If your partner is difficult and unkind sometimes, you'll want to read on. One of the women in our private free facebook group, Rekindling Connection For Lasting Love, recently asked a very important question about difficult partners.
I wrote her a long answer, and realized I wanted to share it with you all here (and elaborate on it a bit), as I think many of you will find it helpful if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. It can also be applied for less "difficult" partners, too! (Please note: this is not advice for people in physically abusive relationships. I have no expertise in that area. My advice is to get help right now if that is you.)
She wanted to know how to deal with a very negative, defensive, blaming, angry, mean, difficult husband (in his case he has some mental and physical issues contributing to all these behaviors, for clarity). Here's what I told her:
You can’t have a healthy relationship if one of you isn’t mentally healthy, especially if they aren’t taking responsibility for it. Yet, you still have control over your own happiness. And you are worthy of happiness!
Your reactions are your own domain. Even though it's so tempting to take the bait and fight back, retaliation and arguing wont help; that's likely to make matters worse. But that doesn’t mean you should sit around and tolerate other people’s complete disrespect, even if you are married to them.
This is where having strong healthy boundaries are essential. When we have healthy boundaries we recognize what’s about him and what isn’t. We don’t take his behavior personally.
We all can learn to do this and improve our own boundaries. There is a LOT to boundaries, but here are 3 tips for now:
1) When he speaks to you angrily, rudely, or in any way that seems intrusive and psychologically violating you can tell him in a level calm tone (I know, this can be hard and there are ways to make it easier), “If you speak to me in that way again, I will leave the room” (or you go away for a few days, or whatever you need to give yourself the space to cool off, not react angrily yourself, and show him this is serious and you mean it).
Don’t just threaten, actually DO it when and if he does speak to you that way again. This over time will teach him to treat you more respectfully.
We can’t control other people but we can we can have our own boundaries, be an example of integrity, and make our own choices. For more on boundaries see this post.
2) You’ll also need to calmly, firmly, communicate what you honestly feel and what you honestly need for this relationship to have any chance of being healthy and functional again—and that always entails him being respectful of you (and vice versa).
Be clear, again, this does not mean trying to control him. You cannot make him do anything. But you can request, from a loving, caring, and committed stance, that he make some changes. Make sure your intention is that you care about him, yourself, and the relationship itself.
If his treatment of you is disrespectful, mean, and especially if it ever frightens you, it may be essential for you to insist, for the sake of advocating for the relationship, that he get some very focused support with his issues (be it therapy, addiction counseling, seeing a doctor for his physical health, anger management, etc). Because when someone in a committed relationship is mentally unwell, it isn't just their own issue; it's also the relationship's issue.
3) If he won’t follow through with your request, then you have some real soul-searching to do about whether you want to stay in this relationship. Whether the benefits outweigh the struggle.
Emotional abuse is a big topic and could include a very wide range of disrespectful behaviors, some much more severe than others. In some people's books yelling is considered emotional abuse, as is name calling. We could then say emotional abuse happens in the majority of relationships.
In many cases it is something that can be changed. Sometimes it's not worth the toll it will take on your spirit to try the above tactics more than a few times if you get no results. Then you will find yourself faced with a big choice: to stay or go. You do not have to stay with someone who is emotionally abusive.
You get to make your own choice about that, one that honors yourself and your values, your sense of self-worth, and your dreams for your own life. Because they matter.
A disrespectful partner is a difficult thing to live with. But in many cases you can teach him how to treat you by using firm loving boundaries and clear requests. You can regain respectful treatment and help him wake up to his behavior.
It's not always easy to follow the above guidelines, but they are critical if you want to respect yourself, and have a relationship you feel good about with your partner. I'm here if you want help.