What Kind of Person Takes Everything and Gives Nothing?

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Reader’s Question

I am in an all-consuming, emotionally-draining relationship. I am 25, he is 27. We have been dating three years, and he has been living with me just over one year. I am the only one who works. I do all the housework and pay all the bills, etc. I am not allowed to have friends or go out.

On top of everything else, my boyfriend is very emotionally distant, rarely shows me affection or genuine appreciation, yet expects me to go above and beyond for him on a daily basis (giving him back rubs when he wants them, buying him things, and basically catering to his every whim). If I ever decide to say “no” to something, he finds a way to make me insecure. Most recent example: “So you don’t want to give me a rub, huh…? Guess I’ll have to find someone who will.” WHAT KIND OF PERSON DOES THAT!?

If I ever confront him, he simply tells me to shut up. The only time I ever see him “out of his shell” is when his two children from a previous relationship stay with us. He is wonderful with them, and I see a side of him I NEVER see when he is just with me. I have been mentally drained by him for so long that I do not feel I am strong enough to end the relationship. I have always been fiercely independent, so for me to end up in a situation like this is absurd! What exactly is wrong with him? How can someone who is so well taken care of NOT CARE?

Psychologist’s Reply

Emotionally-draining relationships can occur for a variety of reasons. And there are several personality types who are capable of callous indifference, manipulation, control, and abuse within a relationship.

All too many times, however, partners in parasitic relationships (relationships where one party takes everything and gives nothing) try so hard to “understand” the exploitive party that they inadvertently endorse or “enable” the very behaviors that frustrate them.

In the end, whenever a person is in a problematic relationship, the real question to be answered is not so much why the other person does what they do — but rather why their behavior is tolerated. Sometimes, the reason has to do with underlying insecurities in the person who tolerates the maltreatment. Other times, however, it can be due to the great psychological manipulative skill of the abusive party. I have a lot to say about that in my book In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]. Many times, however, it’s a combination of both.

The bottom line is that no behavior changes unless it’s no longer reinforced. Understanding the behavior won’t stop it. Setting limits and no longer tolerating it is likely to prompt some changes.

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