Violent Common-Law Partner is Emotionally Exhausting Me

Reader’s Question

I am getting progressively confused about my common law marriage of 5 years. We come from different backgrounds. I’m a quiet non-violent female who’s been abused by my father but managed to rebel against it, detach myself by moving away, and keep my identity and dignity relatively intact. My partner is from a family where violence has been accepted and even glorified, and has a personal history of physically violent/delinquent behavior.

Abuse started right away after we moved in together. Although there was no physical violence, I was exposed to enough bad behavior — name-calling, threats, yelling, physical intimidation, explosive anger… I felt betrayed and angry at first, but I could not talk to him about it without him getting defensive and twisting the words around and blaming me for his anger. Since I couldn’t express my emotions by talking to him, and due to my almost full isolation at the time, I started cutting myself. Then I started to become violent as well and fight back; I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Whenever we get into an argument, he uses a technique where he intimidates me first (punching walls, raising hand like he’s about to hit me, screaming in my face, throwing our cat) so that I get scared and ‘freeze’. Then he talks non-stop, uses reasoning which I don’t understand (it makes no sense to me: it’s illogical), and makes it my fault somehow in the end, always. Over the years I think he mellowed out a little. I suppose he tried to fix his behavior, and I can give him credit for that, but it’s still far from the peaceful and stable environment I’m craving.

Personally…it’s been 5 years and I feel emotionally drained. I don’t see how this can be fixed. I keep questioning my reality and my memory. I despise the yelling, confused, angry, broken person I have become. I can hardly remember what it’s like to be ‘normal’. I keep hurting myself and thought about suicide on a few occasions — I feel like I’m just too exhausted to fight anymore.

I keep bringing up separation because this is clearly not a way to live one’s life. Separation feels like an escape to me, but it’s something he’s very afraid of. He bursts into violent/teary fits whenever I mention it, and then runs for presents to coax me into staying. He tells me I have personal ‘issues’ and our relationship is perfect, that I really just want to get ‘rid’ of him so that I could date other people. He tells me he’ll kill himself if I leave. Please help.

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Why is he like that? I have had 2 romantic relationships prior to this one, and this one in comparison is just…odd. It doesn’t feel like I’m dealing with a normal rational person. At times it feels like he is not mentally well. Can this somehow be fixed? Or should I just get it all together and finally crawl out of it?

Psychologist’s Reply

You’re not dealing with a “normal rational person” — you’re dealing with a Personality Disorder (see my introduction to personality disorders). From your description, he has the majority of characteristics I’ve listed in my article entitled Identifying Losers in Relationships, available on this website. Personality Disorders are totally selfish and never accept personality responsibility for their misbehavior. They feel entitled to intimidate, threaten, abuse, and manipulate others. In relationships, they are only concerned about what the relationship does for them. He is not concerned that you are upset, emotionally battered and exhausted, and slipping deeper and deeper into depression. Personality Disorders view the feelings of those around them as an inconvenience.

When you read the article on Personality Disorders and Identifying Losers — you’ll likely see someone you know. Individuals with a Personality Disorder do not respond to reason, discussion, or understanding. When you try to talk to him, from his standpoint the topic is irrelevant, as he has no concern for your feelings or opinion. His main concern at that time is stopping the inconvenient discussion. He will then gradually use whatever means needed — often starting with blaming you for everything, accusing you of infidelity, then screaming, then violent intimidation, then property destruction, then physical threats, harming the pets, etc. — until you stop your attempt to talk to him. At some point along that incline of violence and intimidation, you typically stop and “freeze” — and his goals are accomplished.

Yes, to normal healthy individuals, those with Personality Disorders (PD) are odd. They will threaten suicide if you leave — yet they’re not depressed at all, and suddenly have no suicide threats if you decide to stay. Threatening suicide is another tool to manipulate those around them. Sadly, when you reach the point that you are emotionally destroyed or require too much effort, he’ll quickly leave and blame you for his departure. He then selects his next victim/target.

I’d recommend reading the introduction to personality disorders and the Loser article. We also have a discussion group on the Loser article on this website that has 1000+ entries — you’re not alone. Another article, Love and Stockholm Syndrome, describes how we become emotional hostages in these threatening relationships. As I mention in my articles, no change in the relationship can be expected. It’s likely to continue to to become worse as from his viewpoint, the relationship only ends when breaking up benefits him, not you. I would also consider mental health counseling/treatment due to your depression and self-harm. Part of a successful exit plan is having the emotional strength needed for a departure.

In this difficult situation, you can only fix yourself…and protect yourself. Strategies for detachment are offered in my Loser article and exit plans are discussed as well. Keep in mind that his family background may have contributed to his violence, but it doesn’t cause him to threaten or abuse you. He’ll use it as an excuse however. When he’s throwing your cat across the room he’s not thinking about his father. He’s thinking about doing something violent enough to make you freeze and drop the discussion. By the way, in your exit plan, also plan for the cat’s safety.

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