Every Jew is created in the image of Hashem, of G-d. With that privilege, comes the expectation and right of every man and woman to be treated with respect, care, sensitivity, compassion and love in the closest and most significant relationship in their life, marriage.
Abuse in relationships is a sensitive topic to approach, but also one of utmost importance to address for the health, safety and long-lasting nature of our most sacred relationship.
It should be clear from the outset that two grown adults in a relationship can disagree; they can even respectfully argue. There is no room in a relationship for anyone, male or female, to be controlling, manipulative, or abusive. Not verbally, not emotionally, not physically; neither in a dating nor in a marriage relationship.
Let’s discuss some of the red flags they may present themselves when dating. Abuse is not just physical. Anyone who is experiencing any level of physical hitting, pushing, shoving, or slapping, needs to seek immediate professional assistance for effective guidance. That goes without saying. The abuse I’m referring to is more often verbal, financial, emotional, or manipulative talk. Here is a list of the more common red flags:
- Abuse alcohol or other drugs and doesn’t think it is a big deal
- Don’t work or go to school and are generally unproductive with a poorer sense of self.
- Make nasty comments about your clothing, friends or family.
- Potentially don’t want you to hang around your family or friends
- Are often angry at someone or something
- Extreme mood swings and/or bad temper
- Frequent comparisons of you to others in an uncomfortable way
- Your fear breaking up because you’re afraid for your safety
- You tell yourself you will just try harder to make your dating partner happy next time if you only “fix” or change “X” or “Y”. (E.g. “If only I could dress/act how s/he likes then we will be back in a good place.”)
- Repeatedly giving you the silent treatment and/or putting you down
- You feel increasingly depressed to be with this person, but feel trapped to stay because they will fall apart if you leave.
There is no room in a relationship for anyone, male or female, to be controlling, manipulative, or abusive.
Here are a few less commonly known signs of which you should be aware:
- A Blamer: Avoid anyone who blames his negative feelings and bad luck on someone else. Special care is necessary here as a blamer can really make you feel great because “everyone else is crazy – except for you”. E.g. “You are so smart, pretty, sensitive and caring, not like the miserable girl who I dated before you.” Blamers will inevitably begin blaming you, among all the others they blame, for whatever is wrong in their lives.
- Resentment: A negative mood caused by a focus on unfairness. Resentful people feel like they are not getting the help, consideration, praise, rewards, or affection they believe is due to them. We are all resentful from time to time but we get over it and move on. The resentful person has trouble moving on. They get caught up in their “rights” and don’t see the perspective of another person. If you marry someone like this, you will eventually bear the brunt of that resentment.
- Entitlement – They believe they deserve special treatment and are driven by high standards of what they should get from the world around them. E.g. “With the kind of day I had at work, you expect me to take out the garbage too!” After the infatuation wears off, you will get be abused by or depressed from living with this type of personality.
- Superiority: The implication that they are somehow better than others. Often this stems from a lower self-esteem and the only way for this personality to make themselves feel good, is to put others down. They will present as confident when putting others down, but as soon as people don’t obey their wishes or don’t accept the put-downs that confidence evaporates.
- Pettiness: Making a big deal about nothing. Maybe s/he will be extremely particular about how his food is prepared or how she likes her coffee. They will make a big stink if it doesn’t go their way. After a while, this type of pettiness will make you feel reduced as if nothing you ever have done in your life really matters. You will feel criticized and diminished for the smallest of things.
- Sarcasm: There is no room in a relationship for sarcasm. It may seem fun to throw punches when you are dating, but it is no fun when you are married. Sarcastic people are always trying to sound smart or witty. Their tone always has a subtle put-down in it. In dating it might be directed towards others, in marriage, it will center on you.
- Deceit: Many people will intentionally or unintentionally exaggerate their good qualities in dating to impress. Deceit shows a low level of self-respect that will never help you down the road in a long-term relationship where trust is critical.
- Jealously: S/he gets uncomfortable when you have socially and halachically appropriate contact with another man or woman. They may wonder why you want to spend so much time with friends and not them. Jealously only becomes very dangerous when it becomes an obsession. Most severe violence involves some level of jealously.
- The Rusher: Anyone who wants to rush into a relationship without respecting the appropriate personal boundaries is violation someone else’s personal space. This is a form of abuse when taken to the extreme. Make sure the person you are with respects your comfort level in the relationship’s progression.
- Pusher: Someone who is constantly pushing you into ideas, experiences or decisions with which you are not comfortable and/or invalidates your hesitancies.
This list can be overwhelming! If you have doubts about any of the above, it would probably be helpful for you to discuss the specifics with a trusted mentor, mental health professional, or dating coach.
The reality is that we all put out energy to those we are dating. Hopefully, we put out a positive, happy, confident and genuine vibe that says “I want to build a healthy and stable relationship with someone who respects and appreciates me as much as I do them.” By the same token, some of us are putting out either a negative vibe or even a “Come and hurt me vibe.” Where these come from is complex and personal, and again, should best be discussed in detail with a professional therapist or coach.
One of my favorite quotes is “Most people take the garbage of their past, fling it into the future, and wonder how it rolled into their present”. In the meantime – everyone around them is swimming in their garbage. It isn’t fair. We need to take ownership and clean up any emotional or psychological wake that we may have left our friends, peers, coworker and family swimming in around us. Let’s not fling our garbage onto others and potentially hurt ourselves or others.
Marriage is not a hospital and it is critical to work through our own ghosts before entering the most important relationship we will ever have. Marriage will only solve one thing: being single. It will not cure unhealthy attitudes we may have about ourselves and/or marriage. Entering marriage in an unhealthy state will not only make one person miserable but two. It is advisable that everyone figure out who they are, what they have to give and how best to share that before they begin dating. You can’t say ‘I love you” until you know who “I” is.
By pointing out these warning signs in place I hope I’ve shortened the route to your most meaningful relationship!