I don’t know if I am overeacting or being too sensitive to my partner’s comments and behaviour. He is very disapproving when I want to spend time with friends instead of with him. He says that I am not fully committed to the relationship. I have no children of my own but commit to spend every weekend with both my partner and his son. I do this every weekend without fail. 

The problem is that he gets very defensive. He says that I take his son’s side on things and that I should talk to him in private about issues instead of saying out loud at the time as it doesn’t look good to be disagreeing with him — it shows that I am not showing respect.

I have been with him for five years now. And it isn’t getting easier. He got into a bad mood when I told him I was going away for a weekend to see an old friend. He said that I should have either taken him with me so it was a weekend together or I could have spent the money more wisely. i.e. stay at home with him.

He is dead set against counselling, he says it is insulting to him to even ask him to go. I feel like he is stripping away my identity and that I can’t be myself for fear of upsetting him.

Ammanda says…

What a difficult situation to be in. The first thing I want to say is that this isn’t a case of your partner being ‘defensive’. It’s a case of him being emotionally abusive and it really isn’t on. This may sound harsh but let’s look at what’s happening here. One of the key ingredients of any successful relationship is that the partners can respect each other’s absolutely appropriate need for occasional space — to be with friends and family or even on their own. It’s really up to the couple to work out what feels right and that’s going to depend on several things — including what each of them has been used to in the past, wider family responsibilities, the needs of children (whether from this relationship or an earlier one), and of course, how much time feels OK to spend together as a couple rather than as a family. But whatever has to be considered, the conversation is mutually supportive and respectful.

So, I would say that having some time with friends is not unreasonable but, in this case, you’re being made to feel guilty about a normal ‘fun’ thing to do, that can also significantly contribute to mental and emotional health. Likewise, while he’s right when he says it’s best not to argue with him in front of his son — he’s also suggesting that you’re not showing him respect, rather than the problem is that rowing might upset his son. This is worrying because I don’t hear much about his respect for you and if he is saying this in front of the boy, I would say that he not setting a healthy example of how to treat a partner.

Talking together in private about things that are not feeling OK in a relationship is one of the first steps to sorting them out. But here, it sounds like that’s not really on offer. The key message appears to be that you should really put up and shut up and that is never going to make for a happy, healthy relationship. Likewise, it sounds like there are issues about how money is spent. While this is often an issue in relationships, the way out is by mutual and fair agreement about how money get divvied up and without either party having to feel guilty about occasionally meeting their own needs.

I don’t know if this is the case but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other things he criticizes you about too. Very often, when we’re on the receiving end of regular disapproval from a partner we end up hardly noticing it. It simply becomes the norm. But the end result is that our own sense of wellbeing and confidence is gradually eroded sometimes to the point where we end up agreeing that we’re basically rubbish.

What often happens in situations like this is that the partner on the receiving end makes excuses for the behaviour that’s being doled out to them. Abusive partners often encourage their other half to believe that they’re actually doing them a favour. The unspoken understanding is something like ‘I wouldn’t have to treat you like this if you were a better person/ didn’t disagree with me/ attended to all my needs’ and so on. Unfortunately from what you say, this is happening here.

I’m not surprised that counselling doesn’t appeal to him. There are many reasons why partners are abusive but none of them can be used as an excuse and counselling would not be a place where explanatory reasons would be allowed to descend into excusatory ones. The key point to understand is that the abusive partner is entirely responsible for their behaviour. Sometime they choose to address what they do (which can be warmly encouraged and supported by the appropriate agencies and practitioners) but often they don’t. This leaves their partner with some very difficult (and sometimes unsafe choices). So the emphasis really needs to shift to you prioritising your own self-care.

As you rightly say, he is stripping you of your identity and the bad news is this is likely to get worse. I really want  to encourage you to get help as soon as possible. There is lots of support and listed below are some that you can access immediately. You started your longer letter to me by querying if I will be able to help. I don’t if I have helped you but if I’ve done nothing else other than reassure you that you are not to blame and encouraged you to seek support that will be a result. You  are worth so much more than this man is allowing. Please don’t let his problems overshadow the rest of your life.