A look at common and less well-known abusive behaviors in personal relationships.
Every Jew is created in the image of G-d. With that privilege comes the expectation and right of every man and woman to be treated with respect, care, sensitivity, compassion, and love in potentially the closest and most significant relationship in their life: marriage.
Abuse in relationships is a sensitive topic to approach, but also one of utmost importance to address for a relationship’s health, safety, and longevity.
It should be clear from the outset that two grown adults in a relationship can disagree, they can even respectfully argue. There is no room in a relationship, however, be it dating or marriage, for anyone, male or female, to be controlling, manipulative, or abusive. Not verbally, not emotionally, and not physically.
Let’s discuss some of the red flags they may present themselves when dating. Abuse is not just physical. Anyone who is experiencing any level of physical hitting, pushing, shoving, or slapping, needs to seek immediate professional assistance for effective guidance; that goes without saying. Here are some other common red flags:
Makes nasty comments about your clothing, friends, or family.
Extreme mood swings and/or bad temper.
Frequent comparisons of you to others in an uncomfortable way.
You fear breaking up because you’re afraid for your safety.
You tell yourself you will just try harder to make your partner happy (“If only I could act/dress how he/she likes, then we will be back in a good place.”).
Repeatedly gives you the silent treatment and/or puts you down.
You feel increasingly depressed to be with this person, but feel trapped because they will fall apart if you leave.
The abuse I’d like to focus on in this week’s column is more subtle forms of verbal, financial, or emotional manipulation. Below are a few less commonly known types of abusive behavior of which you should be aware.
Special care is necessary here, as a blamer can really make you feel great because “everyone else is crazy – except for you.” (“You are so smart, pretty, sensitive, and caring, not like the miserable girl who I dated before you.”) Someone who perpetually blames negative feelings and bad luck on someone else will inevitably begin blaming you for whatever is wrong in his or her live.
Resentful people feel like they are not getting the help, consideration, praise, rewards, or affection they believe is due to them. We are all resentful from time to time, but we get over it and move on. The resentful person has trouble moving on. He or she gets caught up on their “rights” and don’t see the perspective of another person.
Entitled people believe they deserve special treatment and are driven by high standards of what they should get from the world around them. (“With the kind of day I had at work, you expect me to take out the garbage too?”)
Often this stems from low self-esteem, and the only way for this person to make him- or herself feel good is to put others down. They will present as confident when putting others down, but as soon as people don’t obey their wishes or don’t accept the put-downs, that confidence evaporates.
Maybe he or she is extremely particular about how his food is prepared or how she likes her coffee and makes a big stink if things aren’t “just so.” After a while, pettiness can make the people around this person feel diminished, as if nothing they have ever done in life really matters.
There is no room in a committed relationship for sarcasm. It may seem fun to throw punches when you are dating, but it is no fun when you are married. Sarcastic people are always trying to sound smart or witty. Their tone always has a subtle put down in it. In dating it will might be directed towards others; in marriage it will center on you.
Many people will intentionally or unintentionally exaggerate their good qualities in dating to impress. Deceit shows a low level of self-respect that will never help you down the road in a long-term relationship where trust is critical.
An example of this is when your significant other gets uncomfortable when you have socially and halachically appropriate contact with another man or woman. Why would you want to spend so much time with friends and not your wife or husband? Domestic violence often involves some motive of jealously.
Anyone who wants to rush into a relationship without respecting the appropriate personal boundaries is in violation someone else’s personal space, be it physically or emotionally. This is a form of abuse when taken to the extreme. Make sure the person you are with respects your comfort level in the relationship’s progression.
Someone who is constantly pushing you into ideas, experiences or decisions with which you are not comfortable and/or invalidates your hesitancies.
This list can be overwhelming! If you have doubts about any of the above, it would probably be helpful for you to discuss the specifics with a trusted mentor, mental health professional, or dating coach.
Marriage is not a hospital, and it is critical to work through our own ghosts before entering the most important relationship we will ever have. Marriage will only solve one thing: being single. It will not cure unhealthy attitudes we may have about ourselves and/or marriage. One of my favorite quotes is “Most people take the garbage of their past, fling it into the future, and wonder how it rolled into their present.” We need to take ownership and deal with our emotional or psychological baggage before it tumbles over and makes a mess of things.
By Rachel Burnham