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What's Love Got to Do With It

How controlling partners entrap.

Source: CCO/Pixabay

In a relationship with an intimate partner who uses coercion, your life is impacted in many hurtful ways. But, coercive abuse is rarely constant. When the behavior shifts to kind or caring behaviors, the relief it brings gets your full attention. The difficulty is consistently taking seriously what you know feels bad when you’re also getting affection from the same person. This is the greatest obstacle to protecting yourself.

Cyclical Pattern of Coercion

A 30-year-old woman in my Recovery Group for Women with Controlling Partners said of her physically abusive husband, “He can be the sweetest person.”

Coercive abuse often follows a cyclical pattern: Your partner’s abuse can be subtle at first. Then it escalates to more explicitly hurtful behavior before disappearing altogether. Your partner’s positive shift amplified by apologies and promises to change often instills hope for the relationship. It’s this encouraging state for a better future that’s so intoxicating. This is a time when you might see the person you fell in love with. You may start to think you can have the loving partner you expected and the parent your children need. You find the tension between you is gone or significantly lessened. Life can feel light again, with playful interactions and caring intimacy. Ironically, this wonderful, hopeful time is the most misleading and entrapping of all.

Another woman in the group shared: “I fall in love all over again when my husband turns nice. We’re communicating, playfully interacting, and enjoying each other. I always believe he’s finally changed and that adds to feeling hopeful about us. But then, he’s irritable and says things to me that hurt. I feel devastated again.”

The Loving Phase

A loving period is a powerful contributor to wanting to stay with a controlling partner. This is what happens:

  • Both partners deny or minimize the hurtful abuse that’s taken place before to some degree.
  • You let go of any resistance to your partner that you had when he was hurtful to you.
  • You might attempt to address the abuse and your partner will distort what happened. This action leads you to question your memory or behavior and take on some or all of the responsibility for “causing” the abuse.
  • You reconcile with your partner based on a false hope for a better future.

What Helps When Love Misleads

In the loving phase, the positive interchange invites you to overlook the abuse. Each time you deny mistreatment, you remain in a confusing state of entrapment. It’s important during this time to keep in mind that this is the same person who hurts you. You can stay grounded and remind yourself of the realities in a number of ways:

  1. If you’ve documented the abuse in a journal, read it; if you haven’t done so, begin to.
  2. Make a list of your partner’s hurtful behaviors.
  3. Identify a few abusive memories to remind yourself of the reality.

Eventually, having an accurate awareness of experiences with your partner will cause the loving behaviors to lose their manipulative power. You’ll become grounded in your own perception of your relationship, and this helps lessen the confusion. It’s from this place that you’re in the best position to decide what you want to do about your partner’s coercion.


More from Carol A. Lambert, MSW
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