When I was in college, I had a friend who met a guy in an everyday, run-of-the-mill type of way. They had mutual acquaintances. They met for coffee here and there, which led to dinner, movies, and eventually to meeting friends and family. He was cute and charming. He seemed to care about her and she liked him a lot, so he got the initial "friend" stamp of approval.
One night, a group of us had dinner together at a restaurant. As the evening progressed, it was clear that she was becoming uncomfortable with her boyfriend’s behavior. His tireless attempts to be the "life of the party" and to garner a laugh from all the guests turned out to be at her expense. He'd been teasing her, leaving her increasingly embarrassed as the night wore on. A few felt it necessary to speak out on her behalf, but he chuckled our comments away with mention of her "oversensitivity" and another swig of his drink.
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...
Women who experience emotional, psychological, or spiritual abuse have a few things in common:
Here are Three Signs to look for:
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:
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)
Photo Credit: Simon Hattinga Verschure, Lizzie Guilbert
M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy. Earns Crossfit participation trophies. Disaster cook. Enthusiastic wife. #Boymom. Clutches her faith, not her pearls.