My client Letisha is in an abusive relationship. And if that was all a person needed to know to leave, everybody would at the first signs of abuse. But Letisha chose Ben as her partner. She has been struggling for 3 years to leave.
What does Ben do that is abusive?
He threatens to leave her, with the feeling of vengeance in his voice, every time they have any argument, even if it’s a tiny one. Letisha believes that Ben enjoys seeing her suffer when he threatens her.
As a marriage counselor, I learned long ago not to diagnose any man or woman with a label. He’s abusive. She’s codependent. He’s a liar. She’s manipulative. He’s a control freak. She’s narcissistic. This list goes on and on, and is irrelevant.
Ben threatened to leave Letisha on their fourth date, 14 years ago. And that’s when Letisha signed up to play this game. Letisha did the following, from the fourth date up until now, 14 years later, when Ben threatened her:
1) She argued with him about it.
2) She called him names.
3) She threatened to leave him first.
4) She begged him not to leave.
5) She got caught talking poorly about him to his friends, and to his father.
6) She criticized him over 100 times (she emailed me a list of 100 criticisms, and put a fancy watermark on it that said “Proof This Man Is Abusive.”)
7) She cried, but when he asked her about it, she attacked.
This list could also go on and on. The list above BINDS HER TO HIM with Krazy Glue. She cannot escape this awful pattern between them because when she argues and fights, she leaves every time with more doubt and guilt and confusion.
There is only one way to know the truth of this situation. There is only one way to feel 100% clear that it is time to leave. And that’s by doing one thing. (Okay. Three things.)
- And then Silence.
- And then Witnessing.
1. VULNERABILITY: Tell them exactly how you feel.
“I get so scared when you tell me you’re going to leave me. It’s been happening for a long time, and I’ve been fighting and fighting about it with you. I’ve never really just sat here and looked into your eyes and told you that it feels like I die inside each time you say this to me. I’m so hurt and angry that I’ve let this go on for so long, and I believe I’ve probably spent years doing mean things to you because I didn’t know what else to do. I am terrified that you’re going to leave, but I’m more terrified to just be honest and tell you how much I hurt inside all the time anticipating that this same argument will happen. I’m sorry I’ve contributed to this fight and for any ways that may have hurt you.”
2. SILENCE: Do nothing. Do not try to convince or argue any longer.
Letisha has to now do nothing. Bite her tongue. NO MATTER what Ben does next, she needs to not engage in any fight about this topic. There are no details to discuss. She told him what it does to her, with tears pouring down her face (she did this in front of me and Ben). It’s painful for Letisha to not get hooked back into convincing him of things, and doing all the 7 items above. Quiet time.
3. WITNESSING: Observe their actions and behavior and let them do their part before making the final decision.
How they respond to your vulnerability will say volumes about how they feel and whether or not you should leave. There is an unspecified amount of time needed to see who Ben wants to become now. She needs to wait to see what he says and does next. Or possibly the next 5 things he says next on 5 different days. She needs to slow down until something meaningful comes out of Ben’s mouth.
Letisha and Ben did not come to see me for 2 months. I thought the whole thing failed and that they quit counseling with me. Ben was secretly going to a counselor for those 2 months. I don’t know what counselor he saw, but he did not say his first words to Letisha until the 2 months had passed.
Then they came to see me. He said the right things to her. Her vulnerability disarmed his ability to attack further. He had no idea she even loved him anymore. He threatened to leave her in the past to try and get attention from her.
After further work with me, Ben knows how to get attention from her by asking now and not threatening to leave. They cancelled their legal separation, and they are currently in Hawaii taking a honeymoon they never took.
Her vulnerability stopped the whole pattern. And if Ben did not recognize and do his part, and if Letisha was able to do the silence and witnessing part well, then she would have been able to leave him, without guilt or confusion. But she didn’t need to.
People leave relationships in other ways, but this method is direct, takes little time, and preserves the heart of the person leaving.
If you want to see who the person in front of you really is, you must learn vulnerability, or else you’re diagnosing them, judging them, and arguing with them.
And it will take a really long time to leave.
Derek HART is one of Your Monthly Mentors, a Relationship Coach, Speaker, Writer, and the founder of UnderstandEachOther.com based in San Anselmo, California. He has been counseling people since 1990, with over 27,000 hours in experience. The unique experience he brings to his counseling practice is based upon years of doing his own deep inner work. A student and teacher of the human journey, Derek has continually studied the great works of the top psychology and spiritual masters of our time. Read More…