-- Question for John --
My partner and I have been together for 6 years. Over the last year I have started to feel that I have to tip-toe all the time and be so aware of what I say. He is a “devils advocate” and will twist and turn whatever I say. A comment I might make about a TV program or a friend can all of the sudden be blown out of context.
I have tried your advice on “Time-Out”, but he will slam doors, and mutter and behave in a for me mentally violent way (no physical violence exists).
I have explained how frightened this makes me feel, but this only seems to make things worse. I have also tried to confront him and take a discussion, but again my words gets twisted, and I end up feeling lower than low. I have tried to say “Sorry I said that, I did’t mean it like THAT”, or “I didn’t mean it so seriously, it was just a comment” – this just makes him more furious. Please help me, as I love this man more than anything.
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-- Answer from John --
I see that you are attempting to use the first correct step with how to deal with destructive anger, the “Time-Out” method. It sounds like you do not have his actual agreement on this, so you do not have a real Stop Agreement in place. It sounds more like you, as only one of two people, are trying to do something better and different — and he is resisting the program, as it were. This is a sad indication to me that you do not really have a two-way interest in change and improvement. That you are acting like the solo agent of positive change, and he is trying to keep things the same, unconsciously destructive, and in his control.
If my hunch is correct, and I will give you advice based on it, then you must face the fact that he is not acting like a partner who is interested in improving the relationship. In fact, he is acting like a partner who is destroying your love. But perhaps not intentionally. Perhaps unwittingly. And perhaps he does not actually realize this at all. It may be entirely the product of very unconscious patterns that he plays and replays — like the anger, the outbursts and the devil’s advocacy. It could well be that under all that anger and self-defensiveness, is quite a deep well of fear that he will not even allow himself to recognize consciously. I’m not making an excuse for it. Just pointing out that you may be asking him to do something — i.e. change and grow — that he is currently not able to do. Like asking someone to lift 500 pounds who has never even lifted 10.
Your attempts to discuss this with him to some extent — to tell him how you feel — are being met with further destructive behavior on his part. He gets outraged and defensive, and acts this out by attacking you for mentioning anything — as if it is your job to pretend you have no feelings — or at least not talk about them if you do. This is not partnership. This is unhealthy. I am simply restating back to you what you already know. Futher indications that he is either completely unaware, or incapable of — changes that are needed to make this relationship go in a positive direction.
Perhaps he is also unaware that he, himself, is actively endangering the longevity of the relationship itself. Many partners who act out their anger — who show this kind of narcissitic display of intimidating, controlling behavior — they are not given enough information from their partners — the one who “takes” the crap, as it were (you) — they are not told clearly that the relationship is in dire danger. Perhaps because the one who “takes” it is too afraid to speak up — or too afraid to admit that things are falling apart further and further.
Anyway it is the FEAR of the other partner which allows the angry, controlling partner to keep acting out their destructive behavior — with no idea that they are risking the relationship and destroying it. When I work with such a partner (like him) who suddenly loses the relationship — they always say the same thing. It just happened out of the blue. And they cannot understand why thier partner (the one, like you, who “took it” for all those years in relative silence and acquiesence) is not willing to “work on it” — now that it is over.
So perhaps it would be important for me to point out to you that, in all probability, this is a relationship that will not last. Regardless of how desparate you remain to “make it work” and regardless of how much you “love him” and believe you “need him.” That will not last. He probably has another year, at most, to continue pushing this thing down hill until you bottom out entirely — and then, out of the blue, split — with no intention to return or work on it. This is his last real window of opportunity to find a sweet spot in the relationship where you would be willing to work on it, and where he could save the relationship by also being so willing.
You have already sought out advice and self-help materials. You are beginning to implement some of those in the relationship, like time-out. But you are being met by opposition and dis-partnership rather than a common interests in creating a better feeling relationship that is healthy. This is giving you information that will ultimately lead you to becoming utterly hopeless — the more you try to change and the more resistance you are met with.
Sooner or later you will snap. You will either blow up, or grow so withdrawn and numb that the love you still feel now will disappear behind a thick wall of hopeless numbness. Perhaps he should be given a straight piece of information — a clear signal that this is the state of affairs — while he can still make a choice and get your interest in improving things. Perhaps he should know that if he lets things slide for another 6 to 12 months, they will slide so far downhill that you will no longer have the will or ability to want to carry that large rock back up the mountainside. Maybe he should be given a clearer choice in the matter, while his choosing could still make a difference.
Given that choice, of course, you could just get more of the same resistance and self-defensive destructive reaction back. I wouldn’t fear it, especially, because you are just going to get these same kinds of reactions anyway, about some other topic or other. So why not about the “Big Topic?”
At this stage of relationship decay, if you cannot get his partnership at all, no positive interest from him in participating in improving the relationship — then it would appear that these will be your choices (Let me know if any others occur to you that I do not list below):
1. Keep doing what you are doing, and keep getting the same results — unhappiness, lower self-esteem, worse feeling — until all love runs out and you are so depleted that you cannot continue on. Then you would probably leave, or he would. This is just going with the flow and letting your own feelings change with time in whatever way they do. I am making the prediction here how they will change.
2. Accept him fully as he is — incapable of changing — and love him exactly as he is. Work on your own self-esteem independent of the relationship. Build a life for yourself outside the relationship. Eventually you will probably be fed by outside friendships (not romances, just genuine supportive people in your life). And you will grow, your self-esteem will improve. Then you will probably leave, because the relationship no longer is the source of what makes you feel good about yourself (in fact, you will discover that other things do much more, and it does not), or he will leave out of jealousy. This is called giving up and letting things that you cannot control just be as they are — because you cannot control him — and refocusing your attention on the things you can control — you and what you do.
3. Leave now, while you still have as much self-esteem as you do have, because it will keep going down if you keep doing the same thing. This would short-circuit months and possibly years of unhappiness and worsening relationship. It would represent you just doing something for you, the most important step to take.
4. Put an ultimatum before him — one last chance — to participate in positive change or lose you. If he says no, blows up, does the same old pattern, then you know for sure he is absolutely incapable of change and so you do one of the other 3 things above.
5. This one is hard to do, hard to understand, and somewhat irrational. But it can result in amazing personal growth for you. And then you can do one of the 4 things above, once you succeed with this step. Here you let go of your attention on him and how you would like him to change. Instead, you look entirely at yourself and how you can grow — stronger inside and more skillful outside — in the very challenging situation you are in. Let me detail how to do this, because I’d recommend it, actually:
• Assume this whole relationship situation to be a test that was constructed by God, or whatever higher powers you believe in. The test is put before you to show you where you need to grow, to become more whole yourself — to heal past wounds, to move beyond past limits and conditioning, to grow larger than your “normal” personality patterns, to experience soulgrowth.
• Figure out exactly what this growth is by looking at what challenges you. So you now walk on eggshells because you fear his anger. You apologize for simply asking him to listen to how you feel. His contrariness makes you feel worse, somehow, about yourself. You are lowering your own self-esteem because of what he says and feels. You talk about your fear of his rath and anger, so I presume you are conflict-avoidant. You say you apologize for revealing your feelings — which is against the “rules” according to him – so I suppose you are conflict-avoidant.
• I would start with those things. They indicate a place where you can grow. They indicate a pattern within you. Someone else, who does not fear conflict, who does not let their partner’s feelings and words have so much power (to lower their own self-esteem), who does not relent when their partner refuses to acknoledge what they themselves feel or want — well, that kind of someone else would be getting a very different response in this relationship — or perhaps, that kind of someone else would long ago have recognized the unhealthiness of the situation and opted for health, no matter how much (quote) “love” (unquote) they felt.
• You look at changing each of these things within yourself. They are all interrelated, by the way. So you commit to seeing that this is YOUR part of the relationship, and this is what YOU DO, to make the relationship the way it is. You own the part of the relationship puzzle that YOU have brought in. And you commit, to yourself, to change it — to learn and grow — no matter what — whatever that takes — and you make THAT SELF-CHANGE your FIRST and ONLY priority. How he acts and talks, and trying to change that, is no longer your goal. Your goal is not to change him, but to change YOU.
• A person who unconsciously wears a big “Kick Me” sign around their neck — what should they really do? Keep focused on the outrageous behavior of the partner, who is kicking them? Or attempt to wake up and see their role in that, and remove the sign (translated: grow, personally). I am not saying this “Kick Me” sign is a description of you, even one bit — I am simply giving a very obvious example in the extreme.
Anyway, whichever of the above you do, it would help you to consider getting a coach or counselor to help you, support you, teach you, and give you tools for the personal growth you will need to do in any of the cases above. I would recommend you do #5 as your first choice. Because all the other options will still be there, but you will grow stronger on the inside to use any of them. So I would recommend you get a coach or counselor who can specifically assist you to grow in the area indicated by #5. Interview prospective counselors and make very clear to them that #5 is your goal, and ask them how they would help you, specifically, in that area. You want someone who will be able to support you — and push you a bit, too — not just someone to listen to a “poor-me” victim story. You do not want to come out the other end of a session with the “Victim” sign around your neck, right?
So interview your potential counselor before working with her (yes, I suggest a strong woman, by the way. So you can model her). The longer you wait, the more you are simply choosing option #1 above, the most unproductive and unhealthy choice not only for YOU, but for him and the relationship.
Get going now. This is a new year. Time for a new you. JUST DO IT !