Dear Patricia: He bullies me in front of my friends and our kids but I fear losing him
I'M 36 and an unmarried mother of three. I've put up with a less than satisfying relationship for 16 years. I am a people-pleaser and seem happy to the outside world. I try to pretend life is good with my partner. We live as a family, but, to be honest, he has always lived as a single man -- and I have allowed him to do so for fear of losing him.
I now can't believe that I've let so many years pass without making any changes. I'm the sort of person who lives in the hope of making my "family" happy and normal. Will I ever grow up?
I live with someone who doesn't value or respect me. He comes from a broken home, didn't see his father for years, and loves and hates his mother in equal measure. Very early on, I saw that all of this had a profound effect on his emotional development, but thought love would conquer all. Yes, how naive of me.
He seems to love me in his own way, but can be cruel when he doesn't get what he wants. He's told me lots of times that he's only here because of the children, but when we've made up again, he says he never meant it.
I feel very sad that when he's in good humour I'm happy and when he is in a moody phase I'm walking on eggshells. His mood decides how I feel! It's so needy of me! I can't believe I haven't changed this repetitive cycle. He moves from being a lovely, kind partner who has no problem giving me money and supporting me, to a horribly moody partner who blames me for everything, making nasty cruel comments and basically telling me to get out.
We have wonderful children who now witness a man bullying a woman who allows it to happen. How my children view me is so important to me. How they will develop and enjoy their lives is paramount to me. Yet when I think of making changes, panic attacks happen and fear makes me weak again.
I am so afraid of having my children come from a broken home. Yet realistically I understand that us behaving the way we do will damage them just as much. So who am I trying to kid?
I have lost a lot of friendships and relationships over the years due to my partner being rude to me in front of them. I've tried to calmly talk to him over the years, but he just makes me feel stupid. It sounds such a childish thing to say, but I never win. I never get my point across. I always start crying and retreat. He knows exactly what to say to silence me. I've already been to counselling, and I know I need to change things. Why am I so weak?
STOP knocking yourself. There's always a time when we know things have to change, but we haven't yet got the courage to go there. It's running on the spot, emotionally, a sort of holding operation until we gather ourselves together. Be proud you've reached this point, which undoubtedly involved a lot of painful soul-searching.
It's a Sisyphus exercise trying to win with words. Forget it. Doing is what's required. Emotional bullying -- like all bullying -- is practised solely by the weak. And threats are just that, threats. They do not imply any particular action, are chosen solely on the basis of beating you down. Certainly, your partner knows what to say. But only because he understands your vulnerability. It's all just hot air, really, designed to win an argument, or reassert his power -- unkind of course, but then all bullies are unkind because they are basically just so scared themselves.
Keep it simple. I'm not sure what you mean about living as a single man, but I presume he sees his financial contribution as an optional extra, or something to bargain with when he wants his way. Tell him, gently, reasonably, but with great clarity, that you need a fixed sum on which you can rely. When he threatens to withhold, ignore it. If he actually withholds, tell him the kids need financial security -- and then leave him to step up the plate. Do you understand?
And then, if he actually defaults, leave a very obvious gap in the household like his dinner, or better still, some much-loved extra treat which will leave the kids complaining, loud and clear. No threats. No heroic big stand. No end scenarios. No tears. Just leave him to face the consequences of his behaviour. Stop fixing it.
That's just an example -- and maybe way too big a step for you right now. Which is fine. Baby steps are best anyway. The hard truth is that appeasement -- which is what you do -- simply perpetuates the bullying. And so the situation you hate -- and which is equally bad for your partner by the way -- continues. So stop fixing, however tentative those first steps are.