I’m confused. My boyfriend can be perfectly lovely some of the time, and our relationship was very exciting and loving to begin with.
But these days he also does things that aren’t nearly so nice. Like it often feels like he’s weird about me spending time with my family, and he frequently embarrasses me in front of them.
He’s forever getting angry about stuff, and somehow everything’s always my fault, so I’m constantly on edge anticipating the next outburst.
He’s never actually been physically violent, but I have the feeling that he might be one day. What’s going on? And is there anything I can do to improve things?
Hi Confused Girlfriend!
What your boyfriend’s doing is a form of abuse. And the reason his ups and downs feel so confusing is because abusers can be perfectly charming when they want to be. It’s not only men who abuse, of course. But the sort of things you’re describing are more often committed by men.
Relationships with abusers are often very exciting to begin with, and frequently go far too fast. Like saying they love you on your very first date. Abusers often try to cut off their partners from their family and friends, often so slowly that you don’t notice it happening. Saying nice sounding stuff like ‘I want us to spend more time together.’
They’re usually controlling, wanting to know where you are all the time, forever calling, reading your emails, checking your phone, going through your stuff. They may even try to take over your finances, or insist you change your job.
They often throw temper tantrums, yelling, insulting or hitting you. And your words get twisted so it’s all your fault and somehow you always end up in the wrong. You say you’re always on edge. Maybe you even feel scared sometimes? Probably you’re never sure how the night might end. And find yourself making excuses to other people for your boyfriend’s behaviour. Trying not to do anything that might make him angry. Always doing what he wants instead of what you’d like.
After an incident, there’ll be tears, apologies, and promises to do better. But it never happens. He also probably makes you feel like there’s no way out of the relationship. Maybe even threatening suicide.
Things won’t improve, so consider talking to a counsellor. Try to get your boyfriend to do the same. But he’ll probably refuse, and then the only thing you can do is get out.
Because you can’t make him better. In fact nothing you can do will make any difference at all. Only he can stop his abuse, with the help of a good psychologist, but he probably won’t agree to see anyone. Because abusers rarely accept responsibility for their actions. So don’t blame yourself if he won’t get help. Just get out.
All the best,
Chris Hart is a Nairobi-based psychotherapist. Want your relationship questions answered, email us at [email protected]