bald’. The shocking thing is that she has almost finished qualifying to be a counsellor.

    And the strategies you describe tally up very closely with the ways that I’ve learned to manage her. In particular this one made me laugh:

    “Develop a blank, benign facial expression when you’re under attack, baited, ignored or made to feel stupid, wrong or bad.”

    When Penny saw me use that face in detached response to Eva’s attempts to entangle me in various emotional arguments she started to call be ‘Batfink’ (“my wings are like a shield of steel!”). She says such outrageously inappropriate things at times, it’s incredible. In one ear and out the other – make a mental note of what said, but don’t let it touch the sides in emotional terms.

    Keep up the good work!


    • shrink4men
      January 16, 2010 at 4:06 pm

      Thanks, Liam. It’s always, always, always all about them. I swear they were all hatched from the same pod. The worst part is when these women pass these beliefs, attitudes and behaviors onto their children. They tend to create mini-versions of themselves when given the chance—like a junior foot soldier.

      “In one ear and out the other” is a good way to deal with their never-ending egregiously rotten behaviors or, like I say to my bf, “Consider the source.”

      Hang tough, Batfink!

  11. Jared
    January 16, 2010 at 6:52 am

    While I like your advice I have some problems with its broad applicability.

    Say A does something abusive to B, rather than attempting to pacify A, B gets cross at A and spends the night else where or tells A off, not an unreasonable response from someone whos been abused. A responds to this by telling B that “their behavior is hurtful and unacceptable” i.e it hurts me when you run out, or I don’t like it when you shout at me like that. B would be quite justified in responding to this with any of 4 through 7 from the above, and it seems to me that plenty of abusers would do this sort of thing. They would see no problems with their actions, but decide that their victim’s responce was abuse….

    Is this type of scenario unlikely or have I got the wrong end of the stick?

    • shrink4men
      January 16, 2010 at 3:58 pm

      Hi Jared,

      Yes, an abuser will turn your behavior around on you—especially if you lose your cool and snap at them. Yes, she’ll twist you getting some space after she attacks you as you being controlling or abandoning her.

      I agree. It’s natural to lose your temper when someone attacks you or says or does something hurtful. A normal person would realize, “Whoa. Maybe I pushed him too far.” Not so with an abuser. She’ll twist you becoming cross into you have “anger problems” and you’re abusive. This is why I advise you to not to react in anger and to learn how not to enable her, but to disable her. She wants you to get cross so she can turn it around on you.

      As I stated in the post, these techniques aren’t to fix her. You can’t fix her. Getting cross and running out just keeps the destructive pattern going. Responding calmly and stating, “Your behaviors are unacceptable, A.” She’ll probably launch another attack, become defensive and cluster bomb you with more grievances of wrongs you supposedly committed. Redirect her back to what she originally said or did that was hurtful. “A, this isn’t about what I did or did not do. This is about what you just said to me, which is unacceptable. Launching into other complaints is a way for you to avoid holding yourself accountable.” She’ll probably deny it and continue to escalate. This is when you give the consequence. “It’s difficult for me to be around you when you get like this. I’m going to M’s house until you’ve calmed down and can discuss things calmly and civilly.”

      Of course, she’ll respond badly and or freak out. Her usual tactics won’t be working and she’ll sense she’s losing control. She’ll try even harder to get a reaction out of you. If you give it to her, she gets rewarded for her bad behavior. Not losing your cool and setting a boundary punishes her for her bad behavior.

      I repeat, these behavioral techniques will not make her kind and loving. They’re intended to to help you learn how to stop unintentionally rewarding her abusive behaviors.

      Dr Tara

      • David Steinberg, PhD
        January 17, 2010 at 4:14 am

        I love what you are saying here and I’d like to add to it. One of the things I teach my patients all the time is that above all, no matter how much truth is in the attack or nasty treatment, part of learning to act from a place of self-love and not from a place of fear is simply drawing the line by saying “You are being hostile right now, and it’s unacceptable. If you can’t speak to me with respect, then this conversation is over.”

        Many men have a disadvantage in the emotional department. We were raised to think that our vulnerable parts, i.e., depressed-self, anxiety-self, shame-self, hurt-self, etc. were simply unacceptable. These parts of us were not mirrored and held with compassion, and what happens is that whole parts of you become walled off not just from others, but from yourself. Without access to your inner emotional life, your ability to be truly in relationship is incapacitated, and you become wide open to others attacks because you can’t defend yourself as a result of being out of touch with your own sense of self-respect and boundaries. Embrace your vulnerability with love and compassion, and nobody can abuse you because you live from a place of self-knowledge and love, not fear. When you are in this place, you will deeply feel the hostility, and you will be able to say “No, you can’t talk to me like that.”

        • Recovering Alpha
          January 18, 2010 at 11:27 pm

          Dr Steinberg

          I think what you’ve said IS CLOSE TO THE NUMBER ONE PROBLEM FOR SO MANY OF US MEN regarding being and STAYING in abusive relationships. As an example, let’s look at the #1 (in annual attendance) U.S. sport: American-style Football. (I know this sport well, as I both played and coached it for many years.) You don’t DARE SHOW YOUR PAIN or your labeled. Worse, eventually you just play without even noticing the pain. I know my own experiences (and others) where you don’t feel the hurt until HOURS later after game or practice. I’ve smashed fingers and not felt it til getting x-rays.

          Anyways, fast-forward to a man in a relationship. All we’ve been taught since little boys is “SUCK IT UP!” and so on. So when I woman is mean to us, we don’t dare bring it up. We’re already conditioned to “SUCK IT UP!”

          What’s the solution? I don’t know. This type of conditioning plays a part, I truly believe, particularly if the society we’re in requires good soldiers etc. (I.e., in WW2, the ONLY commonality in U.S. Marines awarded combat honors was that OVER 70% of them played football in high school.) So there is benefit in some abstract way. But how does that play out in our later years with difficult women?

          For a man to say, “My wife is/was abusive.” is akin to saying “I am pussy.” That sounds “crazy” but unfortunately for many of us raised in sports it is just plain reality.

          • shrink4men
            January 19, 2010 at 4:51 am

            Hi Recovering Alpha,

            I think you start by acknowledging your own feelings and feeling them. Many boys and girls are taught by adults to ignore their feels. For example, you run, fall, scrape your knee and start to cry. Oh, it doesn’t hurt that bad. Be a big girl/boy. You’re hungry. You just had lunch. You’re not really hungry. You’re tired and want to stay up and read. You must be sleepy. It’s getting late.

            No wonder so many people have trouble identifying what they’re actually feeling.

            As for social stigmas, the more men who bring their abuse out in the open, the less stigmatizing it will become. Exposing these things to the light of day is very important. Furthermore, everyone who shares their stories here and their feelings are encouraged and supported. Yes there’s the anonymity of the Internet, but I believe there are many more people who’ve had BPD/NPD encounters than you realize who would be sympathetic and supportive offline if you give them a chance.

            Kind Regards,
            Dr Tara

            • Recovering Alpha
              January 19, 2010 at 11:52 pm

              Dr T

              Thanks again for this site. I think the anonymity of this blog system is VERY important for men. I don’t want anyone to know that is is me writing all this stuff — probably for the same reasons as I stated in my first blog. I find it cathartic and so releasing. The best part, and hopefully others understand this too, is going back re-reading what I wrote later. Wow! What self-awareness. Knowing that my (often repressed) memories as they pop-up get recorded makes them more acceptable to me. Also reading others who — and it seems so strange — have nearly identical experiences with past women as I have is so very therapeutic.

              What strikes me here is the high level of intelligence and articulation in the blog posts. These are — if not stated out right — extremely well educated successful professional men for the most part. I feel so much better knowing others similar to me have made these same mistakes.

              Now this is pure speculation regarding many men on this site. It definitely was me. While growing up we often are “late bloomers” (i.e., the ugly duckling who eventually surpasses the rest later) and therefore are a bit behind in early adulthood but already showing great success traits (in college or career or whatever). BUT HAVEN’T CAUGHT UP TO OURSELVES YET. This makes us unprepared to face the beautiful but damaged BPD/NPD who see us a a great “catch”. We spend much of our early adult life on career/school and are not quite ready to interact with the girls who were pretty very young and have much experience. I know that by 35-ish I realized who I was and that (as I read on another site for those recovering from BPD/NPD) “finally worthy of the prize” and started not accepting the crap from the ex that I had years earlier. This seemed to cause much of the problems that resulted in the final rupture of the marriage.

              My summary: are many of us “targets” late bloomers in youth who neglect dating until later and then are unprepared to fend off the pretty and experienced BPD/NPD looking for the easy ride?

              I don’t know; just a thought.

              Thanks again for all your work on this site. You have changed my life and made me much more at peace because I UNDERSTAND what happened now much better.


              • TomTom
                January 21, 2010 at 3:20 pm

                Hi RecoveringAlpha,

                I can second that from my experience. Being a what you call ‘late-bloomer’ myself, I found myself regularly becoming prey to women who, at first were just so wonderful to be with but later turned out ot be emotionally abusive partners.

                Earlier in our lives, we didn’t have or take the chance to learn to spot those behaviours earlier. That’s why, right now, we have to learn it the hard way. And we do it by learning to take seriously what some of us have been taught to oppress for many years in our youth. I think you’re right when you say that men are taught to roll with the punches – except that, when it comes to constant abusive behavior in a relationship, it’s not rolling, it’s just taking the punches and learning not to feel them anymore.

                For me, that’s the crucial point that I have to learn – tell one from the other. Know when to be patient. Know when to stand in for myself and my feelings. Know when to give in.

                The upside is, being here, reading this blog and realizing that I’m not at all alone with what I’m experiencing makes me happy NOW. And that’s more than I could hope for. Thanks, Dr Tara!

  12. Derek
    January 15, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Once again an excellent post and absolutely on the ball in describing the behaviour and affects on me. I’m going through exactly this at the moment and have been for the last 4 months. Everything you describe is what I’ve been doing to survive after realising what has been happening for the last 5 years and making the change in how I reacted. I’ve calmly said no to the abuse but have been subjected to increasing abuse just as you describe – it’s like a formula being followed and seeing it written down here almost act for act is frightening. Thank you for another sanity saving post.

  13. January 15, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Nice article Dr. Tara.

    I like that you offer ways to change the unhealthy dynamics in an abusive relationship. I think often the challenge for many victims is to get to the place where they feel they deserve better treatment.

    • shrink4men
      January 15, 2010 at 8:13 pm

      Thanks, Dr David. I agree. A big step is realizing you deserve to be treated better. I think the next big step is realizing no matter how hard you try or how much you love someone that you can’t change who they fundamentally are. It becomes a destructive self-repeating pattern. The abusive partner has unrealistic expectations and believes, “I could be happy if you only x, y and z.” The non-abusive partner jumps through those hoops and the abuser says, “Not good enough. I’ll be happy if you only x, y and z.” The non then falls into the trap of always trying to please the abuser and believes, “We can be happy if I make her happy.” It’s exhausting and self-destructive.

      “There’s one person you can correct in life—this I’ve learned— and that’s yourself. I can’t worry about your character, but I can improve my own character.” Katharine Hepburn

      • nick
        January 16, 2010 at 6:23 am

        “men and women should live next door to each other…not with each other”
        Katherine Hepburn,in an interview with Dick Cavett- many years ago.

        • shrink4men
          January 16, 2010 at 3:42 pm

          Love the great Kate. TCM just aired the Dick Cavett interview a few days ago, which I watched. One of my fave Hepburn quotes of all time: “Drive on! We’ll sweep up the blood later.”

          • Recovering Alpha
            January 18, 2010 at 11:15 pm

            Reminds me of sea battles when ships were made of polished wooden planks: crew spread sawdust down before going into action to soak up blood so the planking wasn’t so slippery … lovely.

        • shrink4men
          January 16, 2010 at 11:06 pm

          Here’s another quote from Hepburn I jotted down because I think it is a great description of NPD’s and BPD’s:

          I know totally for myself the difference between right and wrong. Totally. I know this because wrong makes me very uncomfortable and right makes me very happy. I don’t think it’s so very difficult to know when you’re doing the right thing and when you’re doing the wrong thing. And I think each person, the right thing- the wrong thing varies. But committing a stinking act to someone else should make you unhappy. If it doesn’t you’re diseased and you certainly are miserable. Katharine Hepburn on The Dick Cavett Show.

          • Freedom
            January 17, 2010 at 3:21 am

            i told an ex-girlfriend once (yeah another one of those… seems like i picked ’em that way for years) when we were fighting and she wanted me to – once again – prove my love for her. i told her “i love you so much that i could juggle a bowling ball, a hand grenade, and a chainsaw, on a unicycle, blindfolded, over a pit of spikes and lava, one-handed while simultaneously whistling I’m A Little Teapot and reciting The Emancipation Proclamation. if that’s what it would take for me to show you how much i love you, i will find a way to pull that off. however… after doing that, then the questions of my love for you should be forever answered, i will be paid up, and then the prize damn well better be worth it. and what if it’s not…?”. sometimes when i get frustrated with those silly types of arguments i’ll go into Dr. Cox mode (from Scrubs). but when i finally got done with my explanation and asked her “what if the prize isn’t worth the effort and what are you going to do to ensure that it is?” is when she gave an audible gasp and didn’t say anything for at least a minute. she just stood there blinking. what… someone call her to task? someone actually asking her to pay her to be worth the effort? what?… it wasn’t all about her?

            however… no happy ending here… instead she went out and slept with half of the metro area, claiming that i didn’t love her enough, didn’t praise her enough, didn’t show her enough affection.

            right and wrong… funny thing is… the normal people struggle with right and wrong internally (am i doing the right thing?), while the whackos can drive a sledgehammer thru your skull in the middle of a crowd of people, deny the whole thing happened or blame you for it happening, and then go get a good night’s sleep.

            one of the great ironies of life…

      • skip
        May 4, 2010 at 8:56 am

        I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but when I finally became unwilling to be treated a certain way is when I knew I had closed the door permanently on accepting those types of behaviors from anyone and I knew I had opened the doors to the possibilities that exist after.

        I still feel sadness when I think back on those times and it hurts me to this day to think that someone who I was truly a friend to could have used my most sacred of secrets to extract my most precious of commodities, my emotional energy much like a parasite feeding off a host.

        I don’t like thinking that a once fell in love with a lie, but I recently became aware of just how long this person had lied to me about who they were, i.e. what type of person they were and it pains me to think that I had been fooled for so long, in fact the shame I felt was what held me to the situation long after it was in my best interests to get the hell out and I’m ashamed that I wasted so much time on someone who really was never a friend to me at all.

        I served a purpose and when I no longer accepted the unfair terms of our engagement, how we interacted and demanded fair treatment is when I became aware that this person was only using me for their needs and they could care less if that hurt me.

        I have labeled her by name in my other posts (HER ACTUAL NAME HAS SUBSEQUENTLY BEEN EDITED OUT BY DR TARA. PLEASE DON”T DO THIS) and I went from admiring my friend ******* to thinking she was the most disgusting human being that ever walked the face of this earth.

        The ultimate tragedy is when someone who possesses so much outer beauty is just a gross person on the inside. That sucks. No cream, pill or surgery can fix that and the person is doomed to the sad fate of being an emotional parasite for the rest of her life.

        Thinking that I once thought this person was the most beautiful person I had ever seen truly makes me sad for it proves how much of a schmuck I was for not seeing her behaviors as symptoms of the larger issue that she is faced with and that is a cancer of the soul that is not, was never and will never be my problem.

        It’s unfortunate because I am less willing to give the next girl a chance or the benefit of the doubt when she may deserve it, the experience definitely changed how I operate and what I am willing to accept from people who I allow into my life.

        I now understand that she was mentally ill, no sane person who is a good human being can do those things unless she was truly evil or just sick in the head, i.e. someone with profound personality disturbances.

        • michael marcelissen
          July 18, 2010 at 11:45 pm

          i feel the same way to a tee

  14. Karen
    January 15, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Thank you for another great blog post, Dr. Tara. This one is hugely helpful. I feel a little bit like an interloper here since I’m female and trying to work out an abusive, long-term friendship but so much of what you write fits my scenario. I asked this on another section of your blog but I think I might not have asked in the right spot: You write about them wanting to see a flicker of pain in your eyes. This is the part I can’t reconcile. I think of the many, many hurtful, humiliating things my former “BFF” did to me over the years, and I can’t figure out of it was premeditated, if she really understood what she was doing and did it with zeal, or if she was just going on some kind of unconscious instinct (that served her needs really well or made a “really funny joke” at my expense) that also happened to be abusive as hell. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but it feels important. I’m trying to reconcile the part of me that was truly friends with this person and the part of me that hates her guts. Was she really half my worst enemy over the years, or should I just feel sorry for her? And my heart goes out to the men on this forum. I’ve seen so many of her boyfriends (and one “abusive” ex-husband) come and go and I can’t imagine the mind fuck she must’ve pulled on those guys. I was just her friend and I’m just now getting reality back.

    • Steve
      January 15, 2010 at 8:03 pm

      “Was she really half my worst enemy over the years, or should I just feel sorry for her?”

      I have much the same dilemma and how I feel depends on the day. At this point, mostly I feel sorry for her. Dont’ know if that’s healthy or not.
      Your post jogged my memory on another common incident. She seemed to be happiest and most at peace when I was depressed, angry or feeling defeated. When I was happy, at peace and excited about something is when she felt the worst. After awhile I started hiding my happiness and even stopped doing those things that made me happy becuase I didn’t want to deal with her inevitable response (depression, being mopy, angry, victimized, etc…) Looking back…how twisted was that on my part? Oh, well. Onward and upward.

      • Karen
        January 15, 2010 at 9:10 pm

        Wow. Ditto. My friend was always “great” when I was depressed. It was when I was feeling confident or happy that the fangs came out. Which would almost always make me depressed again, oddly enough. Onward and upward over here, too.

  15. AnonFather
    January 15, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Dr. T. I don’t know if you did, but it’s like you wrote this article for me personally. Thank you for that. Of course it applies to a lot of folks, but it’s just a direct response to what’s been going on in my marriage, and I am particularly appreciative of the “translations” above.

    Possibly because I’ve asked repeatedly, you also wrote:

    “When your spouse or gf tells you to be patient or “it will get better,” I suggest you get her to specify a timeline and concrete actions you will both take to “make it better.” If she can’t commit to a quantifiable time period and quantifiable actions, she’s just shining you on.”

    Since I am still living with my wife, and there is about a billionth of a spark of possibility that our marriage will work out, I can apply that strategy as well.

    Basically, my structured approach to “getting out” with the possibility of “staying in” eliminates the possibility of being painted as the bad guy. As the guy who didn’t stick it out. As the guy who didn’t accept her “as she is.” As the guy who wouldn’t “work on the relationship.”

    Regarding accepting her as she is, I wish to simultaneously “build” the “castle” of my future (loving, kind, honest, reciprocal relationships) and essentially, give my wife the chance to reside there…gives the possibility of saying “I made it clear that I will not allow myself to be treated abusively, I also outlined exactly what I find abusive, what kinds of phrases, actions, non-actions, etc., I gave you a clear definition of abuse to work with and told you clearly what I find loving, nurturing, honest and kind. The incidents continued, and that is why I separated from you. It was a fair separation determined by holding you accountable to your actions.

    Regarding being cornered into being “the one” who wouldn’t “work on the relationship.” … BTW … I just don’t work like that…I don’t live like that…it’s not “my thing.” Finding blame is not like cutting out the rotten part of an apple and eating the rest, it’s more like adding a drop of poison to a glass of water. All of the water is now poisoned.

    The difficulty with my wife, though, is that when I am seeking to “hold her accountable for her promises,” she feels “blamed.” I’ve tried to talk about the difference between blame and responsibility with her and certain counselors, who’ve literally thrown fits. If my wife promised to do something and then did not do it and I tell her that it affected me emotionally, I am not blaming her. I am seeking to understand why she broke her promise. I am actually “trying to understand” and wanting to “figure things out.” Also, I am wanting to come onto more solid footing with her, so that she stops making promises she does not keep. It’s very stressful when you are in a relationship with someone who does not keep her commitments.

    Anyway, regarding not wanting to “work things out,” I don’t think that one could be pegged on me, since I’ve brought in numerous counselors, books, CD’s, etc., and I actually like the Gottman book you mention quite a bit. Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of Highly Effective Families actually reads like a map of my own internal world.

    It was the first book we used to help our marriage and was given to us by a pastor. My wife simply got stuck on the pages about empathic listening. She just can’t do it. She’s a tiny tiny bit better.

    Our “conversations” after Covey got to “OK, I am fully able to summarize where you are coming from, I understand what you are saying from your perspective, now let’s switch roles…” and … 99% of the time … NADA.

    It’s like she can’t “lower” herself to even acknowledge that I might make sense, that my feelings are rational and based on real events. That I am actually very easy to understand and simple to be in a relationship with. That I am clear about my feelings and I say what I mean, I mean what I say, and I am straight about it.

    My wife often gets stuck in telling me what I mean by what I am saying. Then we spiral around because I try to tell her that I mean what I actually said.

    …that then seems so foreign to her that she often spins out of control.

    “…I would like to be able to tell you how our thermostat works so that you don’t come home and turn it all the way to zero and then I wake up in the middle of the night freezing and you’ve hogged all the sheets…”

    Wife: …what are you saying?

    …I’ll spare you the spinning conversation, since I gather many of you have had them and don’t need to read yet another one.

    I mean what I say, and I’ve brought in LOADS of help.

    So, really, the “fair way out” not only gives her a chance to…see this is where I feel I might be the abuser…come around.

    Isn’t it abusive to say “change or I’ll leave?”

    …still kinda stuck there…and a big big thank you for this article. I really mean it and am sending you and all of your readers a big smile…

    • shrink4men
      January 16, 2010 at 10:45 pm

      Hi AnonFather,

      I don’t know why, but for some reason this comment ended up in my Spam folder. Bizarre.

      I don’t think it’s abusive when you tell someone who is abusing you to stop or you’ll end the relationship. Is it abusive when a woman who is being beaten by her husband tells him to stop or the relationship’s over? No, of course, not. You don’t even have to think twice about it. Same thing applies in your case.

      My advice to you is to get off the crazy hamster wheel.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

    • Recovering Alpha
      January 18, 2010 at 11:08 pm


      Regarding, your statement:

      “…I would like to be able to tell you how our thermostat works so that you don’t come home and turn it all the way to zero and then I wake up in the middle of the night freezing and you’ve hogged all the sheets…”

      OMG! I’d completely forgotten that exact thing occurred to me but years ago when I was in ‘EXTREME DENIAL LAND’. (I live in warm SW US now, but spent holiday in some cold areas years ago when first together with ex.) I remember waking up WITH NO FREAKIN’ COVERS and absolutely freezing (it was winter in Alaska in drafty house). I tried gently pulling the covers from my spouse (now ex-W) and she went ballistic with her body language reacting violently and pulling them over herself even more. When I brought this topic up in morning her reply was, “Well! I’m sleeping and can’t be blamed.” This is #3 above article: acknowledge but won’t change cuz its just me. (Incidentally, she did this same reaction except STRUCK ME WITH HER FOREARM whenever I tried to snuggle or “spoon” — sorry I know that sounds wimpy — with her at night. “Don’t touch me when I’m sleeping. That’s who I am.” (… and you just have to deal with it …) OUCH!

      Anyways, thanks for helping me pull yet another repressed memory from the bin of abuse. I’ve had so many of these “Ah-hah!” moments reading stuff on this site it’s absolutely mind-boggling. Thanks again for this site, Dr T.


  16. shrink4men
    January 15, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Hi Steve,

    This is a trap many men fall into—doing the “right thing” and sticking it out. You can’t stick it out when you’re the one doing all the work. You need to assess exactly what you’re sticking it out for and how long you’re willing to wait for “things to get better” when she refuses to make any meaningful changes in her behaviors.

    When your spouse or gf tells you to be patient or “it will get better,” I suggest you get her to specify a timeline and concrete actions you will both take to “make it better.” If she can’t commit to a quantifiable time period and quantifiable actions, she’s just shining you on.

    I’m glad you finally had the courage to end it.

    Kind Regards,
    Dr T

    • George
      January 18, 2010 at 8:28 am

      From my own past experience, sticking it out just doesn’t work. I tried to convince myself that I could endure it, but what I didn’t realize was the escalation that occurs. The more you allow their bad behaviour to exist without any consequences, the more they think it’s just ok to misbehave. If you are involved with a Borderline, Get out. Run for the hills. Don’t wait. It doesn’t get better. Check that. It only gets better when you get out!

  17. uburoi
    January 15, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    shrink4men :
    Essentially, you would have to reparent your wife and guess what—the little darling has some serious behavioral issues that may never go away. Super Nanny anyone?

    A lullabye for the ex:
    Rock a bye BPD in the tree top… when you flip out… my mind will rock.. I’ll work on some more lyrics :-)

    • shrink4men
      January 15, 2010 at 11:15 pm

      Funny. Can’t wait to see the rest.

  18. Steve
    January 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    I read a book in 1997 that started me thinking along these lines. “Generation to Generation” by Dr. Ed Friedman (now deceased) from Georgetown Univ. It was described as family systems theory and sounds like an outgrowth of the “field theory” you describe Dr. Tara. (others I read included Steve DeShazer and Murray Bowen) I must admit that this was the beginning of me responding differently to my STBXW. Tried many of the things mentioned above which did give me more peace of mind. But she really didn’t change much at all. And after 12 years of experimenting with this finally gave up this year and filed for divorce. I’m now the “bad guy” for not wanting to “stick it out” and “work on the relationship.” I must admit, this was probably my biggest fear in not ending it sooner. At the time I was in a profession that was highly public and scrutinized. Changing my profession was key (for me) to have the guts to make a break which I did this past year. Very insightful Dr. Tara. Thank you.

  19. Mr. E
    January 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    “Her power over you will be gone because she won’t be able to manipulate you and your emotions like a puppet on a string anymore.”

    Note that this doesn’t mean she’ll become the loving wife you want.

    On another forum, they give the advice above, but somehow expect that their spouses will stop being abusive. You can’t change other people’s behavior, only your own reaction to it.

    …And you have to ask yourself if you want to play the “I’m rubber and you’re glue” game for the rest of your life with the person you’re supposed to be closest to.

    • shrink4men
      January 15, 2010 at 4:18 pm

      Note that this doesn’t mean she’ll become the loving wife you want.

      Exactly, Mr E. In most cases, I think the best you can hope for is a cease fire with periodic outbreaks of aggression, but it’s not going to make her wake up and see the light.

      Learning to control your reactions is about training her not to lash out, etc, anymore. You can try rewarding her good behaviors with approval, paying attention to her, etc., but it’s unlikely this kind of person can ever be entirely loving or normal. Essentially, you would have to reparent your wife and guess what—the little darling has some serious behavioral issues that may never go away. Super Nanny anyone?

  20. uburoi
    January 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Amazing Dr. T! Simply amazing. Mine knew how to push my buttons and I let her and reacted very strongly with my voice and body language. This of course escalated things and then she convinced me I had an anger issue. One interesting thing to note. I remember myself telling her that nobody had ever been able to piss me off like her. She responded by saying that her ex bf said the same thing to her. I’m guessing I needed to do the freaking math at that point!

    • shrink4men
      January 15, 2010 at 4:42 pm

      Hi uburoi,

      Brilliant! We have another red flag: You tell her that no one else has ever made you feel as bad as her and she replies that her other boyfriends/husbands said the same thing.

      Dr Tara

      • Charlie
        May 1, 2016 at 8:27 am

        Thank you, you are about to set me free i think. First my problem then after finding this site, my solution. Comments so welcome.

        I’ve been married for 22 years, 3 kids I’m very close to, am a business man and have adored my family and provided a great lifestyle.
        Ive had kidney failure and undergone dialysis for 3 years 6 days a week and then s transplant that has worked, 4 years ago.
        My wife has never had to work and does what she wants.
        For 22 years, she has destroyed every one of my relationships with my friends, she bad mouths me to all our joint friendships and they end. I have stopped introducing my friends to her, male, female or couples. If we socialize and i start talking she interrupts every time, people notice, her mother has done the same to her husband and he just mostly silent now.
        My wife makes the home unbearable until she gets her way, or packs her bags and leaves and comes back only when we beg and say we so sorry, most times we don’t know what we or I did. She is suspicious of myself and my teen boys for no reason except she doesn’t trust men because her father was into porn since she was two and exposed his whole family to it and made her very angry.
        She hit me and kicked me for 15 years until i told her and counselors i will hit her back the next time she hits me. She hit me and I hit her back, she has never hit me again. Not proud of that at all. Luckily i have a solid self esteem and strong mind and confident.
        She has told me that i am every bad thing under the sun with every swear word.
        She only is happy and alive and fired up
        when she has a fight or drama on her hands, with any one and if there is not one she will go hunting for one. With myself, kids, her mom and dad who she does not get on with, she even got stuck into a man, the husband of one of her friends for talking so much, which is her job(she didnt say so)
        She is worse at night, like she changes personality. And then drinks a bottle of wine which makes her very intense and aggressive. We are all on out tiptoes if she lifts a glass of wine to her lips.
        It goes in.
        After reading this site, I feel set free, today she has been in one of her shut doen or angry days and sit on bed for 2 days and letting everyone in the house and her friends that she is angry. Normally I ask if she wants to talk about it or she sends an sms that she wants to discuss the problem of why she is upset in two days when she is ready. She sent the sms last night and after reading this site I said no talking, its not a discussion, its a whipping. iv done nothing wrong or my son she is upset with. i said, Let me know when she is over her issue. And I’ve just left her and treating her normally. She is getting more angry now. I will be happy and go on with life and treat her as per normal.
        I can see she doesn’t know what to do but she will push this all the way to divorce or near divorce to break me to her will as she knows i don’t want a divorce or broken family or separated from my kids.
        Regards Charlie

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