What with July 4th so recently behind us, I’ve been thinking a lot about what freedom means. From a therapeutic perspective, it involves personal agency–to have the space to figure out what you really think and feel, and for the process to be respected. You don’t need to always know; you need to be surrounded by people who want you to find out, and support you in that.
Does that describe your partner? If not, read on.Emotional abuse isn’t just about someone saying overtly nasty things to you. That could be part of it, or it might be part of where things are heading. But often, it doesn’t start there.
It might start with someone simply discounting her thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. That could be verbal or non-verbal, but the way you know it’s abuse is .it’s chronic. You’re often seeing eye rolls and a dismissive expression. You’re interrupted frequently. Your ideas are either dismantled or back-burnered.
As I said, this could be the precursor to what you think of as a more traditional abuse (yelling, anger, name calling) but even if it never progresses, know this: It’s not okay for you to be devalued, to be treated as less than, like a junior partner. In your relationship, you should both be senior.
This is not to say that all relationships need to have an exactly equal division of labor. There are healthy relationships in which one person makes the majority of the decisions, and that works well for both people.
But in those situations, the other person is still respected. There is room for disagreement. Objections are taken seriously. And when the one who makes fewer decisions does feel strongly about something, the other person should be willing to yield, respectfully, perhaps even happily.
The reason I’m spending so much time explicating healthy and unhealthy relationships is because diagnosis is the first step to treatment. Breaking through the denial and the minimization (“See, it’s not so bad, others have it so much worse”) is crucial.
So if you do realize that you’re being devalued, think about whether your partner is aware. If not, then it’s your responsibility to speak up. If it’s more comfortable, write it rather than saying it. Counseling might be helpful, or just coming up with a plan between the two of you for how to make some changes in the moment.
If he or she is already aware, does that person care? If not, then you can be sure it’s going to get worse instead of better. It’s time to evaluate your options, whether you’re staying because of poor self-esteem or something else, like lack of financial resources. You might want to begin considering an exit strategy.
None of this is easy, but burying your head in the sand and hoping it’ll improve (or blaming yourself) is far worse. You deserve a love that’s respectful.