Are you taking the blame for other people’s bad behavior more often than you should?
If so, maybe there’s something a bit more covert going on that you need to know about.
Some people have mastered the art of painting you into a corner. Because of that, you will feel responsible even when it’s clear they are the ones behaving badly.
If you want to learn how to counter this type of behavior, keep reading.
(The following podcast transcript has been modified for easier readability and to benefit the Deaf and hard of hearing)
I received a message that has to do with who started the argument and healthy versus unhealthy communication.
What is the best way to express yourself, especially when you’re in an argument? That’s one of the questions I’m hoping to answer in this episode. The message comes from someone I’ll call Jane.
Jane writes, “I recently started listening to your podcast, and downloaded The M.E.A.N. Workbook. The workbook score was 114, which didn’t come as too much of a surprise to me because I felt mistreated for years now…“
Before I continue reading Jane’s letter, let me explain what the workbook is in case you’ve not heard of it. “M.E.A.N.” stands for Manipulation and Emotional Abuse Number. It’s a score that helps you determine the level of control, manipulation and emotional abuse in your relationship.
It caters to romantic relationships but you can use it for any relationship really. Jane got a score of 114 out of about 203 items. That’s a relatively high number. The higher the score, the worse your situation is. Scores in the high range indicate you are probably experiencing some major form of toxic behavior or emotional abuse of some sort.
I definitely sympathize with Jane. 114 means she’s dealing with a lot of crap. So thank you for sharing that Jane.
Let’s read the rest of this email: “I have only one question. I’m having a really hard time figuring out who started it. I know that I use some of the manipulation tactics when I’m in defense mode, but I feel that my husband would say my behavior is what causes his outbursts.
“Let me give an example of a typical argument. He always starts the ‘fight’. I am very conflict-averse and I hate to fight. Even when I’m upset about something, I’ll usually justify it in my mind and let it go. Not good. I know. He will usually approach me to let me know that I’ve forgotten to do something or not shown him the proper appreciation for something. He will say ‘You don’t love me because if you did, you wouldn’t have forgotten this’, or something like, ‘If you really appreciated me, you would act differently.’
“There’s usually some name-calling and/or, at the very least, the implication that I’m selfish, irresponsible, stupid, narcissistic… the list goes on and on.
“In the past, he would yell. But over the years, he has gotten better about that. Now he tries to speak softly but his words still feel like he’s attacking me. It’s always ‘You did this, and that means you are ‘this’ (insert anything to make me feel horrible about myself).
“I believe that he has his own insecurities. He has acknowledged that he has abandonment issues. I believe that although I know I’m not forgetting things on purpose, I have ADHD, so that makes things even worse. He takes it as if he is my last priority. If my opinion differs from his or if I’m busy and keeping up with life, he feels neglected. He feels distance and he wants to pull me closer.
“However, he goes about it by accusing me of terrible things and criticizing me. So back to my original question: What if I am the reason for his bad behavior? What if his complaints are justified and I’m the one not treating him with enough sensitivity?”
Thank you Jane. I’m going to answer your question in a moment but first I want to comment on a couple things you said at the beginning, which really stood out.
One thing you said was, “I feel that my husband would say that my behavior is what causes his outbursts.”
I have a problem with the way that’s worded. Not because you worded it that way, but because it’s probably making you feel like you’re to blame for him behaving badly. I don’t look at it that way. When someone behaves badly toward you, they are not doing so because you are the cause, but you are the stimulus.
In other words, a stimulus creates a response. His stimulus is the way you behave. But you are not the cause of the way he behaves. Because clearly, he can choose to behave differently. You’ve already said that in your message. He is no longer yelling and is treating you differently, but he is still behaving badly in a more covert, maybe passive-aggressive way.
So we can already look at this and say he has a choice on how to respond. We’re going to address that choice in a bit. But the choice is there. He is choosing to respond the way he is. This means you are not the cause of his response. You are the stimulus. He is emotionally triggered by your behavior.
That might mean if you forget to wash the dishes one night or park the car in the yard and he doesn’t like it, he’ll get triggered and behave badly. We know his behavior is a choice because he already knows how to react differently. He’s choosing to do behavior that is hurtful. So we need to make sure that he is taking responsibility for that.
He needs to show up saying, “I take responsibility for my behavior.” It doesn’t matter if he’s right or wrong about what he’s saying. He just needs to be conscientious of behavior he does that is hurtful to others. Harmful behavior is hurtful. That is important to understand because you are hurt by it.
You also say that you do behavior that is manipulative when you are defensive. That is common too. I would say that you also have a choice to do that. Although, when we are triggered, it is much less of a choice. At least it seems that way.
When you are triggered, your unconscious response usually kicks in. But you can consciously hold back or say something differently or in a different way. You can say it with a different tone. You can say it with love, even when you feel like hating or hurting them.
We’ll talk about that more too, but the first thing I wanted to address is that you are not the cause. That would be like saying, “Okay, you caught me. I cheated on you and I’m sorry. But I wouldn’t have needed to do that if we had sex more often.”
Imagine if that were the only reason someone gave you for cheating on you?
That statement could be true, yes. But it doesn’t make the behavior right. And it still doesn’t make you the cause. Because that was a conscious choice he made if he were to say that to you (if you were in that situation). So we can’t really say that you are the cause. You are the stimulus.
You probably helped to activate his emotional trigger. The trigger could be from somewhere deep inside of him; Something he hasn’t resolved or healed from yet. The trigger could have an internal cause of some sort.
How he handles communicating what he feels to you is also the cause of his responses. So there is a lot of responsibility that he’s not taking. He’s putting the responsibility that he needs to take for himself on you!
That’s my first observation with this. The second observation is that it sounds like he’s choosing to not accept the fact that you are probably forgetful. He’s not accepting that you have ADHD. He’s not accepting that.
You do have a type of personality that might just get busy in her work or busy doing something else, but you’re not intentionally trying to forget him or hurt him or anything like that. It sounds like your behavior has always been that way, he just doesn’t like it. So he has a judgment about it because it affects him because maybe you forget something important to him, which again, is an emotional trigger for him.
If he has abandonment issues, he’s going to feel neglected and unloved and rejected, and that’s going to affect how he treats you. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t, but this isn’t a perfect world. We have relationships, and this is what happens. He gets affected by your behavior, your personality quirks, and that shows a lack of acceptance for who you are and how you show up.
That doesn’t mean you probably shouldn’t set a reminder on your phone and try to make up for some things that perhaps you’re not strong in and do what you can, but it shouldn’t be something that he continuously takes out on you. Because he knows the type of personality that you have, or at least your quirks. When somebody knows your quirks, and they refuse to accept them, then they blame you for those quirks, whose fault is that?
My girlfriend admits that she has ADHD. When she says “I’m going to be on the computer for five minutes”, I know that’s not true. She is going to get so focused on what she’s doing that I won’t see her for hours sometimes. But I know this about her. I accept this “quirk” about her. This is who she is and who she’s always been.
This is who she was when we first met. If she say, “I’m just going to be five minutes then I’ll make dinner.” I’ll think, “Uh-huh. Right.” Then, time goes by and it’s way beyond 5 minutes. It’s almost always past the time she says it will be.
There are certain things I’ll say to her of course. I’ll remind her by asking her if she’s still making dinner? Then I’ll offer to make something instead. I think that’s a healthy way to ask somebody that is forgetful or has ADD or ADHD and can’t necessarily get back on track easily or forgets things. Ask them if they are still going to do what they said, but if not, you’ll do it instead. And not be mad about it when you offer to do it.
I think it’s helpful to not only understand the personality quirks of your partner but also accept those quirks and don’t give them any grief about them. That doesn’t mean you can’t work something out. It doesn’t mean that maybe you should try a different system or way of reminding each other. But we do have to reach the acceptance part first. We have to get that out of the way.
So Jane, those are the two things that stand out to me in that email. The first one is him thinking you’re the cause for his outbursts. The second one is accepting the quirks of our partners or the people in our lives and not expecting them to show up in any other way. It’s that definition of insanity, expecting different results every time when they keep showing up the same way every time.
Why would we expect different results? We shouldn’t.
We have to come to a level of acceptance of who someone is and not expect anything more. That’s tough because we often want more out of certain people. A lot of the times we want more from someone when we know they are capable of giving more. Or maybe we think they’re capable when they’re really not and we think that because we can do something, they can too.
If that’s the case, you might ask yourself, “Why can’t they do it? I would remember their birthday and I would remember that anniversary, so why can’t they?”
When you have this mentality or thought process that you can do something so others should be able to as well, then you’re not giving them enough credit for who they are. You’re not allowing them to be who they are. It’s a judgment. It’s wanting more of a person than that person is.
That doesn’t mean they can’t ever show up as more. That doesn’t mean they’ll never be able to do the things that you want them to do. But there are definitely healthier ways to communicate and get along, even when you have opposing personalities without bringing our emotional baggage into the mix.
Jane might have emotional baggage because she gets defensive. She’s not sure how to handle those situations because she’s being put down or belittled. She doesn’t want to feel that way, so she gets defensive. She knows she’s better than that. She knows she’s a good person.
So of course, you’re going to be defensive and want to defend yourself because you don’t want to be put down, especially by somebody you love. Jane doesn’t want to be put down by somebody she loves so she gets defensive. She believes she’s doing the best she can.
And it sounds like he has baggage too. He has this emotional trigger that he’s working on. Or maybe he’s not. Or maybe he thinks he’s right, so thinks there is nothing to work on.
I did that for years. I used to think I was right so “Why bother working on myself? She’s the one who needs to change.” I believed that I was right. I believed there was nothing wrong with me, or at least in certain contexts. In specific contexts, I believed she needed to change.
I made her life miserable! I don’t do this in my current relationship but in past relationships I did. That’s how I showed up. I used to believe my partner needed to change, but I didn’t. I believed there was nothing wrong with me. “It’s all her, she needs to change, she needs to fix herself then we’ll be happy.”
That’s one of the worst things you can do in a relationship! When you take no responsibility and point your finger at them expecting them to change, fix things, improve themselves, and heal, it’s an awful thing to do to someone you love because you’re taking yourself out of the formula of what makes a relationship in the first place.
An equal partnership is where both people work on things even when you believe you don’t have anything to do with the problems. You’re supposed to be vulnerable. You’re supposed to allow the people you love to see your weaknesses. You’re supposed to allow people you trust to see your vulnerabilities so that you can address them inside you and be open-minded about them, making sure you’re addressing things that you can’t see in yourself.
Most of us don’t walk around with an objective mirror all the time thinking about how we can improve ourselves. Most of us don’t walk around objectively thinking about how we can show up differently, or how we should have said something differently, or how we should have acted differently.
Some of us. Some of us question ourselves. But many don’t. Some of us can reach a point where we know how to act and don’t feel the need to look at ourselves anymore. “I already know how to act so I’m just going to keep acting this way. If anyone has a problem with that, it’s their problem not mine.”
I think there’s a balance we can reach where we say to ourselves, I’ve gotten this far in life and I’m doing pretty well and my relationships are good, so maybe there isn’t much I need to look at. However, if someone’s upset about something I said, maybe I should look at that in myself because I’m part of that formula. I’m in the mix. I’m in that line of communication. Even though I believe I didn’t do anything wrong, maybe I can look at that and think about how to approach it differently next time.
That’s taking responsibility. That’s allowing yourself to be vulnerable and letting other people see right through you. It’s staying open-minded in the things you might need to work on.
Next, let’s address Jane’s question to find out if she is the reason for his bad behavior. I sort of already addressed it but she wants to know if his complaints are justified and she’s the one not treating him with enough sensitivity. I’ll go over his responses as well because that will be the most important aspect of what I talk about regarding this letter. His responses definitely need some work.
Jane’s first question was, “What if I am the reason for his bad behavior?” We talked about stimulus and the reaction to that stimulus, so I won’t address that again. But then she asked, “What if his complaints are justified, and I’m the one not treating him with enough sensitivity?”
I could say, “All right Jane, you might need to work on your insensitivity. My first question to you would be however, are you insensitive?”
I’m going to say you’re probably not insensitive because of the way you explained things in your letter. You made it sound like this was just kind of your personality. You’re just forgetful and you have ADHD and you get involved with things and don’t know what to do about that because it’s just the way you are.
This is all about those personality quirks again. This is one of the things I would want him to accept about you. If he did, his life would be a lot easier! It would be a whole lot easier because he would tell himself, “That’s just who she is.” It may even be kind of funny to him.
But you are both dealing with possible personality characteristics that aren’t complimentary. You have someone that is forgetful with someone who needs to be remembered. He is someone who absolutely wants to be remembered and wants to be the star in your eyes.
I might be exaggerating a little bit and I apologize if I am, but let’s just say that was him. He is very clingy. He needs to know that he is loved and that you aren’t going to leave him. And one of the ways to do that is to not forget him. Or, it’s to remember things like the promises you make to him or the commitments you make to do something but you don’t do it. He might feel like it’s disrespectful toward him.
So Jane, are you insensitive? I don’t know. Is there a way to show up better in that area? Could be. Like I said, set a reminder on your phone, or put sticky notes on your desk. I don’t know.
However, should you have to do these things? That’s the next question.
That depends. You need to get some sort of commitment from him as well since you are both going to be working on this. I believe this is a two-person thing because if only you do this, then what’s happening is you are giving in to his hurtful behavior.
He is doing hurtful behavior.
What is his hurtful behavior? Because there might be some people listening now that say, “She forgets things. That’s not right! Those things could be very important! When you’re in a relationship, you should remember your anniversary! You should remember birthdays. You should remember anything that’s important to the other person, or at least most things.”
I get that. That’d be great. It would be wonderful if people did that without fail. But if you’ve never been with somebody who has ADHD, they don’t intend to forget. They may not have systems in place to help them remember and even if they did, they can get sucked into something that causes them to lose track of time and everything else. Time can go by and they wouldn’t even know it because a lot of them don’t really pay attention to time. They don’t even think about it. They become so myopically focused on their task, that they don’t realize how much time goes by. Or they just think, I can do this for another 30 seconds or so. Then 30 seconds turns into two hours and they don’t even realize it happened.
I’m not saying everyone with ADD or ADHD does this. I’m just giving you scenarios that can happen with this condition. But again, when you know the person is forgetful or gets sucked into a project and “disappears”, this might be one of the many qualities that needs to be accepted about the person. Can he say to himself, “This is who she is. I need to accept that.”
When you have somebody in your life like that, you can either continue putting them down for the way they are, or you can be more helpful. This is one of the issues I have with her partner here is that he could be more helpful instead of hurtful.
Let me talk about the hurtful part. What she says he says things like, “If you really appreciated me, you would act differently.” That’s really hurtful because she probably does appreciate him. And now she feels cornered into having to defend herself: “Of course, I appreciate you!”
The problem with saying something like, “If you loved me you would do this for me” is that there really is no defense for it. This is one of those “binding” statements I’ve talked about in another episode, where you’re damned if you do or you’re damned if you don’t.
Saying if you really loved me, you would have remembered this is a binding statement that paints you into a corner. Or more accurately, a “double bind” where there is the illusion that you are not being entrapped by someone’s words, but you actually are.
In this case, there is no way out of, “If you loved me, you would do this for me.” It comes across as a manipulative statement that causes you to feel bad no matter how you respond to it. Because in order to defend yourself against that statement, inherent in the statement is the presupposition (assumption) that you must not love the person.
I know I’m getting a bit deep into syntactic technicalities. Sorry about that. But let me just explain it this way: There are things that people can say in a certain way that will cause you to agree with something inadvertently, without even knowing you’re agreeing to it.
The statement, “If you loved me, you would have done this instead” presupposes that you don’t love the person in the first place. If you say, “But I do love you”, you fail because they will tell you what you didn’t do that proves it.
If you answer, “I didn’t do that for X reason. I tried, but couldn’t,” you fail again because their belief is that you not doing it for any reason means you don’t love them.
Whether you like it or not, their statement paints you into a corner and makes it appear as if you don’t love them. In other words, you have no defense to this kind of statement. There’s no way out. It’s unfair because what they’ve done is generalize your love for them based on a single thing. They based the entirety of your love for them on one action.
That’s a real mindfu**! It really is. It’s a crazy way to corner someone and make them feel rotten. It can be considered emotional abuse because it’s forcing the other person into a position that isn’t true for them.
I believe Jane really loves her partner. But when he says ‘you don’t love me because you didn’t do something’, he is also silently saying that ‘all the other stuff you’ve done for me doesn’t apply. Only this one thing applies.’
He may not have meant to corner her like this. He may not have known about all this presupposition stuff. But he knows what to say to win arguments and make his partner feel bad. It’s very difficult to “win” an argument with someone who talks like this. There is just no way out of it without it appearing you are the bad guy. However, I don’t like a no-win scenario, so I’m going to give you a tool you can use to work around something like this if it happens to you.
If anyone ever says to you something like ‘Because you did this, it means this,’ one of the responses you can give is in the form of a question like this:
Is that all it means?
You’re not saying yes and you’re not saying no. If Jane’s husband said, “Because you forgot my birthday, it means you don’t love me” and she replied, “Is that all it means? Is that the only thing it means, that I don’t love you?” It’ll force him to think about it. It will force him to think that it might mean other things, too.
If he replied, “It means you always forget things. It’s not only about that one thing,” then that’s good because it means he’s opened his mind a little bit. He might climb out of that box he is in and expand his communication beyond the “A equals B and only B” scenario.
We have to remember that “you always forget things” is another generalization. We can also help someone think outside that generalization by asking, “I always forget things? Every single time?”
This helps it go beyond the A equals B syndrome.
By replying to their comment with a question like, “Is that all it means?” We can start to open someone’s mind so they break out of their strict thinking. It allows for the possibility of more conversation.
Jane could reply, “Okay, you’re right, I do this a lot. I don’t always do it but I do it often.” That would be a good start to a productive conversation, hopefully.
Jane can also answer that statement by challenging his beliefs about whether she loves him or not. For example, she could ask, “You think that me forgetting your birthday means I don’t love you?” Or, “You think that when I forget something important to you, it has something to do with how much love I have for you?”
Those are the kinds of questions you want to ask when someone tries to bind you to a certain position. Question people’s binding statements:
“You really think I don’t love you because I forgot this?”
Jane might have to explain to her husband that her forgetting has nothing to do with how much she loves him. But it might be helpful for her to follow up with, “I did forget and that’s bad on me. So here’s what I’m going to do to make up for that.”
That’s how a conversation could go for sure. You can have a different conversation instead of just becoming defensive and saying “No, of course I love you! I’ll do better next time, I promise!” You want to keep your composure and try not to be emotionally triggered so that you can challenge their belief about you.
This is tough, I know. It’s tough to think about these replies in the moment. But when you hear a belief come out of someone’s mouth that you know is untrue, you might need to challenge that belief so they are forced to explore the validity of what they just said. But challenge it in a way that asks them to explore it a bit more deeply:
“You really believe I don’t love you because of this?”
That’s one way to word it. “You believe that? You really think if I don’t remember something, it’s because I don’t love you?”
If that person really believes you don’t love them, that would certainly open up the conversation. It would hopefully cause them to expand their mind a little bit so that they weren’t so stuck in that insecure place. That’s where comments like this typically come from: an insecure place inside the person.
The statement, “If you really loved me, you would have done this,” is usually about that one incident. The person saying it doesn’t usually mean it’s about one incident. They just generalize it into one incident to drive a point home. And it usually does a good job at driving the point home. But it’s an unfair way to do it. It is not healthy communication. It just causes you to be defensive and hurt, and that’s not a good place to be.
So be careful about those presuppositions! Be careful about those statements that presuppose you are or aren’t a certain way or feel or don’t feel a certain way, or anything that sounds like they believe something about you that isn’t true where, in order for you to respond to it, confirms that it is true.
I’m hoping what I just explained made some sense. It was more challenging to explain than I originally thought. But I think it’s important to know so that you don’t get entrapped by someone’s words.
For Jane, I do want to say a couple other things about how her husband words things. This is, like I said earlier, the main point I want to make in this segment. It sounds like your communication challenge always centers an only pointing the finger at you either highlighting how hurtful you’re being or how forgetful you are. It’s always about you having the problem.
It seems to be all about you! What’s interesting is that he is not saying things in an “I feel” way. Or, “When you do that it makes me feel this way.”
Every time you express something that somebody else does that hurts you in some way, I believe it’s best to express this in a way that affects you not how they’re wrong for something they’re doing. You might have to say something like, “That affects me this is how it affects me.”
You wouldn’t necessarily use those words, but when you do something that hurts him, I would rather have him say, “When you forgot that, it made me feel like you didn’t care about me.” This is a lot different than saying, “When you forget, it means you don’t care about me.” The first one is taking responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings and now you can have a conversation about it.
We want to avoid labeling people too. Something like, “You’re a bad person because you did that,” is pretty much defining them and not giving them any chance to defend themselves. This is something that sometimes destroys relationships. Arguments where both people just point fingers at each other and say things like, “You’re doing this. And that means this. And you’re a bad person. And you’re also stupid and incompetent…” cause deep emotional wounds that can sometimes last the duration of the relationship.
A healthier comment might go like this:
“I feel alone. I feel like I’m not a part of this relationship. I feel sad. I feel disrespected. I feel undervalued. I feel like I’m not worthy in your eyes. I feel like I’m not important.”
Jane, if you’re listening, imagine he said something like that instead? Let’s pretend you were on the computer and you were lost in that world. What would it feel like if he said the following:
“When you say you’re going to do something for me but don’t, it makes me feel like your computer work, or your social media friends, are more important than I am. And that hurts. I don’t like that feeling. I just want to share that with you because I want to tell you how I’m affected and why I get into a bad mood.”
When I lay out that scenario Jane, how does that make you feel? Does that make you feel defensive? Does it feel different than the other way he says things?
If I step into your shoes, I’m feeling self-reflective. I’m thinking, Oh geez, I don’t want to make him feel bad. That’s not my intention at all. I feel really bad about doing that to him.
I’m not trying to make you feel bad about this Jane, but I’m outlining a scenario that if it unfolded like that, you’d have a better option on how to respond. In my example, all he’s doing is expressing himself and how he feels. Also, he’s not telling you how you feel or how you think. He really can’t do that anyway because he couldn’t possibly know those things.
This is probably why you get defensive because he’s telling you how you think and feel, and what you should be doing instead. He’s not allowing you to determine what you should be doing instead. He is actually trying to “install” thoughts and feelings in you. He’s not communicating in a healthy way nor allowing a conversation to blossom into a loving, connecting heated discussion.
Yes, you can have a heated discussion and still have love and connection. You can still have feelings. There can still be some tense moments. But at least you’re giving each other an opportunity to express what’s going on inside.
He should be able to express what’s going on inside of him and you should have an opportunity to express what’s going on inside of you. That’s how conversations work!
This, to me, is the best way to start a “healthy” argument. Not that I want you to argue, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. It’s always good when both people can say “When you did that, it made me feel this way. It made me think that you didn’t care. I’m not saying you do or don’t care, I’m just saying this is how I felt and this is what I thought. And when it happened this is why I got upset.”
That is one of the healthiest ways to convey information in any type of relationship where there’s a loving connection already and you want to keep that loving connection. It’s one of the best ways to do it. There are other ways too, but in the context of this message from Jane, that is one way to help her and husband hopefully be able to get along better.
Jane has a tough situation. She is writing to me, but her husband may not be looking for guidance. He might hear me say the above and tell me that’s not his job. He may not want to listen to what I have to say.
She got a big score in The M.E.A.N. Workbook Mean on emotional abuse and manipulation so this tells me that there’s more going on in this relationship than Jane has written to me about. I know she could probably fill a book with all the stuff that might be going on.
But yes, this kind of behavior, where she feels like she may not be being sensitive enough or may not be doing or saying the right things, I’m here to say that there’s usually always more you can do, but both of you have to do it.
Getting through a relationship challenge is almost never a one-person job. It’s almost never one person that has to work on the relationship. It’s almost always both people. Even if Jane wrote to me and said, “I am the abusive one. I always abuse him. I am the one who causes him to feel pain all the time,” I would still say he has work to do because if he is not standing up to you and enforcing his personal boundaries and telling you to back down, then he has work to do too.
Somebody like that could say, “I’m the victim here. I don’t want to be abused. She needs to change. She needs to fix herself.”
What I would tell that person is, “If you plan on staying in this relationship, you need to stand up to her and tell her that behavior is not acceptable. And if you do it again, there will be consequences.”
That sounds like a threat. That sounds evil! That sounds like something a conflict-averse person would never do (I’m switching roles on you now Jane because you said you were conflict-averse). Let’s just say that he was the conflict-averse one and you were the abusive one. I would tell him, “Look, Jane is going to work on herself. She’s going to work on her abusive behavior. But you are going to work on your boundaries. And when you see abusive behavior, when you experience it, you’re going to say ‘No, that’s not acceptable, I won’t allow that behavior in my life.’
“You may not use those words. You may use a different approach. But you need to start growing into your worth. You need to grow into your importance or significance, and your amazingness. You are worth standing up for. You are worth enforcing your boundaries for.”
Both partners in any relationship with problems have work to do. Even the person who believes they are the victim has work to do. There are some really bad relationships out there and real victims to bad behavior. The victim’s work might not be about standing up for themselves against the perpetrator of bad behavior, it might be standing up for themselves .
It might be taking a stand and walking away. That can happen too. Sometimes that needs to happen.
Sometimes it takes time for that to happen.
Sometimes if you need to make an exit, you have to plan for it.
Sometimes it takes time and energy and understanding, so you have to figure this stuff out as you go.
My point is it’s never one person’s job to improve the relationship. It is always both people’s jobs. So Jane, you wrote to me. You asked these questions. You presented your challenge here. You have things to work on, and he has things to work on.
If you told me, “I will work on all this stuff. I’m going to work on being less forgetful. I’m going to set reminders. I’m going to put sticky notes on my computer monitor. I’m going to everything I can to improve how I show up” but he was doing nothing to be less hurtful toward you, or doing nothing to improve how he communicates with you, then what you’re doing (I hate to say) doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter because he’s not invested in it too. He’s just waiting for you to change so that his life will get better, which means you have to conform to everything he wants. Again, I’m sure there’s more going on in this relationship based on your score in the workbook. You may already have challenges that you have not been able to overcome.
Unfortunately, you may not be able to overcome those challenges because he has found ways to make you feel guilty and feel responsible for his bad behavior. He’s making you feel like you’re the only one who can fix things so he doesn’t have to do anything.
The workbook gets into all of that as you know Jane, but my point is, this is a two person job. You go into the challenges together and you work on them together. If you’re not together, it doesn’t work. This has to be a relationship thing.
If you’re not supporting each other and being open-minded about what you need to do to make some changes and improve yourselves, then it’s not a relationship; You’re not relating to each other; You’re not relating with each other. It’s not equal. It’s just a dominant-submissive situation. A controller and a passive person.
Most relationships can’t survive that dynamic. If you have that dynamic and one person doesn’t want to be the submissive one but the other person wants to be the controlling one, it’s just not going to work out.
The controlling one might like it, but the person who’s being submissive or feels like they have no choice but to submit and conform isn’t going to be happy. The love is going to diminish. Of course, the controlling person isn’t really showing you a healthy love. He or she isn’t supporting your happiness and supporting your decisions and talking through things, working them out together with you.
When you accept that you will always have issues to work on and continue working on them, it keeps you humble and it keeps you from being awful to other people because you are humble. When you know you have stuff to work on, you tend to be lenient on others.
I still have issues to work on. I can’t come on the air and tell you I am perfect and this is how you do things because I don’t believe anybody is that way. I believe we always have issues to work on. When issues come up, they’re an opportunity to learn, grow, heal and evolve. They’re new opportunities to improve yourself all the time.
It’s when we choose to turn a blind eye to these opportunities when relationships start to fail. That’s when things dissolve.
So Jane, I hope this helps you or anyone that’s listening. I didn’t even address him calling you names. That’s a lot to deal with. Eventually, you may need to put your foot down and say, “That’s enough. I don’t deserve to be called those names. Don’t ever do that again or I’m out of here.”
You may have to stand up like that. Don’t do it if you know he’s violent or dangerous. Always pick your battles. But if you’ve had enough, you may have to say that. I have a feeling because he has abandonment issues that you standing up to him will scare the hell out of him. He might have a change of heart and say, “Wait, wait, I’m sorry. Don’t leave. Okay, I’ll be better. I’ll be nicer.”
I’m not saying you should do any of this. I’m just saying that someday you might feel the need to stop his behavior because you will get to a point where you can’t take it anymore.
To end the show, I’m going to read one more email that is relevant to what I talked about today. It’s short, here it is:
“Your podcast has helped me so much to understand what I’m going through. Right now I am 14 years into an on-off relationship with my husband. It never occurred to me that people actually are like this, but hearing you explain it makes it crystal clear to me. I am seeing so much of “the game”. Thank you. What you’re doing is helping people.”
Thank you so much for sharing this and I am so sorry that you have to learn about “the game” from me. Meaning, I talk about the game, which are the tactics that manipulative and controlling people use on their partners to get submission and conformity. Once you know the behaviors of the game, once you see them, you can’t unsee them first of all. And when you know about them, you’ll stop reacting the way you used to react because the way you used to react, just like I was talking about in the first and second segment of this episode, actually exacerbates the situation. It makes it worse because you’re reacting the same way you always do to their behavior. You’re almost feeding their ability to continue to do that same behavior over and over again.
Feeding it could come in the form of their expectation of you reacting in a way they expect you to react. That’s why they do their behavior in the first place! That’s why they don’t stop doing their behavior. Your reaction feeds their ability to do it again. They want that typical reaction from you which keeps them on course for doing the bad behavior again and again.
That’s the last comment I want to make on everything that we talked about today. Sometimes our reaction to someone’s bad behavior facilitates their behavior. It amplifies it. It feeds it. It is the fuel to the fire for their behavior, which is why they keep doing it.
So think about how you respond to things the next time you respond to someone’s bad behavior and ask yourself, “How else could I respond to this? How else should I respond to this?”
Or maybe a more pointed question like, “Is my response feeding into this game that’s being played right now?”
They may not be playing a real “game”. It may not be a game to them, it just may be a manipulation or tactic or bad behavior that they don’t even know they’re doing. It could just be an argument that you get into and neither of you realize what’s happening but you feed into the argument with your typical reactions. Those same responses you’ve been doing for years.
It might be time to change those responses.