Do you ever wonder why you hold back when you know you ought to tell your partner how you’re feeling? You know what I’m talking about—that exchange between the two of you that took a left turn into a topic that hurt your feelings or made you feel upset or insecure. Perhaps your partner said something unintentionally hurtful, and it’s bugged you ever since. You tell yourself you really should say something so that it doesn’t fester, but you just…don’t. So, why is it so hard to bring it up?
I have an answer for you—and it’s not because you’re a big ol’ chicken. In order to explain it properly, however, I have to ask you to look back in time a bit—about 30,000 years, give or take, to when early humans began living in social groups.
Common sense could probably tell you that thirty thousand years ago, a human being’s survival depended upon his or her ability to stay safe, and to stay in the cave at night when all the saber-toothed tigers were out in the dark hunting for food.
Survival likely also depended upon the successful functioning of the social group, which required members to cooperate, conform, and share, and to not go off alone just because he got a wild hair because doing so would put the rest of the group in jeopardy.
What does this have to do with you not talking about your feelings with your honey? What do the habits of ancient people have to do with whether or not you tell your partner how hurt you felt when she made fun of the Spaghetti Surprise dinner you made for her last night?
Because human brains are hardwired to protect us in a particular way. This evolutionary hardwiring protected humans by making it easier to not take unnecessary chances, to not rock the boat, to conform—to do everything possible to be safe.
No risk-taking. No conflict, no drama. No chaos. Keep everything the same because as humans, we’ve got the sameness handled. Status quo equals predictability. Safety. Survival.
Of course, no one knows for certain how the brain worked all those millennia ago, but scientists do have a couple of ideas about how it works now, and how this evolutionary hardwiring helped humans to survive and thrive.
Think of this hardwiring as an override switch in a system that is much like the automatic “fight or flight” response we experience when we are frightened or threatened. Our override switch operates when we sense danger, a threat of some kind, and it temporarily overrides the reasoning part of the brain. It slides a different program into operation that is designed to increase our chances of survival by making things real, real simple.
It turns out that you—me—all of us humans—have about six seconds to initiate an alternative course of action in response to a threat before the primitive part of our brain kicks in with this automatic, override-switch, survival response.
Only in this case, instead of instructing us to run or stand and fight, the brain’s programming says…do nothing. Say nothing. Be very, very quiet. Blend into the background. Don’t rock the boat. Go along to get along. Let sleeping dogs lie. Stay the same. Be still. Be safe.
Allow the threat, whatever it is, to pass on by without noticing the human—the small, slow, hairless, clawless, relatively toothless and weak—hiding, quivering in the shadows. Thirty thousand years ago, it was only the clever human brain that allowed humans to survive these overwhelmingodds, and to thrive.
In the present time, if you perceive a threat (such as, ‘oh, no, I have to have a difficult talk with my mate and we might have a big, ugly fight if I do’ kind of a threat), and you don’t interrupt your brain’s six-second override switch, then that’s it. You aren’t going to do or say anything. Your brain goes “let’s see…have a painful talk with our mate …or (override!)… just forget about it and watch some TV. Scary conversation…or (override!)… eat ice cream and have sex. Initiate a difficult talk or, (override!)… paint the bathroom.“ Anything but the threat that tripped your brain’s six-second override programming.
Let me tell you something. This hardwiring is strong. And it executes from your subconscious, so unless you’re ready for it, you aren’t consciously aware that’s what’s happening.
So you end up feeling like, “wow, I really meant to say something about that—I don’t know why I didn’t.”
But now you do know. If you want to have that difficult talk you’ve been dwelling on, you must take some sort of action within six seconds or it just isn’t going to happen. Unless you are highly motivated to have that difficult talk, not only will you let the override switch trip, you will probably be glad it did. It feels so much better to ‘let sleeping dogs lie,’ right? At least, in the moment it does.
On the other hand, the six-second override switch explains why some of the anti-procrastination hacks work so well—things like making a list, taking a challenging task in small steps, taking any kind of action at all, however small, talking to yourself about it beforehand, rehearsing what you’ll say or do…these things work to allow you to escape the hardwiring that evolved to keep humans safe at a time when a hothead and hasty action meant becoming some toothy creature’s snack.
The modern world has diverged from the brain’s evolution, but the brain is still doing its job. Today your threat to survival isn’t a saber-toothed tiger. It’s talking about your feelings. It’s admitting it when you feel vulnerable. That’s why confronting your mate feels like a threat and kicks up that hardwiring.
However, because you can now understand why you do or don’t do something, you can make different choices if you want to. Often, just being aware of the six-second switch is enough to allow you to dip into your deeper motivations, for example, like embracing the value of honesty. Doing so can serve to interrupt your automatic response.
The resistance or fear you felt about saying something to your mate is a real feeling, but it isn’t based upon a real danger, and therefore is not a threat to your survival. So you can push past it and it won’t kill you even if your brain is telling you to run for your life.
Here’s some more good news. The more often you practice ignoring the urge to “just forget about it,” the easier it will become to “push through it” for the good of your relationship and for your own feelings of self-worth. You really don’t have to live at the mercy of your brain’s unconscious messages.
By becoming aware of more of the ways in which your brain might be trying to protect you from threats that aren’t really there, you can stop your six-second switch from derailing the communication in your relationship, or in your future relationships.
I’ll be bringing you future posts about your fascinating subconscious mind, your personality and other aspects of your very human nature and how these impact your relationship in profound and subtle ways. If that sounds good to you, please like this offering, leave me a comment with your thoughts, and follow me for more info that can help your relationship thrive.
If you think you might want help understanding and improving your relationship, or learning how to choose better relationships, call, text or contact me through this website.
You can also schedule a free, no obligation Heart Compass Coaching Relationship Assessment, to learn more about where to focus your efforts at improving the quality of your relationship.
And remember, whether you are a couple, or an individual, where the power of Love is concerned, all things are possible.
Verbal and Emotional Abuse Can Be a Stealth Weapon in Any Relationship, But Never In A Relationship That Feels Good. Part 4
Verbal and emotional abuse can damage a relationship as much–or even more–than physical abuse, because the effects of it can last a very long time. Sometimes even into future relationships. Additionally, you may not even know what you experience in the arguments and exchanges that happen in your relationship is actually emotional abuse. In this post I’m going to talk about how that happens and what to do about it if you believe there is emotional abuse or verbal abuse in your relationship.
The last post on violent relationships was intense, wasn’t it? If you recognized yourself in any of what I wrote about, healing from the experience must be a part of your journey, If you avoid facing the issue of violence, chances are, you’ll end up in the same place, only you’ll have wasted a lot of valuable time you could have been using to heal and to bring yourself closer to the kind of relationship you really want. The same thing is true for emotional abuse. Denial won’t work. But what if you’re not sure whether your experience is emotional or verbal abuse, or if it is just a matter of arguing about disagreements? This post will help you clarify that very issue.
Key Feature #4 says that in a healthy, loving, 100% safe relationship, there needs to be complete agreement between the partners that there will be no name-calling, no derogatory statements, no threats or other ways of using words to hurt or control, no matter how angry you may be, or how unfair your partner may have been toward you. In other words, a healthy relationship is 100% safe physically and emotionally. You and any partner you have must have agreement about what constitutes verbal and emotional violence. I’ll go into more detail about exactly what this means.
In my professional experience, emotional and verbal violence/abuse is, sadly, very common. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, if you have been in a relationship in which there were heated arguments, chances are you have experienced emotional violence/abuse of some kind.
It is difficult to find actual numbers about verbal abuse and emotional violence because studies have often looked at physical and emotional abuse together, with the emphasis on physical abuse. Also, couples who have been asked about whether they have experienced verbal abuse almost always disagree about which words or phrases constituted verbal abuse. Many believed the context counted (so what is abusive in one context is not abusive in another context). In my opinion, however, the context doesn’t determine whether something is abusive, but some (usually the perpetrators) use it to justify their behavior and some (usually the victims) use the “context” argument to rationalize accepting such behavior which, in turn, permitted them to rationalize staying in the abusive relationship.
What the research says
Verbal abuse has played a lesser role in research on domestic violence, just as domestic violence between same-sex couples has been less well-researched than opposite-sex domestic violence. A group of researchers who looked at a collection of previous studies (called a meta analysis) of same-sex domestic violence, reported they had difficulty drawing conclusions across studies because many of the studies had problems sorting out, within same-sex couples, violence that is co-perpetrated from that which is a self-defensive response to being abused, a situation that does not usually arise in opposite-sex couples research.
Additionally, studies found that in response to calls for police help from same-sex couples, it appears that those police who lacked specialized education and direction from leadership tended to perceive same-sex battering and emotional violence as being co-perpetrated between two power-equal participants, rather than as an incident between a perpetrator and a victim who is trying to defend herself.* As a result, the couple often did not get the same level of social services or law enforcement support that an opposite-sex couple would have gotten, all other things being equal.
I know from my professional experience and from simple observation of members of our Tribe, that physical and emotional violence in same-sex couples doesn’t always happen between “power-equal” individuals. Yes, there are co-batterers and co-verbal abusers. But there are also plenty of same-sex relationships that more closely match the power differential seen in a typical opposite-sex battering relationship, where one partner is more physically, financially or emotionally powerful than the other, more vulnerable partner.
Emotional and verbal violence is a particularly complex aspect of domestic violence, and doubly so in a same-sex couple where the power dynamics are not always obvious and can be fluid.
Real life, everyday factors associated with verbal/emotional violence
Sometimes emotional violence arises out of poor communication skills and poor conflict management. (But we only wish it were that simple.) Sometimes it arises out of one partner’s need for control over the other. Many times it arises when drugs and/or alcohol are being used and the normal restraints on words and behavior are absent.
Verbal violence can also arise out of anxiety, or be influenced by a history of abuse, the presence of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a childhood history of physical or sexual abuse, the presence of certain types of mental illness, or as a result of the stresses of living in poverty or as a marginalized individual (such as a sexual and/or other minority who is subject to homophobia, racism and discrimination, or the effects of stigmatization for being “different.”
Here’s the thing, though. All those many factors change nothing. I decided to provide this bit of education about verbal and emotional violence so that you could see the truth for yourself, for example, when I tell you that it absolutely was not your partner’s fault that you were verbally abusive to her. Neither do all of these “factors” justify your emotionally abusive partner’s victimization of you. There are societal influences, but, ultimately, they do not dictate an individual’s choice to behave with verbal and emotional abuse, or to abstain from verbal and emotional abuse against a loved one.
If you have experienced verbal or emotional abuse or violence in your relationship, you likely need some help to heal from it. This means the both of you will need help with healing. You both will likely need to learn new skills of coping, communication, anxiety reduction, and problem solving in order to successfully remove verbal and emotional abuse from your life and your relationship. Verbal and emotional abuse is learned. It can be a habit, both the doing of it and the acceptance of it. That means it can be unlearned.
That’s the good news! You can do it. It isn’t so difficult as to be beyond your capabilities. It usually takes some outside help, but if that isn’t available, you can start by doing some self-help reading. It may take a bit of practice, and willingness to get back on the program if you have a bit of a slip-up and revert to old, undesirable behaviors. It takes time and effort to replace old responses with new ones. Don’t let relapses divert you from your purpose.
I have faith in your ability to take on the challenge of identifying where there has been verbal/emotional abuse in your relationship, coming to the mutual agreement that it must change and committing to investing time, effort, financial cost, courage–whatever it takes–to come out winners living in a relationship that is completely free of emotional/verbal abuse. I know that if you really want a satisfying, lasting, loving, 100% safe relationship that includes sex, empathy, compassion, closeness and fun, you will be able to remove emotional and verbal violence from your life.
What exactly is it, and why do people engage in verbal or emotional abuse with loved ones in the first place?
People are cruel to loved ones when they feel angry, afraid, disrespected, threatened, entitled, judgmental, jealous, or if they are full of shame and self-loathing. People are cruel to those they love out of habit, particularly if they come from a family in which verbal and emotional abuse was practiced or condoned.
You can have your feelings hurt unintentionally, or unintentionally hurt another’s feelings by something you say, but that’s not what I mean by verbal or emotional abuse.
Emotional/verbal violence or abuse is intentional–even if the perpetrator regrets it later. Suppose a woman says, “I get so angry that I don’t know what I’m saying,” as a reason for being verbally or emotionally abusive to her partner. This reasoning is a non-starter and should in no way be acceptable to the other partner. If your partner truly has that little control over her impulses, she either needs to be undergoing some brain scans, or you need to find a new girlfriend. In other words, spewing venom at someone you love, or being the “spewee,” for that matter, is a choice. There will be more about “choice,” later.
In case you are uncertain about whether something you’ve experienced or something you’ve done constitutes verbal or emotional abuse, here’s a partial list–you can probably come up with more examples to add to the list, so feel free to do so in the comments section:
Behaviors like spitting on someone, or
Calling someone hurtful, degrading names, with or without profanity
Attacks on a person’s reputation, or on a person’s sense of safety and wellbeing
Acts such as hacking into someone’s FaceBook, stealing passwords to “check on” your partner’s doings with others. Posting hurtful, humiliating things on social media–even if they are true–if it is something she would never share on social media herself, it is emotional abuse for anyone else to do it.
Betrayal by revealing things that are absolutely private, or betraying any other kind of trust
Overt or implied racism and racial, sexist, ageist, able-ist or homophobic slurs
Threats, or emotional extortion (for example: “If you don’t give me what I want, I’ll call CPS and you’ll lose your kids”), as well as
Threats to withhold love, sex, money or time when any of those things are important or meaningful to the other person.
It also includes infidelity for spite, which is having sex with as many people as possible, or having sex with the one individual in the whole world that would be the most hurtful to the other partner, such as sleeping with an ex, or with someone who was the partner’s past perpetrator.
Emotional violence occurs, as well, when one partner shames and humiliates the other partner in front of others, or says the most painful thing she could possibly say–and oh, so many more wounding, hurtful things in public or in private. Things that can hurt so much the victim actually wishes she’d been hit instead, because being hit wouldn’t hurt nearly as much as this kind of betrayal does.
I think this needs to be said, so that you can have realistic expectations: Once emotional violence like this takes place, it can no longer be an intimate, successful, loving relationship–not for anyone. Because even when the emotional violence has eased up for a period of time, anyone who has been in this kind of a relationship knows it is only a matter of time before it happens again. You start watching what you say and how you say it for fear of getting into a verbally or emotionally abusive argument. You start saying yes when you mean no, for the same reasons. You start keeping things from your partner out of the need to protect yourself, and any chance of true intimacy and unconditional love it out the window.
It is a long and difficult road to come back from this kind of wounding. It is not impossible, but it will take a great deal of time and a lot of hard work on the relationship to build shattered trust again.
I have a question for you. Why is emotional violence any more acceptable than physical violence? Is it worse to be a battered woman than it is to be the victim of deep emotional wounds inflicted by words? Emotional violence leaves scars as big as physical violence, perhaps even bigger. Women who believe they would never put up with physical violence in a relationship, can find themselves in a relationship with someone who has become emotionally violent during arguments, and yet they justify staying by telling themselves that it wasn’t really an abusive relationship. Women who recognize the abuse but stay anyway often tell themselves that it will change–that the abuser will change. All that’s needed to make this happen is the love and patience of a good woman like they are. Wrong. Love alone is never enough. If these examples have been your thinking, I hope I’ve persuaded you to have a different perspective on this issue.
If you have ever been one of the victims of verbal abuse or emotional violence, you may find it more difficult to leave an emotionally violent relationship because it seems harder to point to this kind of behavior and recognize it for what it really is–violent and abusive. I have known completely capable, intelligent, proud women who have trouble getting out of an emotionally violent relationship for some very familiar reasons. Maybe some will sound familiar to you. I’ve been told rationalizations like, “but I love her, and I don’t give up on the people I love.” Or “But I was abusive to her, too.” Or sometimes they say the real mind bender–“it’s not really abusive–she’s not hitting me or anything.”
How heartbreaking is that?
Even though emotional violence may be harder to pinpoint, and even though you might have participated in the act of wounding each other with words, you need to view it in the same way as if it was physical violence. If you want a deeply loving, 100% safe, super-intimate relationship, you can’t get there from an emotionally violent relationship as long as it is still going on. An you can’t get there if only one of you is working on the problem. It takes a commitment to change from both of you. What has to change may be different for each of you, but your relationship is a living entity that you both co-create.
If you are in a long term relationship that you want to try to salvage, it will require a deep commitment from both of you to refrain from further wounding each other while you learn different ways to express your feelings, and new interpersonal skills that will help you get your needs met. It can be done. People do it by deciding that the relationship they really want means enough to do whatever it takes to make it happen. So can you decide that, too.
It takes work and commitment, but most importantly, you both must have the willingness to let go of past wounds. You both must be willing to let go of being right, and you both must be willing to genuinely seek and ask for forgiveness, and to give it to the best of your ability. Sometimes forgiveness is a work in progress, but that’s okay. As long as there is active progress on your mutual goals, everything is workable. If the willingness is not there in equal measure on both parts, it will not work. Reality check time. If one partner feels she really isn’t responsible for what has gone on in the relationship but is paying lip service to change, time to look at why you would want to be in such a relationship that is so far from what your heart desires.
If you are really angry with each other right now, or deeply wounded, forgiving and letting go may seem an impossible task. This is when you might want to consider getting some help from a Relationship Coach or a Couples’ Counselor or Therapist, or some kind of Pastoral Counseling help, if that’s your preference. Find someone who has experience working with Lesbians and Queer women, someone you both feel good about. The immediate goals must be to stop wounding each other from now on, and then to heal the damage already done, and, finally, to learn how to be in relationship in a way that doesn’t wound, a way that is 100% safe and 100% loving.
* Colleen Stiles-Shields & Richard A. Carroll (2014): Same-Sex Domestic Violence: Prevalence, Unique Aspects, and Clinical Implications, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, DOI:10.1080/0092623X.2014.958792 Access this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2014.958792
Part 5 coming soon (and, for a change, it is about the good stuff in a relationship that feels good…
A Violent Relationship Cannot Be An Intimate Relationship Because It Is Not Safe. Part 3
Relationship Key Feature 3 says that for a relationship to feel good it must be 100% safe for both partners at all times. Therefore, if there is any kind of violence, it is not safe. Without safety there cannot be intimacy, vulnerability, discovery, growth, trust and acceptance, all qualities of a successful relationship that not only feels good, but supports both partners in the quest for a high quality of life together, personal and spiritual growth and the ability to sustain the relationship over time. A violent relationship has none of these qualities.
Are you in a violent relationship, or have you ever been? It is possible that you aren’t sure. I’ve run into lots of partners who were not sure, because they were using euphemisms and they were relabeling behavior to avoid shame, and some were simply in denial.
In this post, I have chosen to be very straightforward, very blunt in my message. Why? Because most batterers are in denial about the damage they do. A lot of victims are in denial about that fact that a healthy, successful relationship cannot occupy the same space as a relationship with violence. I want to be crystal clear about the info I provide, about what the facts are, what impact a violent relationship has on both partners, what my professional opinion is regarding a violent relationship, and what, exactly, constitutes violence as it pertains to a relationship between two women. Additionally, having this information might mean the difference between life and death for a woman in a violent relationship. No hyperbole on this issue.
All of you are likely not going to agree with what I have to say, or how I say it. That’s okay. Have at it! I love a good discussion. I’ll try to answer any questions or concerns you have about the material, if you comment or send me an email. Please understand, however, that the information I included in this article is evidence-based, and can be found in reports and articles about studies on domestic violence through numerous resources, both online and in print. Nevertheless, experience tells me that some of you will want to argue. That’s totally cool with me. Argue all you want, just so long as you read the article.
Some of you will feel that you would never, ever, ever, ever put up with any kind of physical violence in your relationship. Some of you will have a variety of responses, all of which circle around the undeniable fact that you yourself have been violent toward a partner, or you yourself have been a victim of violence from a partner. Some of you will have been both a victim and a perpetrator of violence in your relationship. Sometimes more than once.
Key Feature #3 says that violence has no place in a healthy relationship. It is, in fact, a deal-breaker. It isn’t a deal-breaker because the one who hits is a bad person. Nope, that’s not it. It is a deal-breaker because two people cannot have true intimacy and unconditional love unless there is unconditional safety. A woman cannot let down all her walls and make herself vulnerable to her lover in order to be soul-close when she is remembering the last time her partner smacked her, or if she’s worried about whether it will happen again when she lets down her guard. It just won’t work. All healthy relationships are safe. Period.
Some of you may want to ask what counts as violence. Okay, that’s an honest question, although it is also a sign of our culture and times that people feel like they have to ask because there might be some question about whether a particular kind of pain inflicted on a partner should be considered violence or some other category of behavior. So let me be as clear as the sound of a church bell on a frosty cold night.
A violent relationship is characterized by any effort whatsoever to cause physical pain, or to exert the will of one person over that of the other for any reason. This can include:
•restraining, holding down,
•locking out or locking in,
•withholding money, food, necessities or transportation,
•making threats against the other partner’s loved ones, threatening to take custody of the child(ren),
•isolating the partner from those who might object to her treatment by the violent partner–if they knew of it,
•any pushing, shoving, throwing,
•slapping, punching, pinching, twisting,
•cutting, stabbing, burning,
•choking, strangling, smothering, or
•anything labeled as “she made me do it.”
•Anything prefaced by “she knew better than to push my buttons” or “she wouldn’t stop when I told her to stop” or “I warned her I was going to lose it,” or
•any related comments that deflect personal responsibility for the violence and are a part of the pattern of violence in the relationship.
•Anything done to the victim’s property or, heaven forbid, her pets, or
•anything else done to frighten or terrorize or manipulate the other person as a means of exerting power and control over her and anything else that serves the same purpose that I haven’t included in this list.
This is what constitutes a violent relationship.
Is that clear enough? Are you able to determine whether there has been violence in any of your relationships, either done to you or by you toward the other person? I truly hope you have so. Not because I want to blame you or shame you or scare you or create drama. It’s because it is so very important.
Without a total commitment to 100% safety on both your parts, your relationship has no chance of being the loving, intimate relationship your heart longs for. No one can freely open her heart to her lover while she is also waiting for the other shoe to drop, when the violent partner loses her temper again. No one can open her heart to her lover when she is seething with rage and resentments from a hundred emotional wounds, large and small, that no one seems to understand. Do you see how vital safety is for the very existence of the relationship?
Here’s another aspect you might not have thought about–that of practical jokes. Because here’s the thing–practical jokes are neither practical nor funny. They are purposely designed to hurt, frighten or humiliate the recipient. Therefore, practical jokes have no place in a relationship that is 100% safe. If you have a partner who does mean things and then says, “I was just joking–where’s your sense of humor?” please refer to this article.
If violence, property destruction or terrorizing has happened to you in your relationships, the non-violent times probably feel pretty good after going through the violence. If you buy into it, though, you’ll end up with a violent relationship and nothing more.
If others have urged you to leave a violent relaitonship, have you responded with “But I love her!” or other such statements? If you truly believe that it is love that has you hanging on, I gently encourage you to take a hard look at that.
Is it really true that you love the person who hurt you? Or is it that you love the woman you wish she were, or the woman she was before the violence started, back in the early days when you two were “in love.”
Where there is violence, there is no safety. Where there is no safety, there is no intimacy. Without true intimacy, love cannot survive and grow. That’s the bottom line, as I see it.
You may be with each other for reasons other than love, certainly. Need, maybe. Finances, sure. Habit, definitely. Familiarity, fear, low self-worth, abusive childhood—yes, yes, yes and yes.
A woman can get used to living with violence, you know. She can spend so much time being stressed out, on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak, that it is almost a relief when the violence finally comes. She can have been so hurt and betrayed by her partner’s violence that she becomes used to the grim reality of her life. She becomes used to the cycle of the violence.
The Cycle of Violence
Relationships that involve violence often have a pattern to the violence. There has been a lot of research and study about this. It’s called the “Cycle of Violence.” It goes like this: first there is a build up of tension, and arguing. The person who is the victim is often aware of walking on eggshells to try to keep the other from blowing up, or she may instigate a fight just to get it over with rather than living with the building tension. Then comes the violent episode. Maybe it’s upsetting, or results in minor injuries only. Or maybe somebody really gets hurt–there’s no telling. The episodes usually escalate over time, as well, getting more serious as time goes by. After the blow-up is over, the perpetrator usually feels bad. She’s genuinely sorry it happened and she may worry that her partner will leave her now. She will still have difficulty taking responsibility for her violence. She may say something like, “if you hadn’t done x, then I wouldn’t have gotten so mad.” But she is sorry enough to want to make up with her partner.
She may buy flowers or gifts, or do something nice around the house. She may seem so sweet, for a while. The abused partner wants so badly to believe her partner when the partner says she’ll never do it again. The violent partner might even really mean it when she says she’ll never do it again. The victim may begin to believe that things are a whole lot better now, and that the bad times are behind them.
Until the tension begins to build again. The violent partner gets grumpy, then begins to snap, control and criticize, just like before. The victim can see the tension build and knows it is starting all over again, but she feels helpless to stop it. The outcome is inevitable, because neither one of them has gotten any help to change the conditions that perpetuate the violence. It doesn’t just magically stop, even with the best intentions of those involved. Significant changes in core beliefs are required–of both parties.
Here is my professional opinion: If you are in a violent relationship, get out. I can’t be any more clear than that. If you stay, you are risking your physical well-being, perhaps even your life. Certainly, your self-worth is getting dismantled. Only when the two of you get significant help for the violence in your relationship is there any chance of turning it into a healthy, safe, relationship. Love is never enough to fix things like violence.
If you are the one who becomes violent, you need to not be in a relationship right now. It’s too much for you. You can’t control yourself. You try to control her in order to manage your anger and anxiety, but it doesn’t work. It’s not her fault it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because violence just doesn’t work. Control doesn’t work. It doesn’t get you what you want or need. You’d like it to be her fault so that you can pretend to yourself that you could control yourself if she would just behave. But deep down, you know that isn’t true. You know are deeply angry and hurt. You need help with that, beloved. Anybody would.
The good news is, you can get help for your violence. You can get recovery from your anger and your habit of lashing out or losing control.
If you’ve been the victim living in a violent relationship, you need some help, too. You have scars from allowing yourself to be in a violent relationship, maybe because you thought that was the only way you could get love.
It is possible that neither one of you want to hear this message right now, but I’m glad you’ve at least read it. Because you’ve read it, I know it’s in your heads now, and maybe, when the violence happens again you will be ready to hear the message: violence precludes real love and a successful relationship because it makes the relationship unsafe. And, you now know there is help if you want it, to end the violence and live a life in peace and safety. But if you want to try it together, both of you have to want it badly enough to go to any lengths. It won’t work if only one of you is ready to change. That’s just the drop dead truth.
There is wider recognition now that domestic violence happens in same-sex couples with nearly the same frequency that it happens in opposite-sex couples. And just like with hetero couples, alcohol and drugs make it worse. What this knowledge means is that there is help specifically designed for you, as a Lesbian or Queer couple.
There is a domestic violence hotline for those seeking information and help on how to get safe: the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224 or http://www.thehotline.org It is anonymous and requires no commitment to action if you aren’t ready. The people who answer are highly trained. You can call even if you just want to talk.
Look in your local area for more help, including help for same-sex couples and for batterers, female or male. Find referrals through your therapist, coach, or by checking online or calling your county mental health department or google “women’s shelters,” “domestic violence,” or “battered women’s services.”
For those of you who are not in a violent situation and have no concerns that you ever will be, that’s great. This information is still a good thing to know–who knows? You may be called upon to help a friend or relative someday.
For those of you who are not in a violent relationship now but have been in one previously, if you have any concern about your ability to spot someone who may have the potential to be violent, you can work on that by working on yourself. You can improve your boundaries and enhance your feelings of self-worth. That way, your inner radar will let you know when someone who might be trouble crosses your path. You can do this work with a therapist, counselor or coach who is qualified and experienced in this kind of treatment. You do not have to live out the rest of your life as a potential victim or as a potential threat to every woman you might meet.
It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway–those of us who have had violence or sexual abuse in our childhoods are more vulnerable to becoming victims of domestic abuse. That’s because our natural aversion to being hurt and emotionally abused got erased when we were kids. We just don’t have the same armor that non-abused people have. But we absolutely can replace that lost self-protective instinct.
And if you were abused as a child and you learned to keep everyone at arm’s length so you wouldn’t be hurt again, you also can learn to have a healthy self-protective instinct. You can learn to trust yourself to be able to judge who is a potential abuser and who is safe. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Safety in a relationship is a non-negotiable. You absolutely need it if you are to have any hope of having a healthy, satisfying and successful relationship that is everything you want from your relationship.
In Part 4, we’ll cover emotional abuse and related issues…
Part 2: Key Feature #2:
I’ve learned to not make assumptions when it comes to relationships, so some of you may find my questions a bit silly at first. They aren’t, though. In fact, I’m probably going to rock your boat a little bit. I’d like you to stay with me, though, all the way through. It will be worth it to you, if past experience holds.
Consider your past and current relationships when you answer this question. Do both of you agree that you are in love?’ The answer should be a resounding ‘yes.’ If one of you is saying something like ‘I really love so-and-so, but I’m not in love with her,” then that is a big, no-kidding, problem. This thing the two of you have going may be called a relationship, but it is not a mutual one, and so by definition, it is not a healthy relationship, and has no hope of developing into an awesome, intimate, satisfying relationship.
Key Feature 2 says a relationship is always mutual, you both define the relationship, and you are in total agreement with each other that you are in love, and what that means to you. One person doesn’t get to dictate how the relationship is viewed. One person can’t make the other feel differently than she does.
In other words, there is absolute agreement on what is love for you two, what is commitment, what your plans for the future are for the relationship, and so on. There is never an imbalance in the power dynamic, or in who benefits by the relationship. It is mutual in all ways, including how you both define what you are doing together.
For those of us who have found ourselves in a relationship where one person wanted more than the other was prepared to give, it may have taken a moment before we came to realize that it probably didn’t feel very good to either person. The one who was in love and wished the other person felt the same way, was likely operating on the assumption that if she just waited long enough, or was a good enough girlfriend, lover, or provider, or if she bought enough presents, doted enough–even demanded often enough–then the not-in-love partner would eventually come around and fall in love, too.
Crumbs, ladies. Crumbs and codependence. You know what codependence is, right? It is adjusting your whole life, including how you feel and how you present yourself in the world, based solely on what you think the other person wants or is willing to offer.
We have likely all of us succumbed to codependence at some point, but for some of us codependence has become an habitual thing. A really painful, habitual thing. If you are hanging out in a semi-relationship with someone you are madly in love with but who only sorta loves you, and you’re staying because you’re sure you can convince her to love you more, I strongly, and with much compassion and caring, support you to take a good hard look at that. Ask yourself some questions about what you’re doing.
How did you end up in this situation, beloved? I’m fairly certain you didn’t head out one day, saying “I’m going to go find me a girlfriend who won’t love me the way I deserve to be loved.” Of course you didn’t.
But that’s where you are, regardless. What makes that okay with you? Because you are either settling for crumbs, or you believe you have more power than you actually do.
The truth is, you can’t make anyone feel anything. That will be tough information to swallow for some of you, the fact that we can’t control anyone’s feelings but our own. But there it is. Trust me on this. You don’t need to have an alcoholic in your life to qualify for membership in Al-Anon or CODA if you truly believe you can control how someone else feels about you by how you feel about her.
If you happen to be the one who loves-her-but-is-not-in-love with her, what are you doing? Do you really believe you will eventually come to feel the same about her that she feels about you? In this life-time, I mean? And if you don’t believe that, what is she to you? A place-holder until someone better comes along? Or are you just afraid to be alone and you’re using her so you won’t have to face your fears? Are either of those positions honest? Can you really feel good about yourself knowing this is what you are doing?
It’s really very simple. If you want to be in a relationship with a woman who is honest, someone you can trust, someone you can know deeply to the core of her being, someone who can genuinely return your feelings, then you have to be that person, too. Honest. Trustworthy. Hiding nothing. Using no one. Until you are all that, you won’t find it in another. Like attracts like.
If you are in an imbalanced relationship, it will be painful to both of you, for different reasons. It’s not that there is nothing redeemable in the relationship, or that there have been no good feelings or good times. There probably have been. And you might really care for each other. But if you are looking for the relationship of your dreams, this one isn’t it. In all likelihood it isn’t going to turn into something beautiful—except for, perhaps, a beautiful friendship. But even that won’t happen unless you end it before someone gets too hurt to salvage a friendship out of it.
If you are currently in one of these imbalanced associations, it is a fabulous opportunity to do some exploration into your own beliefs about relationships, what it is you really want, and why you are willing to settle for something that is less than what you really want. If you are with someone because you don’t want to be alone, or because she is providing you something you aren’t providing for yourself but could, here is an opportunity to get really honest with yourself. What beliefs do you have about yourself that are in operation when you make decisions about this kind of relationship? Do you feel good about yourself when you think about all that you have done, or not done, regarding this kind of relationship?
I’m only asking you to think about things, and to be really honest with yourself. You are not required to talk about this with anyone (unless you want to) or to take any action (unless you want to). This is about the exploration that is necessary to grow as a woman, into the kind of woman who can attract the partner and relationship you’d really like to have. This does not happen overnight.
Remember, dearest, we all do what we know how to do, and when we know better, we do better. Be gentle on yourself for the choices you have made, because you likely did only what you knew how to do. However, if you have decided to put your feet on the path toward the relationship you truly long for, it is time to pay attention to your choices and your reasons for them. It is through self-knowledge and insight that we gain the data needed to move forward in a different way. Why?
This post is the first in a series about the 8 Key Features of a healthy relationship. It is an introduction about why looking at the 8 Key Features are necessary, and a review of the first Key Feature, which says that a healthy relationship is 100% mutual. I’ll expand on that and show you how it may relate to your current situation. So let’s jump into it.
Let me ask you a question or two. How do you know if you have a healthy relationship to begin with? In fact, how do you know if you have the same relationship your partner does? How do you decide if the relationship you have is worth keeping, if you are uncertain about it? If you’ve settled on the relationship you’re in right now, is there any chance of it becoming the relationship you really wish you had?
Obviously, if you both are blindingly happy, relatively free of unnecessary conflict, have a good sex life (however the two of you define that) and can successfully negotiate life’s trials and tribulations together as a team, then you probably don’t need to be asking yourself these questions.
If, however, you are reading this post because you have wondered if your relationship is healthy and if it is something you want to continue then, chances are, there are things about it that are problematic for you. Perhaps you’ve had a thought like this run through your mind: “We’ve been together for a while and I really do love her, but I’m not in love with her…” or “sex can be great, but we seem to argue all the time” or this one, “We started out really in love, but now it feels like we are nothing more than roommates” or the death knell of “I love my partner more than she loves me, but we’re still together so that must mean something, right?”
Anything sound familiar? Painfully familiar? If your answer is “yes,” part of my purpose here is to tell you how to determine for yourselves whether a) the both of you are really still in love, and b) whether there is a foundation upon which to build, in order to create the relationship of your dreams—that is, to co-create the kind of relationship you really want instead of just settling for what’s available right now.
If you are currently single, that’s okay. Actually, your path is more straightforward because you get to start with a clean slate. Everything I say to those who are coupled should go into your memory banks. That way, when you get serious about finding a partner, you will be well ahead of most of your old mistakes and habits, and ready for some fun.
I’ll take you through the Eight Key Features of a Healthy Relationship. We’ll go through them one by one because each on builds on the next. It’s not a list of eight things to do. It’s more like those nesting dolls where one fits inside the next one until you get to the core doll. I’ll do them in separate posts so it’s easier to read and assimilate. I suggest you read each one thoroughly before moving onto the next because you’ll need to understand each one as it relates to your patterns, in order to fully comprehend the next Key Feature. This is going to be really interesting for you because soon after you start reading about the Eight Key Features, you are going to start seeing yourself and your relationships in these words.
Many of us have made some bad choices when it comes to relationships. Sometimes we learn from them and make better choices. Sometimes we really don’t understand how it is that we end up in what feels like the same relationship again, only with a different person. That’s what I call having a “broken picker.” Some of us just don’t know how to pick the right partner even when we have the best of intentions. Some of us get a bit gun-shy and decide to play it safe and avoid relationships altogether. Some of us do it over and over. These are patterns.
At times, I use my own experience as an example of what I mean about patterns. Mine goes like this: Back when I was dating and looking for a partner, I would go into a party, for example, with thirty eligible women. If twenty-nine of them were interested in me, and the thirtieth one wasn’t interested, it was always the uninterested one that I would be intensely attracted to. If I did manage to capture her interest, the resulting relationship was always a disaster. I would spend the whole time trying to get something from her that she didn’t have in her to give, and I would go away feeling unloved and unlovable. Then I’d swear off dating and relationships for a while, until I got too lonely or too bored, and then I’d repeat the same cycle all over again.
It was a pattern for me. It went on for years. Overall, it was very, very painful with bright spots of intense feelings of being in love, and some fun times, but mostly, it was just painful. It took me a long time to figure out that my thinking was damaged. I had a “broken picker.” I felt attracted to those who were not available. I had to learn to be attracted to those who were also attracted to me.
That was my unhealthy pattern. Many women (and men) have their own unhealthy patterns. You might have one, as well. The pattern might be similar to the one I had, or it might be different. You know you have a pattern if you get the same results no matter what you’re doing differently. You are either picking the same kind of partner that doesn’t work for you, or you’re behaving in the same manner during each relationship, such that you get the same unsatisfactory outcome.
Why am I going on about patterns? Because you cannot change something if you are unaware of what you’re doing to create it or contribute to it. Look, I get it, that some of the responsibility for your failed relationships belongs to your partner(s). I’m not saying it’s all on you. But it doesn’t do any good to talk about what someone else did or didn’t do because we can’t change anyone else (as much as we’d like to). The only person you can change is you. The only outcomes you can influence are the ones that you’re aware of and choose to change your contribution to them. Are you still with me? Changing your part will be enough, I promise.
There is another pattern I feel I must mention, although you may not immediately recognize it as a pattern. But it is. A healthy, successful relationship does not take away all the pain in your life so that you don’t have to deal with heartbreak, ennui, emptiness, anger, disappointment, bosses, kids, homework, laundry, boredom, bills, self-doubt or loss. Many of us act as if we expect a relationship to do that.
If you really want all that, then that’s what drugs and alcohol (or food, gambling, compulsive sex, or spending) are for. No, I do not recommend taking up an addiction. Rather, what I mean is that wanting all the challenges in life to end because you are in love or in a relationship is simply fantasy thinking. Thanks to TV, movies, romance novels and fairy tales, many of us have that desire for “happily ever after,” but that is not reality. Sorry.
You might be telling yourself right now that you got over the “happy ever after” fantasy as a teenager, but I’m challenging you on that. You might not have the full-blown Cinderella concept going on, but you’d be a rare woman to have escaped its influence entirely. Most of us do hold onto the idea that the one we love will make us feel better about ourselves, or will give us some meaning in our lives that we didn’t have before. Many women still believe that having someone who loves them means they are worthy, or at least more worthy than they were. Sometimes the belief is hidden. Sometimes it’s complicated by other things, like a history of abuse. Sometimes it is subtle. We often don’t realize that it is behind our motivation for certain things in our relationships.
However, to be on the road to getting the relationship you really want, everything must be on the table. You must be willing to take out your most intimate beliefs about yourself and look at them, assess them, and recognize them for what they do for you, and for what role they play in keeping you from your goal of lasting love and great intimacy with the partner that is right for you. The sooner you recognize any unrealistic, fantasy-driven beliefs, the closer you will be to being able to bring a healthy, satisfying relationship into your life.
I’m going to start with the basics. If this material is not news to you, I encourage you to look it over anyway. You never know when you might run into a gem of wisdom you don’t yet have.
Key Feature #1
First—and this may seem obvious, but when you’re in it, it doesn’t seem obvious at all—are both of you in agreement that what you have together is actually a relationship? The answer should be a clear and resounding ‘yes.’ If one or both of you say it is anything other than ‘yes’, you do not have a relationship. You have a problem. If one person thinks it is a relationship but the other one doesn’t–even if the other one is behaving as if it is–then it is not a relationship. Sorry, it just isn’t. One of the foundational features of a relationship is that it is 100% mutual.
If your partner is the one who is having trouble with the relationship, and you’re telling yourself she just needs more time, she has a problem with commitment so you’re giving her space, that you don’t mind if she defines the relationship differently than you do…then you are settling for crumbs.
And if you settle for crumbs, you will never, ever get the whole loaf. Not even if you wait for years. Not even if you are the perfect, loving partner. A relationship must be 100% mutual, or it is not a relationship.
If you have found yourself in this kind of thing more than once, may I gently suggest you have a pattern that is likely holding you back from having a relationship that would make you truly happy. You can work on this yourself, through self-help books and workshops, and identifying patterns and self-limiting beliefs and replacing them with healthier ones, but you might want to get some help with this process. A relationship coach, a therapist, a women’s group, or even Al-Anon meetings can speed up the process quite a bit, because then you don’t have to invent the wheel yourself at each stage.
If you are the one who doesn’t want to call it a relationship, or a commitment –for whatever reason–then what you are really doing is using your partner. Even if you do nice stuff for her. You are likely still well aware that you don’t feel the same way she does. Even if you sorta, kinda love her a little, and think she’s really great, but you’re not in love with her, yadda, yadda… just be a sport and let her go. You know you will eventually, anyway. Better to do it now than to wait a year and really break her heart. In other words, don’t be a cad. Just saying.
I’ve been asked “Is this a (healthy) relationship?” question by a lot of perfectly awesome, well-meaning, lovable women who, through their own personal experience and feelings, have come to believe that crumbs were all they were going to get–ever. If that’s true for you, it is time to take a look at some of your beliefs about love and relationships, and about worthiness and self-regard. Real love is mutual, always. Real love is the whole loaf, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.
When I use the term “settle” or ask the question, Have you settled in your relationships? what I am referring to is the issue of settling for circumstances that are less than what you would prefer. In the case of your relationships, I’m asking if you have accepted or continued with a relationship that is not what you would have preferred, but you went ahead with it anyway.
Sadly, it happens all the time, for any of a number of reasons, which I’ll touch upon in a moment. You may settle for a partner who is not your first choice. As a couple, you may continue a less than perfect relationship. As a single person, you may believe that none of your choices, in the end, will be what you really want because that has been your experience. That is often more a failure of expectation than it is a failure of intimacy.
Whatever the case may be, any time you are in a relationship, or contemplating a relationship in which you feel it falls short in some way, you are settling. Most people have two responses to settling.
They either do nothing (accept settling) or dump the relationship. Rarely do people consider the third option, which is to co-create the relationship they really want. Why is that? I’ll tell you what I think.
Couples encounter entirely predictable problems in communication and in understanding each other, and then tell themselves that the love has died. They feel like quitting. The tragedy about this choice is not that their love has died, necessarily. They may only think their love has died because they are experiencing a failure of imagination and a lack of the necessary skills to bring into reality the relationship they have dreamed of having.
The thing is, dumping the relationship isn’t the solution, especially if the two people might still love each other. Dumping a relationship will never teach either one of them how to do it right or better. At best, it will give them a list of what not to do should the same person or situation be encountered again. Not very useful, and it just feeds more feelings of hopelessness about ever finding the true intimacy and lasting love they desire so much.
If you want to have the love of your life, to live daily with the physical and spiritual connection that goes beyond your wildest dreams, and have a relationship with a partner who is everything you hope for, you must do it differently than you have done it in the past. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Maya Angelou, bless her beautiful spirit, said “when you know better, you’ll do better.” In your relationships up to now, you likely did the best you could with what you had to work with. But now it is time to get on with it.
You know you need to make some changes, right? After all, your best thinking got you where you are right now. And listen, if you’re thinking that it’s all good and you don’t need any changes, then congratulations and best wishes to you on your journey forward. Or, if you’ve read self help books that didn’t really help, and you’re feeling cynical about following anyone else’s advice–I feel you. It is a risk, considering another point of view about something so important, something so close to the heart, so to speak.
What I can tell you is this: if it isn’t working for you as it is, you have to do something. Either that, or quit complaining since you don’t want to do anything about it. If you do believe it’s time to do something about getting a happy and satisfying relationship at least once before your time is up, then read on.
Read what you find here, and in the other sources I will recommend, and see what happens to your thinking when you do. Be willing to be honest with yourself instead of defending your old way of thinking and being. Nothing of value ever comes when you stay safe within your comfort zone. If you want to have a different outcome, you can. So let us begin with some questions for thoughtful consideration.
Be willing to be honest with yourself instead of defending your old way of thinking and being. Nothing of value ever comes when you stay safe within your comfort zone.
I encourage you to think carefully about your answers to the questions and scenarios you encounter here. Try to be bone-deep honest with yourself. You are the only one who will be held back by failing to look clearly at your own process.
For couples, are you happy and satisfied with your love partner? Is your relationship everything you’ve ever hoped for? Is it peaceful, satisfying, supportive and sensuous? Is it mutual in all respects?
If you’re currently single, do you know what you want in a relationship? What you don’t want? Do you seem to find the same kind of relationship with different partners? Or are your standards so exacting that nobody has seriously rung your bell in quite a while, and that fact has you more than a bit worried? Or are you afraid that there is something inside, some deep part of you, that makes you essentially unloveable? You aren’t alone with that one.
For both couples and singles, ask yourself this question: out of all the relationships you’ve ever had as adults, including the one you may be in right now, have you ever settled for less than what you truly want? Be honest.
People settle for a lot of different reasons. Maybe you can relate to one or more of these.
You were tired of being alone.
Being with someone is better than being with no one.
You didn’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings by rejecting them.
Your parents really wanted you to get married.
You were pregnant.
You lost your apartment so you moved in together even though it was too soon.
You didn’t want to admit you made a mistake.
It wasn’t so bad as all that, not bad enough to break up. Maybe.
You had kids and you needed some help and support you could only get from a partner.
You settled because you believed that was probably as good as it was going to get for you.
You felt you were lucky to get the one you did.
You can probably come up with more reasons. I believe far too few of us were shown by the adults in our lives how to find real love, how to make the right choice for the person we were, for what our goals and values and needs were, nor were we shown how to recognize the real thing when we found it. Instead, there were movies and television, teenage hormones and all those mistakes we called “falling in love.”
If you are Queer, Lesbian or Gay, you didn’t even have that. You had what the rest of the “tribe” had–experimentation, doing what felt good and right at the time, and then just making the best of what you ended up with. No parental role models for most of us, no accepted societal expectations, and until relatively recently, no same-sex marriage. Talk about a stacked deck!
There were the times, too, when we found love, real love, but the real love ended up being one of friendship. Not to besmirch friendships–where would many of us be without the friends who started out as lovers? But a friendship is not a love partner, so how did we get from one to the other? What happened to change it?
But here is the good news: You can have the love and intimacy you long for. You can have a partner who knows you inside and out, good and bad, up and down, and still loves you anyway, completely and unreservedly, just as you love her in return. You can have a steamy sex life and a peaceful home life. You can have a relationship that lasts a lifetime, yet remains as interesting and as fun as it ever was. You can have a partner that you choose, rather than the one you settled for because you got scared that it was all you were going to get.
I’m not saying that such a relationship is easy or without challenges. Nothing of value is. However, the fact is, there are only a very few things you need in order to have the relationship of your dreams. To not settle.
You need to be fully committed to not settling no matter how lonely you get in the interim. You need to partner with someone who wants this as badly as you do. If you are already partnered, the requirement is that you both want to go on this journey. You need to be willing to do the work and self-exploration that will make you into the same kind of person you’d like for a partner. Finally, you need to be willing to own your own stuff. To accept responsibility for the choices you make and the outcomes you create.
That’s four little things you need in order to have the relationship you long for. Okay, so maybe they’re not so little. But they are doable. They are definitely doable. Heart Compass is here to tell you how to set your feet on this journey. I can promise you this: it is an exhilarating journey.