Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ We Just Can’t Get Along!
Please help me save my relationship. I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year and half. I care for him very deeply, I love him, but we just can’t seem to get along. I feel like everything I say gets taken out of context or blown way out of proportion and we almost always end the night angry at each other. He yells a lot, and it’s like once he starts yelling it’s game over, there’s no getting through to him until we go to sleep or part for the night and he can “reset.” It’s not really what he says so much as how he says it, when he yells it’s VERY loud, very angry, and very scary for me. What am I doing wrong? Can this be fixed?
I regret that you find yourself in circumstances both frustrating and hurtful. Your letter, however, reveals volumes to me about the probable dynamics of your relationship, particularly your role in it. I hope I can offer some objective clarity and point you towards a proactive path of action out of your current predicament.
First of all, I wonder if you realize that you are in an abusive relationship. In your letter you say that “it’s not what he says, but how he says it.” I disagree. He’s using harsh words to punish you, to cause you discomfort, to silence you and perhaps to avoid unpleasant truths you may be bringing to light for him. That is abuse, of the verbal and emotional variety. And, if I am correct in my assumption, then the other aspect of an abusive relationship will be in play, which is your role as the receiver of the abuse.
This most often manifests as the abused blaming themselves for whatever suffering they endure at the hands of their abuser (towards the end of your letter you say, “What am I doing wrong?” Who’s to say you’re the one doing something wrong?) or making excuses for the abusive behavior. This is sadly normal in these situations as well. When an abusive dynamic takes hold of a relationship, both the abuser and abused have perennial roles they fall into. The abuser, along with his or her obvious job of inflicting pain and sorrow, is also the one who will beg forgiveness after the fact, promise to change, and perhaps even grant the abused with “gifts” of good behavior, making it easier for the abused individual to agree to “give it just one last shot.” Unfortunately, these good periods are invariably punctuated by another episode of abuse (and it is not uncommon for the abuse to eventually escalate, crossing the line from verbal and emotional into full-blown physical abuse). After which the abuser will return, tail between their legs, begging forgiveness, and the cycle continues…
You asked if your relationship could be saved. I believe the answer to that is a solid “Maybe.” As I see it, you have two options: One, you and your boyfriend can try to work through the issues causing the abuse to try and create a more stable, healthy relationship. This can be a very challenging undertaking, and if both parties aren’t one hundred percent committed to the process of therapy it is scientifically impossible for it to work. I should also mention that the guidance and expertise of some kind of professional counselor or therapist is essentially required to do this.
Or two, your other solution is to leave the relationship. And I’m sorry to say this may likely be the more viable solution for you. If, as you say, your boyfriend is quick to shut down and not be receptive to hearing anything but his own shouting when you two get into disagreements then it may be quite an uphill battle for him to find the place of humility and openness within himself required for an effective journey through therapy.
I realize neither of these is an easy way out. There is none. I suppose a third “phantom option” I’m not mentioning because I don’t think it’d be acceptable to you (and I know it certainly wouldn’t be acceptable to me) is to simply remain in things as they are, and hope they get better. But the likelihood of this issue, as deep and permeating to every aspect of your relationship, both with your boyfriend and really yourself as it is, resolving on its own is very unlikely. It’s nothing I would count on, or even waste time thinking about.
The fact is, if you wish to get out of this situation, which is bad enough that you wrote in to me asking for help, you either need to confront your boyfriend about his abusive behavior and explain to him that if he wants to stay with you then you both need to be willing to work to remedy that which is out of balance, or you have to end the relationship. Even if you decide to leave, you must still confront your own fears and emotions surrounding the abuse to be able to disengage and break free of the dysfunctional emotional space you now reside in. Either way, be ready for your boyfriend to beg, bargain or even rage at your decision, this is what abusers do when the equilibrium is upset, unhealthy as it is. Remember that even if he is truly sincere in his promises to change and not repeat the behavior, unless it is backed up with concrete action, it’s only lip service. The cycle will continue until it is stopped. You may need to harden your heart just a bit, if only to grant it (and the rest of you) safe passage to the place of peace and joy you deserve to reside in.
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Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.
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