Dear Lala, my boyfriend is manipulative but my circumstances mean I dont know how to leave

Dear Lala, my boyfriend is manipulative but my circumstances mean I dont know how to leave

10/25/2021

In a new twist on Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems.

Here, she offers advice to a woman who has been 'the other woman' for three years.

Dear Lala,

I’m in a manipulative relationship but I’m struggling to leave because he just turns everything around on me. Iend up apologising even though I have the right to feel the way I feel because they’re justified and reasonable issues.

He makes out I always want to cause an issue or argument, when in reality I’m just trying to put boundaries in place. He doesn’t respect me or anything I do for him. He just expects it, despite treating me the way he does. He neglects any type of intimacy, physical or emotional, and we hardly ever have sex. He also never compliments me.

My soul breaks a little more each day because I’m afraid to be myself. He doesn’t express any positive feelings for me, but just criticises everything I do, trying to pass it off as banter and telling me I can’t take a joke. While he shows little interest in me, he’ll flirt with girls in front of me and say it’s because he’s got ADHD and it’s just who he is.

We’re completely different people but I’m learning a lot about myself and who I want to be. I just need to get out of this rut and stop letting him make me feel so insignificant. I know I’m a good person and that everything he accuses me of is just a reflection on what he’s doing. He’s a master manipulator. He’s so obsessed with himself, always talking about himself, thinking he’s superior to everyone else.

He’s been to prison and has done a lot of bad things, so he won’t make our relationship public as he says he’s protecting me and my daughter in case anyone comes after him. I’m scared to leave him as I feel so alone and he’s made me feel so little of myself. I know he’s dragging me down. He has no job and any money he does have is dodgy. I’m a single mother, not working, struggling to survive and he’s sponging from us.

I just feel so lost.

LALA SAYS:

I am so glad that you wrote to me about this because I think that this is your first step on the path to escaping. I say escaping and not leaving because this is an abusive relationship.

You haven’t mentioned any physical violence but what he is subjecting you to is still classed as domestic violence because he is abusing you emotionally and the impact of that is just as violent and traumatic as physical harm, and sometimes even greater.

It is important to name some of the behaviours that he’s subjecting you to because it will help you to gain some clarity about why he does it, and it will also help you to understand that you are not alone in experiencing these things. They are common textbook abuse tactics that are employed by most abusers.

Firstly, some of the examples you’ve given sound like gaslighting. Gaslighting is when someone manipulates a person into questioning their own sanity. They often do this by denying things they’ve done or turning the argument back on you and making it seem as though they’re the victim, and you’re the abuser.

When you raise perfectly reasonable issues with him, he makes you believe that there is no issue and that you are only raising it because you love nagging. He makes you believe that you’re the cause of the problems in the relationship, not him. He deflects from his personal responsibility and blames you. And it works so effectively because when he’s not gaslighting you he’s grinding down your self-esteem.

He is robbing you of your ability to be confident and self-assured and to feel certain that none of this is your fault.

He’s doing this in a couple of ways. One is with his use of negging. Negging is the use of backhanded compliments or blatant criticisms to destroy a person’s self-esteem. A huge feature of negging is that the abuser will pass it off as banter and make the victim feel silly for being upset about it. They won’t apologise for hurting your feelings, they’ll tell you that you’re being an idiot for being upset. Over time, constant negs will inevitably lead to a person believing that they are ugly, worthless, or stupid.

He’s also using triangulation – when an abuser brings other people into the relationship in order to make the victim fight for their attention and feel frightened about losing the abuser. He flirts with other women in front of you because he wants to have complete control over you. He wants you to see him giving the attention you so desperately crave from him to others, so that your self-esteem is shattered; and so that you can see that he’s a catch who you need to vie for the attention of. ADHD does not cause someone to flirt uncontrollably in front of their partner.

I think that the term narcissist is over-used on social media and is often applied to people inaccurately. But from the things you’ve described, it would suggest that your partner has several traits and behaviours that would indicate some level of narcissism.

Specifically, the parts where you said: ‘ He’s so obsessed with himself, always talking about himself, thinks he’s superior to everyone else.’ Coupled with the fact that he’s using negging, gaslighting and triangulation, and that he’s a master manipulator who manipulates everyone in his life, it would strongly indicate that this is narcissistic abuse.

However, I don’t think it’s helpful to look at this from the perspective that he may have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and therefore, with psychiatric help, he might change. I think it’s better to look at this as domestic abuse caused wholly by him – having NPD or ADHD does not make someone an abuser. Emotionally neglecting and harming a partner is a choice. He is choosing to treat you in this way.

The fact that he’s involved with criminality increases the risks. You said that any money he has is dodgy, and that he fears reprisals if he posts you on social media (which I don’t believe is the reason he’s not posting you – I think it’s a possible red flag for him seeing other women) both of which may indicate that he’s still actively involved in criminal activity.

If he really does fear that making you public would lead to you being in the line of fire when people come for him – then this is a huge red flag. It means that being in a relationship with him poses an ongoing risk to you and your daughter. If being with him makes you a target by default, then I cannot see any bigger motivator for leaving than that. Your daughter’s life is potentially at risk and that is not something that should be taken lightly.

Your daughter’s life and future are also likely to be negatively impacted by this relationship if you remain in it. She will see the way that he treats you and she’ll learn that this is how she should be treated. She will see the emotional abuse he dishes out to you and to her it will become normal. I get the sense that he’s not her biological Father. Stepfathers are also another potential risk indicator.

We know from serious case reviews carried out in England and Wales that a disproportionate number of children who are killed or seriously harmed live with a stepfather. We know that he has the capacity to emotionally abuse the people he claims to protect and love, and we know that emotional abuse often escalates into physical and sexual violence. There are significant links between domestic abuse and the sexual abuse of children too.

So, whilst he may not currently be harming her beyond the harm he is doing to her by abusing you, the risks are there and the potential for things to happen in the future is clear. If you can’t find the strength to leave for yourself, then find it for her.

She also needs a happy mummy, or at the very least a mummy who isn’t feeling neglected and insignificant every single day. Parenting is hard on a good day, but trying to be the best parent that you can be whilst your self-esteem is being battered by an abusive partner is virtually impossible. He’s draining you of your ability to give yourself fully to your daughter and to be the best mum that you can be.

He is also financially abusing you by sponging off your low income, taking money that should be for you and your daughter’s survival. None of this means that you’re a bad mum for being with him. You’re not choosing to put your daughter at risk – he’s fully to blame for any risks posed – but I think it’s important for you to consider the impact of all of this on your daughter because she might be the catalyst that helps you to begin to break free. You must protect her.

Everything about this relationship is draining you and it’s important for you to understand that it will not get better. As time goes on it will likely get worse. Abuse nearly always escalates. Ending things will not be easy. He will promise to change, but he has had enough time to change, and he hasn’t.

You must keep that in mind, this is him, this is how he operates in relationships, this is how he will treat all his future partners. If he’s living with you and relying on you for shelter and food, then ending it will be made much harder. He will do everything he can to make ending it near impossible for you.

I think you would benefit hugely from professional support. You can contact Refuge National Domestic Violence Helpline on 08082000247 or you can google ‘domestic abuse’ with the name of your local area and contact a support service near you.

Despite all the horrible things he has put you through, it’s likely that you will feel some love for him, and that trying to leave will make you feel like you are letting go of love, or that you are being cruel to him.

You may even miss him terribly if he does leave, and you will frequently worry about whether you’ve made the right choice. Leaving abuse is often like trying to quit an addiction. Like smoking for example, you know the fags are killing you, you feel pain your chest often, you hate the way it makes you smell and the hold it has on your life, but every time you tell yourself you won’t smoke again you get that creeping knot in your stomach and your brain works overtime telling you that just one more won’t hurt.

But you have to go cold turkey, you have to make the decision to cut it off and end the addiction, you have to reach out for support and talk it through with someone every time you crave a cigarette, you have to find strategies for distracting yourself each time the craving hits and find other methods for self-soothing.

He’s a toxic cigarette, and he’ll harm your mental health. You must break the addiction. Support will really help you with this.

I would also recommend talking to friends and family if you can. It can really help to talk. It may also help you to do the Freedom Programme course so that you can begin to make sense of what has been happening in this relationship.

You are not alone. I can guarantee you that thousands of people reading this will have experienced similar, and they will all be giving you huge virtual hugs. You should be so proud of yourself for taking the step to reach out. I hope that it helps you to see that you deserve so much better.

The reality is that escaping an emotionally abusive relationship is extremely difficult, leaving the relationship doesn’t always mean an end to the abuse. He will likely try to maintain control over you even if you’re not together. He may pull stunts like moving straight in with another woman and posting her on social media or other cruel tricks to try to hurt you and make you regret ending it.

Please get the support you need from professionals so that you can begin your journey to freedom. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Follow @Lalalaletmeexplain on Instagram for more advice on sex and relationships. Have a question for Lala? Email okletters@reachplc.com.

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