When an intimate relationship leaves a person feeling anxious and wobbly, rather than calm and secure, this can be related to many different things. In this post, I'll focus on two of these: 1) feeling used and 2) being with someone who is emotionally unavailable. We may not think of these behaviors as abusive in the same way as other actions that may sound more extreme and dangerous, yet calculating and manipulative behaviors can be tactics of emotional abuse and control.
Let's start by looking at how to know if someone is using you. Sometimes it might be unconscious but usually people are aware when they are doing it. Sometimes it is harder to ascertain that it is being done to you. There are all sorts of reasons why someone might use a person. Some may be emotional, financial, sexual, physical, etc.
There are many signs that someone is being used. Examples include: a person wants sexual intimacy but does not want you to meet their friends or family; a person is rarely the giver and always the receiver; a person only texts or calls when they need something or only invites you to do something when it works for them; everything moves along on the other person‘s timeline; they will do anything as long as you are the one paying for it; they share very little in an intimate and vulnerable way; and alternatively, they share a lot of their own problems and want your help while never asking anything about you.
For someone being used, this can take an emotional toll because a person might feel like they are not good enough, that they are not high enough priority for someone, that they can be easily taken advantage of, and are likely to begin to question their overall sense of worthiness. We are a quick-fix culture and so sometimes when a person does not want to be alone, or is in need or vulnerable, they glom onto another person to fulfill some immediate needs. We are also a culture that prioritizes being in a couple and sometimes people want that feeling more than they actually want to be with the actual person.
Of course, we rely on relationships with other people to fulfill certain needs so that is normal, but when we look at someone to fulfill needs when we are not reciprocating then that is a problem. And, if we are looking to someone else to fulfill all of our needs that can also be an issue. No one person can fulfill all of our needs, not even a spouse.
Now, let's turn our attention to another significant and related controlling behavior, and that is being emotionally unavailable. There are many ways that people may signal that they are emotionally unavailable, and some of these qualities and behaviors reveal themselves more clearly while other signs are more subtle. Emotional unavailability can show up in the following ways: in terms of scheduling and being hard to make plans; in being hard to talk with, approach, and ask questions; in terms of a lack of reliability and follow through; in terms of being open about their lives; in terms of talking about exclusivity; in terms of trying to plan for the future, even for example a weekend getaway in the near future, or tickets to a concert in a few weeks and getting vague responses as to if they are interested and available; and in terms of feeling insecure about expressing feelings of affection for fear that the other person will find it too much.
If someone seems to be holding you in reserve as back up or second fiddle, that can indicate a problem. Of course, no one wants to feel like second best. And when this is happening it may appear to the person being put on hold or held at a distance that things have been going well; he or she may not realize the extent to which they are being placed on hold. For the person doing this, it can really backfire, especially if it goes on for a long time. It doesn't give people an opportunity to get to know someone intimately or to be as completely known themselves because no one can be fully all-in when this is going on.
Sometimes people who are emotionally unavailable behave in ways to try to ensure that they will never be alone. People want to feel fully datable, attractive, lovable, and sought after, and they also want to feel like whomever they seek likes them back. Here, we can see how much that relates to the behavior of using another person. Someone who is emotionally unavailable may simply be less interested in a very serious, committed relationship. Or they may be looking for some sort of elusive perfection to keep themselves from going all in. Or they might be doing this as a way to manipulate and control things. Sometimes, a person's upbringing and previous relationships contribute to this pattern of behavior. If a person has a fear of abandonment, she or he is likely to become ready to do the abandoning before the other person can.
A relationship in which someone is being used is really not a relationship at all. For a relationship to flourish, both people need the space and ability to grow, and that doesn’t happen if one person is being used. Similarly, a relationship can only become stronger if both people are emotionally available to each other.