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November 19, 2018 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Relationships

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Mental Abuse


I am in a 2 1/2 year relationship with a very intelligent woman who I feel is emotionally abusive towards me. She is very controlling of information and her feelings and I am a very open and sharing person. She and I live together and she plays the silent treatment all the time and withholds saying I love you and goodbye when she is angry. At times, when really angry, she has hit me. I explained it away by saying I deserved it because I provoked her or said something that deserved it. I grew up in a physically abusive situation and I swore that I would never abuse or be abused in my life, but here I find myself in exactly that situation. I know this is not a healthy situation but I want to do what I can to make it better.

I saw a therapist for about a year and I spent thousands of dollars and never felt like I got anything out of the situation. I have recently tried Zen meditation and that has helped me somewhat but again, I feel like I am missing something.

How can I break this cycle? How can I open up communication with her? How can I present her abuse to her in a way that will not start a fight? I just want us to be a better couple and I want to feel better about myself and my relationship.

Jaggs, 37-year-old man


Dear Jaggs,

My first recommendation is that both you and your lady should read an excellent book. It is "Love is Never Enough: How couples can overcome misunderstandings, resolve conflicts, and solve relationship problems" by Aaron Beck. I lend my copy to many clients with relationship issues. I checked Amazon to get the subtitle right, and noticed it's currently available at a special price.

Second, the two of you need to do a few things together:

1. Talk, in a mutually safe situation.

There may be some person, probably someone older, whom both of you respect. If so, ask this person to be there, and this will ensure that both of you stick to the rules you set up for the discussion. If you don't know such a person, there may be a professional mediation service near you.

One set of rules I've found particularly useful go like this:

She says something. You are encouraged to take notes.
When she is finished, you are required to repeat a summary of her message. She is allowed to correct you, until it is clear that you have heard her.
Then you respond, and it's the same process. She takes notes, and is required to repeat back a summary of what you said, with you being able to correct her until you are satisfied that she's heard you.

This ensures that, unlike in the normal verbal exchanges between people, you actually HEAR each other.

2. Put fun and romance back into your relationship.

When you met, during the wonderful honeymoon phase of your relationship, you wanted to spend as much time with each other as possible. Being together was fun; it's where you wanted to be. But, with the passing of time, mutual misunderstandings, and the drudgery of everyday life, things have changed.

You will both benefit if you deliberately, as a matter of planning, return to the kinds of activities that you initially did together. Go on boyfriend-girlfriend dates, find special occasions to enjoy; find activities that give both of you a buzz, and focus on all the good things you do for each other.

3. One of the things that helps many warring couples that come to me is to get rid of the concept of blame.

What the other person has done to make things worse is counterproductive to dwell on. Instead, each of you has the power to do something to improve the relationship. Focus on that. So, you can make a sort of a contract. You know the things that annoy her. Pick one, check with her that in fact, it is a habit change that would make things better for her, then promise to do your best to change that habit. Ask her help. The two of you can work out a secret little signal she can use to remind you if you slip back into the old way of doing things.

In exchange, she should find a habit of hers that she feels annoys you. Changing this habit should be about the same importance to your relationship as your change, so things are equal. Again, she should ask you to give a little reminder when she slips.

For example, suppose she identifies that giving you the cold treatment is something counterproductive, and undertakes to change this. In return, you might identify that she gets upset when you put expectations of spontaneous warmth on her at times when she is stressed out and so unable to give love.

The one requirement for fixing up a relationship is that both parties should be motivated to do so. If you and your lady both want to make a go of it, you can.


This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.

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