Putting It All Together

16, May 2011 at 4:09 AM (sad or sorry for myself) (, , , , , , , , )

[21. May update: I have been thinking about this post, and I feel stupid for it. I won’t remove it, however, because I think it serves to represent just how confused, insecure and unable to know what reality even is anymore when someone exercises gaslighting, withholding and underloading on their partner– and how much I had to rely on deduction, inference, or “filling in the blanks” to try to figure out what was ever going on. I could never know what was true and what wasn’t, I still can’t. I am back to thinking that probably nothing happened between him and his high-school friend, and that I’m just being ridiculous for thinking maybe something did. But that’s just it: this is how things were every day, me going back and forth never being able to know anything, and feeling guilty, stupid or ridiculous whenever I had doubts. What certainly was going on throughout our relationship is that by lying, withholding, manipulating what I could and couldn’t know about him, my partner took control of whether or not there could be any trust or stability in the relationship. He didn’t have to actually cheat on me to make me feel insecure or jealous or even distrustful of my own instincts; by choosing to be always evasive and secretive, he only had to leave open and let me wrestle with the possibility of whether or not he did, would have, or wanted to. Obviously trust and intimacy cannot be created in such a relationship; anyone who, like my ex, would choose to cultivate insecurities, jealousies, distrust and self-doubt in their partner instead of trust, confidence, and stability, is taking abusive control of his partner’s feelings, emotions and ability to make decisions that are right for them.]

From what I have been learning, abusers seem to respond to the final break-up in one of two ways. Some are deeply outraged at their loss of control over their partner and intensify the abuse in an effort to maintain control or get it back. The other type leaves almost in relief: it was getting to be too much work and hassle to control their partner, manipulate their allies, and keep their guilt from overtaking their conscience. Neither outrage nor relief would be the reaction of someone who genuinely loves their partner. Except for one breathless and panicky voice mail message in which he insists I let him come over to talk to me left shortly after he read my break-up letter (he claims there was no connection, that he was just beside himself in a state of incoherence for no reason at all), my former partner falls and remains squarely in the latter category.

One of the things he did from the very beginning and throughout our relationship was lie to me about just about everything. Yet he would argue for hours whenever I confronted him that he was being completely honest even though he understood at the time I asked him something that he was strategically misleading me (“protecting” me from the truth so I “wouldn’t feel bad”, he said).  He can make the claim that he was honest due to extremely very careful and idiosyncratic interpretation known only to him of questions that I asked. Instead of answering the spirit of a question, he would pick out a single word, interpret it in his own private way, and answer accordingly. I could, of course, never know what, exactly, he was answering, and it took a very, very long time to figure out this is what was going on (this is called “Gaslighting”; see also: What is Withholding?).

[Note: the text below has been revised since this was originally posted; I discovered by review of our emails that I did not in fact question my partner on if he was sleeping with someone else, but rather I wondered if he was sleeping somewhere else– a significant difference, which does not make any assumption about whether he was staying with someone male or female, friends, other family or a new partner.  My inquiry only questions his location and not his activities. As shall be seen below, he responded aggressively about where he was staying by introducing himself the possibility he was sleeping with someone. Though he denies it, he does so in the same breath as he suggests it. Not only is this an example of gaslighting, especially because even I myself was led by his response to believe or feel as though I asked something I didn’t, but it looks very much like “confessing by denying”– like the classic “stupid criminals” story of the guy who was standing by a trash can when police officers walked by: when asked what he was doing there, the guy said, “I didn’t throw any drugs in the trash, if that’s what you were thinking!” This unsolicited denial aroused the officers’ suspicions; they then looked in the trash and sure enough, there were drugs and the guy was arrested. Having noticed this oddity today, I take back that it seems far-fetched that he was sleeping with someone within a week of seeing me for the last time, and now feel it appears likely he was– and what this would mean to me is that not only might he have lied to me about the incident itself, but also he lied the last time I saw him about how long he intends to wait (“at least a year”) before considering himself recovered enough from the pain of our relationship not working out before he “could even think about being intimate with another woman.” The bottom line, if it is the case that he lied about these things, for me is this: he suffers absolutely no heartbreak about never being with me again; further, I was not the “love of his life”, but rather an easily replaceable object. 😥 All that said, let us proceed with the story:]

Since our breakup, my partner and I have remained distantly in contact over email, mostly him dumping his endless problems with his car and his job on me, and arguing about financial matters. One day he seemed to me to suggest that he wasn’t staying where he said he was staying, and I wondered if he was hinting that he was already sleeping with someone else or at someone else’s house. I wrote him back and told him I really did not need to hear about such things, and stated I felt it was insensitive to imply to me that he had so soon moved on. He replied to everything else in my message except this issue. In fact, he seemed to make it a point to highlight his evasion by beginning his message with, “I guess I’d better clear some things up”– addressing every single thing in my previous message except whether or not I had any cause to be concerned that he was implying he had already moved on only a week after we shared our last kiss. What one doesn’t say is sometimes more revealing than what one does say, so I pointed out that I noticed his omission. He wrote back another ambiguous note that still did not address my concern. Finally, after many messages between us, in a note which makes several totally unfounded accusations distorting my original concern, he said, “If you like just assuming I’m sleeping with someone, go ahead. But I’m not.” Pretty insensitive, isn’t it, to assert I like to think of him sleeping with someone else, or that I would like to believe he had so little feeling for me that he’d have moved on within just a couple weeks.

Tonight I was thinking about just that: how quickly and totally he appeared to be over everything. At no time since we broke up has he ever expressed being sorry, or that he misses me, or that this is hard or in any way an emotional time. He has sent me a list of dumb things to make sure I remember to give back to him and includes a gift I gave him as if it were no more sentimental than anything else on the list, like bottles of vitamins, or unused notebooks. To everything I have said– angry, sad, sentimental, in need of closure, or even just asking him to read a book which might help him understand what went wrong– he has responded with THE WALL OF SILENCE, as if all he saw in those parts of my messages was blank space. I hear from a trusted friend that on facebook he is just exactly the same as he was two years ago, as if he never knew me, and our relationship never happened: his mood is neither up nor down, he’s just the same ol’ guy he always was. Sure, people don’t have to “advertise” their bad relationships online, but I guess what I think I’m seeing here is a guy who hasn’t had a single regret or thought in his head wishing we weren’t broken up or that there was anything he should have done differently to prevent that. I think what I’m seeing here is a guy whose last-relationship demons are already exorcised, who is already over it, and for whom there is no looking back. You know what that usually means: he slept with someone.

But when I wondered if he was sleeping somewhere other than at his parents’ or a friend he intended to move in with, after a great deal of dodging he finally said, “If you like just assuming I’m sleeping with someone, go ahead. But I’m not.” At the time I thought, silly me, yeah, it would seem pretty far-fetched that he found someone to hook up with that fast, but tonight it hit me: the -ING! SleepING with someone. Ah, I get it. In order to understand his answer, passive-aggressively worded no less, I have to interpret the question in the way that he would: sleepING with someone suggests something currently happening and/or ongoing (in fact, this verb tense is called “present continuous”). If he had already slept with someone once or twice and he does not expect it to happen again– he would say, no, I am not sleepING with someone. This is very different than what would be said by a compassionate partner who didn’t sleep with someone; a compassionate partner would not want someone he cares about to worry or feel bad, especially about something that didn’t happen. A person who loves you and cares about being honest with you would answer the spirit of the question directly: “I haven’t slept with anyone.” A person who cared about you might even expand on that to comfort you with something to the effect of, “I am not interested in getting involved with anyone so soon, I have a lot to deal with, etc” or “I told you I loved you and never wanted to be with anyone else, that doesn’t change in a matter of weeks.” But I know the guy I was with, and I know his particular method of lying to me in such a way as to be able to later claim and feel like he’s technically telling the truth: by picking out a single word, interpreting it in his own private way, and answering only that. So it could very well be possible that he had sex with someone else anywhere between the day he left and the day before I wondered if he was sleeping at someone else’s; it could also be possible that he got a blow-job a few times but didn’t have intercourse; it could even be possible that he had sex a few times, got a blow-job a few times, did it upside down standing on his head in the middle of Main Street with five different women in broad daylight, but as long as he didn’t SLEEP with someone (as in catch a few z’s), this guy would say, “If you like just assuming I’m sleeping with someone, go ahead. But I’m not”, and feel 100% confident that he was answering what I wanted to know with the absolute, God’s Honest Truth.

This leads to wondering if it would even be possible for him to find a new partner so fast. But then I remembered when he left another time last year, he told me he had gotten together socially with his high-school friend Becky, a girl he reported having a crush on and wanting to sleep with for years. She was going through some difficulties with her boyfriend at the time, and was considering an estrangement or break-up also. After their meeting, I saw a message she wrote him about “renewing vows” with him. I asked him what that meant, he said he had no idea. That to me sounds pretty hard to believe, such a strong sentiment from one of his oldest friends, someone he had long and lingering feelings for, something that references some kind of special or meaningful pact or agreement he made with her at some time in their past. But, he claimed, he had no idea what she was talking about. She also invited him on a road trip somewhere, somewhere which would involve staying overnight together. I asked him why she would think it’s appropriate to invite him to stay with her somewhere overnight when he supposedly has a girlfriend (whom she never met, besides). Again, he said he had no idea what her intentions may have been or why she would invite him to go somewhere and stay overnight with her. He said because he hasn’t a clue what any of it was about, he was just going to ignore her messages, so I shouldn’t be worried. Though I found it kind of odd that he would just ignore his oldest friend like that rather than give her an answer to her invitation or try to find out what she meant by “renewing their vows” (if he really didn’t know what this meant, which I seriously doubt), I had so many other things to worry about with him I took his advice and forgot about it.

Well now, I must admit, this stuff worries me. Was he leaving me and going to her and talking to her about things and in some certain way that gave her the impression that he was available? Perhaps this shouldn’t matter now, but when I look at how fast this guy (who always and even at the end claimed he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me) seems to be without a regret or care in the world that he shall never lay eyes on me or hear my voice again, I wish, I really, really wish, I knew what was really going on then. I just want to understand what was happening in my relationship. And if he was mincing words when he answered my supposition that he was sleeping somewhere other than where he said he was at the time, I wish, I really, really wish I knew that too. Not because I have any “claim” to him anymore, and not so I can torture myself about it, but so I can finally put to rest the question of whether this guy, who never showed love for me a day in his life but could (and often did!) argue to the contrary for 6, 8, 10 uninterrupted hours if I said I didn’t feel cared about, could this guy have possibly loved me, did he ever even like me, or was everything a lie? Because I’d have to say, if he was flirting with his friend while we were together, if he slept (in any of that word’s connotations) with her or someone else since we broke up, that would explain a great deal: about the speed and ease with which he appears to have gotten over me, about why he will never acknowledge or deal with what he did, about why he isn’t sorry, about why isn’t sad, about why he isn’t even fucking curious about how I’m doing personally (what kind of guy wants to spend the rest of his life with a girl he doesn’t even care to ask, “How have you been?” when he writes her two months after not seeing her anymore?), about why he can go around smiling and joking with people, same ol’ guy he always was, while two months after he moved out I’m still wrecked with grief, loss, and the physical and emotional effects of his abuse on me and my son.

Maybe it is is a far-fetched explanation to suppose the reason he’s over everything as quickly and completely as he appears is because he has already consummated a long-developing affair with his high-school crush with whom he had taken some kind of secret personal vows. The simpler explanation is: he is an abuser, and abusers don’t give a goddamn about anything that isn’t providing direct benefit to themselves. Most especially do they not give a damn about their partners’ need and right to hear the truth about what he did, why he did it, and what, if anything, he is willing to do about it to help her recover from the damage he caused.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Traumatic Bonding

1, May 2011 at 11:21 AM (conflicted, solution-oriented) (, , , , )

From Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft (italics in original, underline mine):

One of the great tragedies of all forms of abuse is that the abused person can become emotionally dependent on the perpetrator through a process called traumatic bonding. The assaults that an abuser makes on the woman’s self-opinion, his undermining of her progress in her life, the wedges he drives between her and other people, the psychological effects left on her when he turns scary– all can combine to cause her to need him more and more. This is a bitter psychological irony. Child abuse works in the same way, in fact, children can become more strongly attached to abusive parents than to nonabusive ones. Survivors of hostage-taking situations or of torture can exhibit similar effects, attempting to protect their tormentors from legal consequences, insisting that the hostage takers actually had their best interests at heart or even describing them as kind and caring individuals– a phenomenon known as Stockholm syndrome. […]

Almost no abuser is mean or frightening all the time. At least occasionally he is loving, gentle, and humorous and perhaps even capable of compassion and empathy. This intermittent, and usually unpredictable, kindness is critical to forming traumatic attachments. When a person has suffered harsh, painful treatment over an extended period of time, he or she naturally feels a flood of love and gratitude toward anyone who brings relief, like the surge of affection one might feel for the hand that offers a glass of water on a scorching day. But in situations of abuse, the rescuer and the tormentor are the very same person. When a man stops [abusing his partner], the typical response is to feel grateful to him. […]

Your abusive partner’s cycles of moving in and out of periods of cruelty can cause you to feel very close to him during those times when he is finally kind and loving. You can end up feeling that the nightmare of his abusiveness is an experience the two of you have shared and are escaping from together, a dangerous illusion that trauma can cause. I commonly hear an abused woman say about her partner, “He really knows me,” or “No one understands me the way he does.” This may be true, but the reason he seems to understand you well is that he has studied ways to manipulate your emotions and control your reactions. At times he may seem to grasp how badly he has hurt you, which can make you feel close to him, but it’s another illusion; if he could really be empathetic about the pain he has caused, he would stop abusing you for good.

[…]

The trauma of chronic abuse can also make a woman develop fears of being alone at night, anxiety about her competence to manage her life on her own, and feelings of isolation from other people, especially if the abuser has driven her apart from her friends and family. All of these effects of abuse can make it much more difficult to separate from an abusive partner than a nonabusive one. The pull to reunify can therefore be great. Researchers have found that most abused women leave the abuser multiple times before finally being able to stay away for good. This prolonged process is largely due to the abuser’s ongoing coercion and manipulation but also is caused by the trauma bonds he has engendered in his partner.

One exercise that can help you address this trap involves making a list of all the ways, including emotional ones, in which you feel dependent on your partner, then making another list of the big or small steps you might take to begin to become more independent. These lists can guide you in focusing your energy in the directions you need to go.

Permalink 2 Comments

When You or Someone You Know “Disappears”

28, April 2011 at 8:55 PM (solution-oriented) (, , , , , )

I write this from the experience of seeing a friend “disappear” and finding out a few years later that she was in an abusive relationship with a controlling partner, and also from friends telling me now that I have gotten out from under an abusive and controlling partner that they did notice I disappeared when I met him, but they– just like I with my friend– didn’t know what it meant:

+ If you have a friend who starts a new relationship and you notice they seem to have “disappeared”, especially for a very long time, please do not assume they are simply caught up in enjoying their new partner; they may be in an abusive situation. It is typical, especially in the beginning of a new relationship, that someone and their new partner would indulge in being alone together; however, in a healthy relationship, couples eventually resume normal social habits and contacts with friends, often integrating their social circles (introducing their partner to friends and family, taking their new partner to their favourite places, etc). This should go both ways, with both people in the relationship inviting each other into their social lives. If you become concerned that someone you know is not maintaining normal social activities, especially after a very long time, beware: it is very likely the case that your disappeared friend is in a relationship with an abusively controlling partner. Reach out to them. If they do not respond, try again, keep trying. Be especially concerned if your friend says they will call you but doesn’t, accepts invitations to meet you but fails to show up, or seems to explain their withdrawal from their normal activities and friendships by blaming themselves (eg, “I guess I’ve just become flakey”, “I wanted to go but at the last minute I wasn’t in the mood”, etc) or making excuses for their partner (eg, “He just doesn’t like to be around people”, “He had a bad day at work, and I didn’t want to just leave him at home by himself” etc. A partner who doesn’t like to be around people or who had a bad day at work should not be preventing someone from going out themselves or otherwise maintaining normal social relationships). Any sudden change of character in a friend is cause for concern; for instance, if your friend has always been reliable but suddenly starts flaking out, there may be something wrong in their life. Call them up, ask them how things are going, ask if everything’s ok. Listen closely to them, as it may not be safe to tell you what is really going on, or they may be worried what you will think of them or their partner if they tell you the (whole) truth. Reassure them that they will not lose your respect if something is wrong. If they are with a person who is especially emotionally abusive, they may be themselves very confused about whether what is going on is “normal” or their own fault. Trust your gut instincts and what you know about your friend. If something seems wrong or out of the ordinary, reach out and help.

+ If you are in a new relationship and your partner never leaves your side, calls constantly to see what you’re up to, abandons all of his own usual social habits and contacts, never asks you meet his friends and family, does not invite you to go out with him or to his favourite places, refuses to meet your friends/family, refuses to go out by himself, or sulks, pouts, complains (before, during, or afterwards) while amongst your friends or if you go out by yourself, or otherwise exhibits anti-social or other behaviours which make it difficult or uncomfortable to maintain your normal social activities and contacts: do not interpret his constant presence and attention as “he just really likes you”– even if he tells you this– you may be with an abusively controlling partner. In a healthy relationship, your new partner would want to become part of your life which includes friends, family, and activities/interests outside the confines of your relationship. A partner who is always in your presence or who “doesn’t want to share you with anyone else” is not loving you more than someone who maintains his normal social habits and activities, he is supervising you. Beware that abusive and controlling partners will always blame-shift and claim to be the victims of their relationships. They say things like, “We abuse each other”, “We just have a bad relationship dynamic”, or “She always makes me feel like ____, so I can never ____.” An abuser’s first agenda item is to do everything possible to isolate their victim, so that they can control your activities, and manipulate others’ impressions of you. They do not invite you to meet their friends or family, so that they can never form their own impression of you. This comes in handy when your partner attempts to discredit or blame you for all or most of the problems in the relationship– his friends and family are entirely dependent on his perspective. He gets rewarded with sympathy and support, and you get punished with isolation and the inability to get support or hold him accountable for his abusiveness. He may also interfere with your own relationships that you had prior to meeting him, such as calling your friends out of “concern” for you or to “get perspective”. Some partners can and do look to your friends and family for perspective and to get to know you better; but you know an abuser because he will speak about you negatively and actively campaign for your friends’ sympathy and support in an attempt to drive a wedge between you and anyone who may be a support to you when needed. I cannot stress this enough, if this is what is happening in your relationship, do not be afraid to reach out to your friends or family. Remember, your friends love you and will help you. Anyone who does not believe you and help you, or who judges you for being in your situation, or who is skeptical of you because of what your partner has told them, these people were not your friends to begin with– do not waste your time feeling bad about it, keep looking and you WILL find support.

+ No matter what your current relationship status, whether you are single, in a new relationship, or even if you have been in a healthy and enjoyable relationship for some time, tell your friends and family now: “If I ever disappear, there is something very wrong. Please make contact with me, don’t give up.” Discuss this in advance with your most trusted friend(s), you can even have a code word that only you and they know, so if you are unsafe or so confused that all you can tell them is this word, they will know you need their help and support.

Trust and take care of your loved ones, trust and take care of yourself, don’t give up.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Why Couples Counseling in Abusive Relationships Doesn’t Work

15, April 2011 at 11:06 PM (conflicted, scapegoated, trapped) (, , , , , , )

I had no idea it was so common for abusive partners to insist on couples counseling, but apparently it is downright cliché. I always felt couples counseling was not the right solution, but could never make to my partner an effective enough argument why I felt that way (please note I was never just “allowed” to have my own feelings or opinions but through untold hours of argumentation the onus was always on me to convince him why I felt some certain way). I have just read today about why an abusive partner would think couples counseling is not only the right solution but the ONLY solution to the problems in the relationship: because it helps him believe the problem is not his abuse, but “our relationship”; because it enables him to look only at his feelings and my behaviour instead of looking at my feelings and his behaviour; because he thinks the counseling will fix what he sees as the true source of every problem in the relationship: the person being affected by and not keeping quiet about his abuse; or: anything and everything besides himself. In the next two posts after this one, I would like to provide a link and excerpt from a website I found which states all of this more concisely and effectively than I can, then an excerpt dealing specifically with abusers in couples and/or individual therapy from the book Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. For now, this was my experience with an abusive partner and couples counseling:

At some point in our relationship, very near after I started calling my ex’s behaviour out for what it was– abusive– he began to insist that we go to couples counseling. He stated his belief that “we” had a bad “relationship dynamic” and cited “communication” problems and my inability to “get over” things on his schedule. I balked because the only issue for me was his abusive behaviour, and I did not think sitting around and talking about our feelings was going to accomplish anything. I made many other suggestions to deal with what I saw as the problem, such as participating in groups or programs at the local men’s center which specifically handle domestic abuse, or his participation in non-violent communications workshops with Friends for a Non-Violent World. I pointed him in the direction of websites, podcasts, and books. My partner rejected all of my suggestions out of hand and never pursued any of them. Clearly, it was his way or the highway.

His abuse and blame-shifting escalated, and I became increasingly confused and depressed. The more I resisted couples counseling as the only solution, the more personal my partner’s attacks became. One day he came home and approached me with something that he said had been on his mind for some time, and he was finally going to tell me because he cares, because he thought it was for my own good: I am “too sensitive”, he said, and he gave me many reasons for how he thinks I got this way, none of which had anything to do with his behaviour toward me, none of which had anything to do with the abusive relationship or environment I was in; all explanations blamed other people in my past and my supposed inability to separate my past experiences from my present one. Repeating that he was only saying this because he cares, he stated that he believes my character is “deeply flawed”, and thus I am and have been “unable to see” the things about myself which were causing all of our problems, and causing me to “interpret” his actions as abusive (see also: What is Gaslighting?).

Thankfully I was still me enough to recognise this as blame-shifting and even more abusive, and I called him out on it. The subject of couples counseling fell off the table for a short time. Our relationship, of course, did not improve. But the only thing my ex would allow as a “solution” was couples counseling. Because none of my original concerns regarding whether couples counseling could be effective in dealing with his abusive behaviour were ever addressed, I still had the same concerns. Finally, at the end of our relationship, after he had already moved out, he made it an ultimatum: either I agree to couples counseling or our relationship will be terminated. He made it very clear that what he wanted out of it was to “discover” if there was any way for him to feel we could work things out (please note: the couples counseling is for his benefit alone); he stated quite plainly several times “no one can have or will have any influence” on his decision regarding whether we could work things out– not me, not the couples counselor, not his individual therapist, and not his mother– that this is a decision he needs to make for himself. This was of course bizarrely confusing to me; I did not know why I was being asked to go, then, and moreover I wondered what kind of “relationship” this was supposed to be where I do not have any influence whatsoever on my (supposed)-partner’s opinions of or life with me. In any case, I was afraid, and the relationship was now being held hostage by him, so I capitulated.

The first session ended with the counselor asking us to make an “agreement” that we (meaning he, since I do not threaten him this way) will excuse ourselves/himself from any situation in which we/he begins to feel violent, and we (meaning me, since he was the only one claiming this occurs) will agree not to “push each others’ buttons.” She made suggestions for us to cope with an escalating situation which, unbeknownst to the counselor, my partner used frequently as punishment and for which I had been punished by my partner for exercising (example: she suggested I go for a walk if things got to be too much; the one time I did this in the past, I was barely across the street before I saw my ex speed past in his car. I did not know where he was going, I did not know when or even if ever he would return. So even though he often left when things got to be too much for him, the one time I did the same, my partner abandoned me/our relationship. Although it occurred so many times I get them mixed up, I believe he was gone for two weeks in that instance.) This scared the shit out of me, honestly, because the suggestions and agreements sounded enabling. Was he not in effect being given permission to be abusive if given a “good reason”? I was reminded of my partner telling me only AFTER I agreed to go to counseling that he actually thought I would be disruptive or un-cooperative in counseling because of a single incident a year and a half prior in past family therapy with my (verbally and physically abusive) son, when my son’s therapist said I was “making him angry” and “pushing his buttons” by crying or saying how I feel or telling of my experiences. Let me underline: the family therapist’s enabling, blame-shifting remark was now being used by my partner as “advance proof” to justify any anger/violence he displays in the future, to shift blame for his anger/violence onto me, and to hold me responsible for whether or not couples counseling can be effective. Whoa. Double-triple-bind! (And how’s that for “collecting grievances for later justification”, another thing abusers do: at the time the family therapist said I was responsible for my son’s anger and violence, my partner gave me a hug, because it made me cry more to be told my son’s anger and violence was my own fault. But yet he saved this one remark and his never-before-expressed agreement with it for well over a year before he took it out as evidence that I’m potentially too “disruptive” for couples counseling, defined no less by him as our relationship’s only chance to survive.) So, if he gets angry or violent, it’s all my fault: I pushed his buttons! If counseling is ineffective, it’s all my fault: I’m disruptive and non-cooperative! If the relationship ends, it’s all my fault: I sabotaged the effectiveness of counseling! This was too much entrapment for me to navigate.

Before our next session, I was freaking out. I was incredibly afraid that counseling– since it would take much too much time for the counselor to start to get a picture of the abusive environment I was in– was going to have an adverse effect, escalate and justify his abusive behaviour, and further validate his belief that this is all just a “bad dynamic”. I tried to go in to see another counselor alone ahead of the next couples appointment to see if I could get advice on how to communicate to the couples counselor that there was abuse present in the relationship, that I feared retaliation, and that I needed her to understand and be careful not to “give him permission” to abuse me. Because I did not have the money or personal strength to get to the counseling center by myself, I asked my partner the night before for a ride (I did not tell him why I wanted to go). He was very supportive and agreed to help. The next day he called me in what I wondered was an aggressive and hostile mood. I did not feel safe going anywhere with him, but I really wanted to talk to another counselor before our next couples appointment, and this was my last chance to do so before then. He argued with me over the phone while I tried to figure a way out of yet another double-bind, until finally he yelled at the top of his voice that he can’t help me. Alarmed, I hung up on him before he could say anything else. I was on the phone with him just exactly the right amount of time so that even if I tried to get myself to the counseling center on the bus, I would arrive too late and they would be closed. My partner had effectively prevented me from getting help. My reliance on his word and expressed wish that he would tone down his hostility so that I could feel safe getting in a car with him prevented me from helping myself.

I called three hotlines and explained I needed advice on how to communicate to the couples counselor my concerns. I told them only about how I wanted to but couldn’t get to see another counselor before our next couples session, and gave as an example of my experience in the relationship only one incident of physical aggression. Without even knowing how many such incidents there were, and without knowing anything at all about the emotional and sexual abuse, all three stated plainly, “He is an abuser. You need to get out of that relationship NOW, and never look back.” I kept their bluntness in mind during the next session. Abuser’s name removed. By their fruits ye shall know them. Matthew 7:16

In the second session, the counselor called my partner’s physical aggression threatening; when he tried to make the “she pushes my buttons” and “I can’t control myself” excuses, she did not allow it. She asked him how he could communicate his anger without blaming me, and he had the right answer immediately. I asked him afterwards why he knew without hesitation the right way to express himself without threats or blame while in the counselor’s office, but all the times I gave him examples of how to express himself without threats or blame he said he didn’t understand or that if he “was the kind of person who said things like that we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with”. His answer to why he knew how to act non-abusively in the counselor’s office but acts abusively at home, and I quote: “Because it’s you.” There we have it again in one tidy little sentence: I “push his buttons”, he is not responsible for his behaviour, it’s my own damn fault, and I deserve it.

Before that second session, immediately after speaking with the hotline workers who advised me to get out of the relationship, I had written my partner a letter in which I stated that the only circumstance in which I could continue having a relationship with this man was if he admitted to his abuse, without blame, without excuses. He needed to admit it to me personally, he needed to admit it to an abuse counselor, and he needed to admit it to his parents and friends he lied to about it. I also outlined many ways in which I would support him outside of the relationship becoming a non-violent person. It just so happened that without knowing what I wrote in my letter, and unsolicited by me, my partner did admit to me personally over the phone that he was abusive toward me and that I did not “ask for” or deserve it. I had hope. I mentioned in the second session that I had written this letter, but that I had not given it to my partner or read it to him because I was afraid of his reaction. The counselor thought I had done something really good, and assigned him to also write what he wanted from our relationship; she said we could exchange our ideas in the third session, and she would be a “translator” for us, since it “sounds like we’re both walking on eggshells”. Suddenly my partner changed what he wanted from counseling: he just wanted “closure.” Interesting. And in the car after that appointment, he took back his no blame-no excuses confession that he had abused me and reverted again to “we abused each other”. I have no doubt that he really believes this, that he cannot understand the difference between reactions to chronic abuse (fear, anxiety, depression, etc), and the initial abuses. But one thing I knew for sure through all this, he was hopeless and would not change.

Though there is a “rule” in this house not to ask me for permission for anything while I am sleeping (as a single parent of a clever child, I have become skilled at “sleep-talking”), he called the next morning because he wanted to cuddle before work. What? Oh yes. We went out after our appointment the night before to talk, and somehow had a good time– like no good time he ever showed me during our whole relationship (I have since learned that it is typical of an abuser losing control of their partner or the relationship to flip on the “nice switch” to keep his options available; this sudden charm contributes to a tremendous flood of relief and gratitude from the abused partner, resulting in traumatic bonding). Naturally he wanted to take advantage of these good feelings, and I was not alert enough to resist (I was asleep with the phone still to my ear when he appeared at my bedside). Until he got here. I was not cuddly, I talked nervously the whole time, and eventually just got up out of bed. He went to work. I did not hear hide or hair from him again for four days, and when I did, he was all business, totally impersonal. I could see what was going on: as long as I am nice and cuddly, he’ll be sweet to me. If for any reason I can’t/won’t/don’t put out whenever he wants me to, he desires me no more and openly displays a total lack of interest in the fact that I still exist (and have feelings that are hurt by his Dr Jekyll-Mr Hyde routine).

So before the third session, I told him I wanted to go to the next appointment alone, and sent him an email saying our relationship was over. I could tell he was very far away from being able to take responsibility for his actions, his treatment of and his attitudes toward me. He came back some days later with the dubious claim that he had written his assignment prior to receiving my break-up message, that in his letter he states he wants to terminate the relationship, and I could read it “if I wanted to” since he would not be present at the next counseling session. I asked him if it was going to be just another of his many letters detailing all the ways he has been “victimised” by this relationship. To this he said no, of course, because he “has a different perspective” than me (what he calls my “perspective”– but was in fact my factually lived experience: that he emotionally abused me, physically threatened me, and sexually assaulted me– is in his mind totally wrong; his perspective– that he is the real or greater victim of “our bad relationship dynamic” is right). Because of a series of mishaps and time-wastes, he drove me to the third appointment. We were early, I talked to him in the car about his abuse and my great hope for him to seek real help for it. He started crying a lot, especially about needing to know I’m “still here” (for him? with him? in physical proximity? emotionally attached? I do not know), so I invited him in to the session. I can’t leave a person in such pain, and knew I could always have my appointments alone the next weeks. It was explained to the counselor that he would no longer be attending, that I had ended the relationship once and for all, and that I desired future counseling only for myself. There were some diversionary topics which were irrelevant given the circumstances, he did a little begging for understanding. I expressed my relief that it was finally over, and expressed some sorrow that he will remember me so negatively. It ended with his head in my lap and me bawling.

The next day he brought the letter which inspired this blog, the one he claims to have written to fulfill the counselor’s assignment to be read in the next session. Compared to my page and a half of solutions which inspired the assignment, his was six typewritten pages long, would have taken most of the appointment to read, and offers not much more than blame, blame, blame, blame, he is so victimised, I am so in denial, and “we” just had a bad relationship dynamic. There are very many points detailing what a monumentally judgmental, intolerant, impatient, cruel and oversensitive person I am, and as such I cannot even think correctly (one almost wonders why he insisted to the very end that he loves such a terrible person). An incredible lot of things I said over the past two years are taken completely out of context; in some cases I see he has narcissistically taken things I said about myself to “really be” statements about him; my childhood experiences (not his abuse, of course) are THE Explanation for why our relationship didn’t and couldn’t work; many times he understands something to be the exact opposite of what I actually said; even a self-deprecating joke I made recently about myself sounding “like such a stereotypical woman”, after which I did say I do not mean to give that impression, is leveraged as evidence that I am belittling of him and do not take his music seriously. -???- It made me wonder about his mental state, and it made me sad. I honestly don’t know what he expects me to believe would have been accomplished by bringing this to “couples counseling”; not only would there have been no time to discuss anything in it, there was nothing to discuss. He laid down his experiences, and that is that. He really wanted me to read it, too, he had been saying for days he wanted me to have it even though there was now no relationship nor couples counseling to bring it to. When he handed it over, I asked if it was written for himself, or for me. He said he did not know. I asked him if he was giving it to me because he thought reading it would be good for me, or if he was giving it to me because it makes himself feel better. Again, he said he did not know. Perhaps he made all these accusations and claims in his letter just to hurt me, or perhaps he really believes these things occurred; perhaps he wanted me to read it so badly because it was his last chance to hurt my feelings, or perhaps he is simply just so insensitive that he can’t tell what feelings I have to hurt. Well I can say now, it did make me feel bad– for him.

In the letter, and throughout our last weeks, and even the last time I saw him, he repeated over and over again that it was he who tried to “save” our relationship so many times by suggesting couples counseling, and that if only I would have co-operated with his solution, maybe we would have had a chance. This has caused me to doubt myself a great deal, is it really all my fault? If I would have stopped being stubborn, or resistant, or having my own opinions about counseling, or any of the other criticisms he had of me, things could have been alright?  I have learned today that couples counseling absolutely would not have worked. Not only would it not have worked, it would very likely have made things worse. I learned also that my instincts about it were valid and correct. Most incredibly to me, I learned that rejecting all other solutions, making only this one solution available to me/us, is typical of abusive and controlling partners. And that if I insist that his abusive behaviour be the focus of the therapy, abusive and controlling partners would rather end the relationship than face themselves— just exactly as my partner suddenly said he wanted “closure” from therapy the same day the counselor showed him he was being abusive, and challenged him not to be. He has portrayed himself to me, and I suspect also to his individual therapist and family at least, as a would-be hero of our relationship, the one who had the right and only “real” solution to our “dynamic”, whose noble efforts to save our relationship were constantly thwarted by my wide variety of personality flaws (sensitiveness, stubbornness, judgmental-ness, ignorance, unreasonable way of thinking, and everything else he had complaints about regarding me as a person). The thing that makes me the most sad is that I think he really believes this, and feels he should be commended for having “tried so hard” to fix our relationship. My wish for him today would be that he would come someday to understand that what he feels he should be commended for is something that very many abusive partners also feel they should be commended for. But coercion, double-binding, blame-shifting, and denial are not commendable. Accepting responsibility, striving toward personal improvement, developing empathy and making reparations, only these could I ever commend him for, even though, as the target of his abuse, there would be absolutely no obligation for me to do so.

I wish him clear vision, and I wish myself healing.

(I also wish my posts were shorter!) 😆 😉

Permalink Leave a Comment

On Trial – Verdict

7, April 2011 at 6:43 PM (conflicted, this is madness, trapped) (, , , , , )

Ok, I know it makes little sense for me to “put myself on trial” and think I can come up with an objective “verdict”. But we’re not actually dealing here with written laws and courts of justice. We’re dealing with just one presumably confused, angry, defensive man making a strong accusation against the partner who terminated the relationship. I cannot, of course, totally know if I’ve asked myself every question possible, or in the exact right way; I too am confused and feeling (self-)defensive (after all, I am the accused). For days I have been looking over what I wrote, and it’s clear that for a while anyways it is going to be a living document, something I keep wordsmithing, adding to, and considering, never quite reaching a state of being completely finished. I can only try to be fair to myself and to him, but that does not mean I have accomplished that perfectly or even well. Even so, I declare myself not guilty of the charge that I coerced him into feeling vulnerable/talking to me.

I’ve read every word of it ten-hundred times. When my mind becomes overfull or over-familiar with the details, or when trying to consider the issues from every possible perspective results in befuddlement, a generality about this thing or that thing starts to emerge. I think of what could have been done instead. I think I see where he or I went wrong. It’s true, I have not captured every single argument, every single response, every single thing that I ever said or did in the last two years. I don’t think that would even be possible. So maybe I did at times at my absolute limit of panic or frustration say something like he has to leave, I can’t take it or deal with him anymore, get out get out get out! So while looking over all these questions and answers, I just know that if he were reading them he’d think of the one time I said X and the one time I did Y. Imagining his objections doesn’t so much keep my attempt to represent the truth of the matter in check as it does cause me to feel paranoid that if I haven’t perfectly remembered or represented everything, then I leave myself vulnerable to being judged a hypocrite. Ugh, his arguments arguments arguments, they’re like all the little bumpers in a pinball machine shooting every thought I try to have in other directions– and I have multiple balls going at once. I can’t get his arguments and objections out of my head. I can’t think. Slow down.

So what was I trying to say above… before I started to “hear” him object to where I was going, I was going to say the exception does not prove the rule. So I admit I may have forgotten to ask myself about something in particular, or I may not have included the times I did not selflessly hand the choice to leave the house or relationship over to him, but still it is true that I never used violence or threats to make him talk to me against his will. And for the record, on the occasions I needed him to leave the house, he just looked at me without expression, told me nothing but to give him a few minutes to get his stuff together, and he’d be gone. I had and I have no impression that he felt anything more than inconvenienced by my request or command to leave. Like it says in the “transcript”, only once did he object to being asked to leave; the reasons he gave were he had a right to stay because he was paying rent, and his parents were going to get sick of him going over there. I couldn’t argue with the first reason, so he stayed. But what I’m trying to get at is, I could not have known or even been so bold as to presume that he would have minded leaving our relationship at all, and so I could not have known or even been so bold as to presume that being asked or told to leave the house and/or relationship caused him to feel in any way pressured to talk to me. Certainly asking or even telling him to leave never resulted in him talking to me, so I still think his accusation is unfounded.

But that wasn’t what I was trying to say above, either. Oh how eagerly I await the day his incessant arguing fades from my mind and I am able to complete a thought without having to stop mid-stream to defend myself for having a thought (and without having to stop mid-stream to defend why I stopped mid-stream, and so on ad infinitum).

I had wanted to say something about emerging generalities or things which could have been done differently.

The first thing I thought of after reviewing the part about having an image of him which he didn’t agree with or have of himself was this looks like a guy who needed reassurance. Most of what we were discussing here were his, erm, extreme lot and variety of experiences with, erm, the sexual objectification of women. This is a subject which has made him have to re-evaluate how he sees himself, what kind of guy he is, what kind of person he is, what his beliefs and ethics are, what kinds of choices he makes, and what effect it has all had on him and/or his relationships and/or ability to create intimacy in a relationship and/or how he expresses himself sexually. Big stuff, no doubt about that. For me, this subject has made me have to think about the same things about him, whether I can or should remain involved with someone who has done what he has done, what it means to or about me and my ethics and beliefs to do so, how it makes me feel about myself as a female PERSON, how it feels to be looked at by him, whether he can be attracted to me, in what ways/why he is attracted to me, how it all just makes me feel to be with him sexually. Just a bunch of scary stuff. So I began by saying this looks like a guy who needed reassurance, and the thought occurred to me last night while reviewing that section, maybe I should have just said “I still love you” at the end of those conversations. But I have to be honest. I could not have done that. Certain things I heard caused me to feel all kinds of unpleasant things: fear, disgust, insecurity, anger, LOSS, etc. I could not pretend to have not heard what I heard, or stack it neatly on some other shelf for later consideration so I could whip up the necessary altruism to say, it’s ok, I still love you. I’d be reeling, sometimes I was shocked, my mind was racing around what it MEANS and if he can POSSIBLY be in any way attracted to me or even thinking of me (and just me) during private moments, us together or him alone. Obviously, I needed reassurance too! So some other jury can decide who needed it more or more immediately or who needed to be the big person and offer it first. All I can say is, I could not have spoken the words, “I still love you” in the middle of or after talking about these subjects. And let us not forget, getting to talk about those subjects was already a struggle for me, so I was starting from an already shut-out place. 😦 I guess I hoped making him a nice dinner the next day or trying to engage him in a conversation about other things (movies or books or whatever) showed I still loved him and wanted to be with him, but the only thing which could have reassured me is an overwhelming display of his sexual attraction to and desire for ME. And I can’t say I ever saw that but maybe once. And I’m still being generous, because never could the display be described as overwhelming. 😳

The other general thing that emerges concerns boundaries. If my former partner were not so hell-bent on vilifying me, perhaps he could have taken responsibility for himself enough to own what the problem really was: his lack of or inability to create boundaries and/or communicate them effectively and/or to enforce or adjust their borders when and if necessary/possible/desireable. I “hear” him here in my mind protesting that I couldn’t possibly know anything at all about him (yeah well it’s not like I didn’t try), or how I don’t get to “decide” for him what he’s really saying (even despite that the demand he made of me most often was to ignore what he said and imagine what he meant?), but the coercion accusation is so blaming/blame-shifting and so aggressive and so unfounded that there has to be something else behind it. So here I am once again, taking on the tremendously difficult and thankless job of going beyond the pain to see what is really at issue.

According to his own “testimony”– things he told me while we were together– he has never been a person with boundaries. He describes “losing himself” in other people. Is this my fault? No. In contrast, I was a person who knew just where my fixed ones were, where my flexible ones were, and where I didn’t have any at all– and I was able to talk about them up and down: where they came from, how they developed or changed, why some will never move and how I know that, what it would take for me to feel comfortable adjusting others, etc. As far as I understood, I was being very healthy and a good communicator. Except what happened was that over and over again my boundaries were disrespected and/or outright violated, sometimes in pretty extreme and unacceptable ways. He always had some reason, some explanation, and those reasons and explanations were always couched in how much he loved me and how hard he’s trying to be good to me. Well, that was confusing. So it was that slowly, slowly, my boundaries just started falling apart or disappearing altogether. Especially the one that says there can be no violence– physical, verbal, or psychological– in my life. Eventually I became just some bowl of mush who was putting up with all kinds of things I never put up with before in my life, nor ever would have predicted I’d put up with, because I was afraid. No, I didn’t run around a quiet, helpless little mouse, I did my damnedest to be heard. I am not proud at all of having become loud, desperate, or angry. I couldn’t get anything out of him, so I couldn’t tell where my boundaries were anymore, or where he stood in relation to them, well, I guess I just feel like I didn’t know what I even was anymore. Obviously, this is not good. I was lost as fuck, I don’t know what else to say? And the more walls and boundaries he put up, and the less I knew why or what it meant, I just got more and more and more scared. He is going to leave me, he doesn’t love me, he is hardening himself to me so that it will be easier to bail. The person I used to be, the person who would tell that guy, hey man, this is going nowhere and I’m not getting anything out of it so let’s just call it quits— I don’t know where she went. Having lost all my boundaries, I was suddenly in a schism with someone who had just developed tons of them, all over, most of which were invisible (not communicated) to me. This is not good either. I guess all that can be said at the end of the day was we both had some boundaries problems going on.

I am having a really hard time with this particular entry in trying to make sense of things, trying to give it some sort of structure or focus, trying to come to some sort of conclusion I can wrap up with a neat little bow. But some things just don’t lend themselves well to tidy conclusions… well, what more can be said than that. Maybe only that when I look at these three “trial” posts, I can see how crazy-defensive I’ve become during this relationship. 😦 I suppose this is where I’m expected to say it will be alright. He’s gone. He can’t hurt me anymore. But that isn’t helping right this second, I just feel lost.

Permalink Leave a Comment