I've been dating my boyfriend for two years. In the past year I've noticed that he is more possessive than I originally thought. I have also noticed that sometimes when I express a negative emotion — annoyance or anger — toward him, he will somehow turn it on me. For example, he was once making fun of me, and it crossed a line to where I felt like he was being mean. I told him that I didn't like how he was speaking to me. He said, "I'm not mean. The fact that you called me mean is what's really mean, so you're the mean one." I'm starting to wonder if this relationship is marked by emotional abuse. It feels impossible to have a conversation about it without whatever I say being drowned in his twisting renditions of what happened. How do I tell if I'm the "crazy" one or not? Is this normal?
Crazy or Controlled?
Dear Crazy or Controlled,
Emotional abuse is serious, and it can seem like it's coming out of nowhere. How you feel about yourself when you're with someone is the best barometer for a relationship. Listen to your intuition and track these negative vibes; it can help you figure out if your boyfriend's behavior is safe — or not.
Maybe your partner is going through a rough patch and struggling with how to deal with it, or maybe he's revealing his true colors. Either way, something has to change. All relationships experience ups and downs, but it's really important that you investigate what's going on here before it gets worse.
After consulting a few helpful websites (psychcentral.com and helpguide.org) and speaking with some counselor friends, I created a questionnaire to help you determine if this relationship is becoming abusive:
Does he blame you for everything? Insist that every disagreement is your fault?
Do you feel that you need to ask him for permission to do anything?
Do you neglect other aspects of your life to avoid confrontation with him?
Do you feel that he controls all aspects of your life?
Does he embarrass you in front of friends and family?
Does he withhold affection or attention as a means of control?
Do you feel significantly different about yourself since you have been in a relationship with him? And not in a positive way?
If you answered yes to any of these, you may want to get professional advice on how to change — or exit — your relationship. You say he makes you feel "crazy." It's one thing if he drives you nuts because he never changes the toilet-paper roll. It's another if every little disagreement leaves you feeling confused or cuckoo.
If he's not receptive to a conversation about his behavior, his issues are beyond your control. For this relationship to continue, you need to be able to tell him what's not working and how you feel things have changed. You need to set serious boundaries — and stick to them. If you can't do that, it's time to leave him.
This cannot be taken lightly. Even though you've given him two years, you can't give him one more day if it means compromising your self-esteem and self-worth.