She took a moment to gather herself and headed to the restroom. Eyes red-rimmed when she returned, she'd clearly been crying. Not only did that man pretend nothing was wrong, but he went out of his way to hug, kiss, and give unwanted attention to her the rest of the night. She later admitted that she had felt humiliated and manipulated.
When she addressed the issue with her boyfriend later, he insisted that she'd interpreted the entire night incorrectly and that she was just being over-emotional. He chided her. He said she couldn't take a joke and never apologized. They eventually got married.
And so the cycle continued...
- They’re not always sure it’s happening, or what to call it.
- They don’t think that anybody would believe them if they told the truth.
- They know for sure that they don’t trust their partners.
- Their partners are often well-liked in the community and the struggle happens behind closed doors.
1. Not trusting one's own ability to hear from God.
Oftentimes, women who are being manipulated have been lied to, bullied, and brushed off so many times that they begin to question their own sense of direction. As one woman put it, "I don't even trust myself to know when I'm (relationally) unsafe anymore."
Another lady explained, "He says my feelings aren't Biblical and that God wouldn't tell me that I need space. He says I'm being selfish to walk away. He thinks I should stay and fix the problem immediately, even when he's being vicious and tearing me down. I want to honor God and I believe divorce is bad. But, I'm so tired. Now my work is suffering and I don't want to get fired."
When a partner has applied his own needs and meaning to our feelings too many times, we begin to wonder if we're the ones in the wrong...even if our responses to him are completely biblical, kind, and respectful.
2. Feeling responsible for another person's well-being. Making excuses for their poor behavior.
It's common for small problems to be overlooked in the beginning of a relationship and then for them to become more serious as time goes by. Part of the reason we overlook warning signs is that we come to know our partners intimately. We love them and don't want to see them in pain.
"He had a stressful day at work."
"His home life growing up was (fill in the blank)."
All of these statements give insight to mood or circumstance. However, they're never an excuse to take advantage of our compassion. Controlling, unhealthy behavior can't be explained away. When an emotional manipulator feels out of control or invalidated, they will say or do "uncharacteristic" things to try to feel better. Unfortunately, their tactics are often coercive and embarrassing.
When this happens, we're not only forced to sacrifice our own health to prioritize his demands, but we're left to make excuses for our partners. This leaves our boyfriends and husbands with no accountability or incentive to change. It also leaves us feeling lonely and even more likely to become isolated. As friends and family begin to feel uncomfortable, they'll avoid spending their time around us.
3. Avoiding "Triggers"
When we get to the point that the following seems normal, we have a problem:
- Hiding texts for fear that he'll go through them and become angry.
- Sending the kids to friends' or family's houses to spare them discord.
- Attempting to manage a "perfect" home and to perform wifely duties "exceptionally" to avoid conflict.
- Becoming selective about who we spend time with and how often, so that they don't "find out" how bad things have gotten.
- Altering clothing, hair, and cosmetic options to please him, even if all of the options are appropriate.
- Hiding feelings and selectively choosing words to avoid a fight.
- Refraining from getting help because it may damage his "reputation" in the community.
Women of faith, you are made for more. You have strength and a worth that comes from God alone. It does not come from your ability to "fix" your partner's feelings, that's impossible. It will never be nurtured by snuffing out God's light in your life, either. It's from Him that we gain true love and approval.
Love never Hurts.
Next week, I'll be addressing ways that we can either receive help ourselves, or support a fellow sister who may be experiencing control and manipulation in her own relationship. I'm praying for all of us as we learn to trust and hear from our Father, who always has plans to prosper us and not harm.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV)