My boyfriend of eleven months is always on my case — I can never do anything right and am always upsetting him. So he’s always yelling, complaining, criticizing for hours. It has just eclipsed any fun or warmth we used to share. He says I don’t appreciate everything he does for me, I don’t wear the gifts he’s given me enough, I don’t cook like his mother. It all boils down to I don’t really love him if I’m not doing everything he expects and more.
My girlfriend and I have been together for three good years. Now her itch for marriage and kids has gone stratospheric. We talk about it and when I don’t give in to her demands, she cries. Recently she’s started cutting herself ‘to relieve the strain’ of living in sin. She claims that without a ring, I’m just using her for sex. So she’s withholding sex now. She knows I love her but she’s obsessed with marriage. Her behavior is so maniacal I find it hard to envision us staying involved, never mind as husband and wife.
Getting upset out of proportion to the issue at hand is a dead giveaway to this kind of manipulation. The “emotional blackmailer” uses threats and punishment on the person closest to control his/her behavior. You have become your significant other’s emotional hostage: “If you don’t give in, you’ll responsible for my breakdown.” Because you care about your lover, your first inclination often is to buy into the orchestrated crisis. Your fear, shame, anxiety, sympathy and guilt are triggered by the intent of the pathetic partner to punish you. Intentionally or inadvertently, the goal of your “upset partner” is to use extreme emotional states and blame to guilt-trip you into doing what they want. Believe it.
If you play it off and don’t give in, watch the manipulation steadily amplify. Your manipulator will go all out — rageaholic screaming matches, stomach-churning emotional doldrums, and break-ups that are meant to twist your arm into relenting and obeying. In the end, if you don’t give in, you’ll be the permanent bad guy in the relationship story.
Of course, you want to talk it over with your partner so they understand how heavy-handed and one-sided these tactics are. If they can see your perspective about how you feel intimidated by their emotional displays, then very well. And if your partner takes action to play more fair and straight-forward in conflict all to the good.
Odds are, that won’t happen. You’re not their first victim and you won’t be their last. You may very well look more closely at their parents and family relationships, even their friendships to divine how much of a standard operating procedure this is for your loved one.
In the end, this all out bullying-to-get-their-way campaign will either make you a Stepford Wife or very, very angry at the loss of your autonomy.