David wondered if it was time for his relationship with Stephanie to end. In the beginning, things were great, and he thought that he found the love of his life. She was charming, helpful, generous, and gentle. But as time passed, new problems emerged. The ease of their relationship was now tumultuous.
The excitement and intensity of the relationship made it easy to overlook Stephanie’s temper. She explained that she had a previous abusive relationship and she didn’t mean to be so controlling but he triggered her, reminding her of her abuser. The problem was that she became abusive in those moments. David thought that if he gave her enough time and demonstrated that he was a safe person, she would relax. But she didn’t.
The longer the relationship lasted, the more chaotic things became. There seemed to be two extremes: the intense love and deep connection followed by the turbulent and confusing interactions. Arguments now escalated to the point that David was shutting down. But every time David confronted Stephanie, she was apologetic and promised it won’t happen again.
Yet it did. It was time for David to decide about the future of their relationship. With the help of a therapist, David made a list of all the problematic things he was experiencing, giving examples for each. Here is what he wrote.
- Transfers risk. Stephanie asked David to assume her risk in a sticky matter. After being late to work again and knowing that she might get fired, she begged David to call her boss and tell him that she had a flat tire. When David resisted, there was a backlash of manipulative counterattacks designed to force him to submit to her request. Despite his best judgment, he gave into her to keep the peace.
- Constant victimization. Stephanie told stories of past relationships where she was painted as the victim and her exs were described as the villain. There was a constant influx of terrible people who have wronged her throughout her life with no apparent responsibility on Stephanie’s part. This was a forecast of what eventually would happen to David if he ended their relationship.
- Inappropriate anger. Anger is a base emotion and a catch-all for other more intense feelings such as loneliness, fear, guilt, or controlling tendencies. It can come out in inappropriate ways such as aggression (bullying), suppression (silent treatment) or passive-aggressive (biting sarcasm). Stephanie’s outbursts were intense and inappropriate expressions of anger designed to force David into submission. There was no allowance for David to have any inappropriate anger outbursts.
- Abusive tactics. Several abusive methods surfaced such as twisting the truth, gaslighting, verbal assaults, physical aggression, or guilt-tripping. These are all unhealthy indicators of Stephanie who would escalate given the right time, motivation, and environment. Any indicator of abuse is a bad sign in a relationship and should be taken seriously.
- Gossip talk. Stephanie shared secrets with David about her friends and co-workers where there is a clear breach of confidentiality. Unfortunately, how Stephanie spoke about others was an indication of how she would speak about David in the future. There were times when David wondered how much of his personal information was the topic of conversation with her friends.
- One-way communication. David did most of the work maintaining the relationship. Stephanie did not reach out as often as David did in texting, phone calls, and recommendations of dates. By contrast, conversations seemed to be weighted in Stephanie’s direction with little discussion about the things that mattered to David. Stephanie wanted help with her stuff but wasn’t present for David when he needed a friendly ear.
- No responsibility. When there was a problem, Stephanie refused to admit doing anything wrong and instead blamed things on David, her friends, or co-workers. She also displayed a lack of empathy for hurting David’s feelings and discounted the need for an apology. Yet, she insisted that David apologize for things that were outside of his responsibility.
- Controlling tendencies. Stephanie would tell David what to do and how to do it. If David resisted, Stephanie would become angry when things aren’t done the way she instructed. There was little to no understanding of differences in temperament, personality, preferences, or circumstances.
- Absolute agreement. There was no allowance for differing opinions for Stephanie. She insisted that David agree with her 100% of the time on sensitive topics such as religion or politics in order to maintain peace in their relationship. Any deviation was seen by Stephanie as a personal betrayal.
- Dichotomous expressions. There are only two options Stephanie would give to David. Unfortunately, both selections tended to be exaggerated extremes with no real good choice. It was presented in black or white versions with no compromising grey areas. There was a right way (usually Stephanie’s) and a wrong way (usually David’s).
After reviewing these ten items, David decided it was time to leave the relationship. He recognized that it became an unsafe environment where he was likely to get burned.