I hear this question a lot from clients and on social media and my answer is not what you’d expect. Here’s how I think about it.
The questioner is in a relationship with someone who repeatedly violates boundaries and treats her in highly disrespectful ways. Treatment could be anything from name-calling to hitting, blaming to criticizing, threatening to trivializing. Whatever the behavior, it is repeated and it hurts the questioner.
Invariably the questioner has told the partner that the behavior is hurtful and not okay.
The question, “Does he know he’s hurting me” is a reasonable question if one assumes that people who love each other don’t intentionally hurt each other.
So, what is going on?
Reasoning through this we will see something like this:
People who love each other don’t intentionally hurt each other.
He tells me he loves me.
I love him.
He’s hurting me.
Everyone I’ve worked with who finds themselves in a toxic relationship has problems with setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. It’s one of the reasons people end up in toxic relationships and then have a hard time leaving.
It’s a relationship where one person violates the other person’s boundaries, values, and identity on a regular basis. These relationships are verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive.
When I talk with people who are in toxic relationships common themes emerge.
Have you noticed that when you feel disconnected from a primary partnership it naturally generates questions of your value? It’s common to wonder if you matter or what’s wrong with you.
As children, we don’t naturally know who we are or what we are capable of. We learn who we are through conversations with adults who tell us about ourselves. These adults, our parents, teachers, relatives, and strangers, make statements such as “Look at how smart you are!” or “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” or “How hard is it to clean your room?”
If you think honestly about how you regard yourself, it is probably an outgrowth of how the adults in your life regarded you as a child. Feelings like “others don’t appreciate me” or “it’s hard to find love so I might as well put up with what I have” come from a sense of not being valued.
At the same time, it’s easy to imagine how feeling better...
Have you ever been arguing with your partner or family member and realized you didn’t want to be fighting? You wanted to stop but you didn’t know how to get your point across without continuing the fight?
We’ve all be there and it feels like being caught in quicksand. The more you talk, the worse it gets.
Instead of talking, find the right moment and give your partner or family member a hug.*
First, find the right moment.
This is important because if the argument is currently happening, your partner isn’t going to be receptive to a hug. But later, after things have cooled off, go up to your partner and ask for a hug. No reference to the early disagreement, no explanation. Just ask for a hug.
As a matter of fact, I recommend hugging your partner (and other family members) multiple times per day.
The magic of a hug lies in the neurochemistry that happens when you hug someone. Both people in a hug release oxytocin, a neurochemical responsible for bonding....
Meet my German Shepherd, Echo. He’s loyal and bonded to me. He is also protective and shows good judgment about other people. His favorite activity is to catch or fetch balls I throw for him. He does it like it’s his job — with intensity and passion. Echo sets a good example for us all. Here are just a few good things he demonstrates daily.
1. He likes to work and does his job with passion. Even the little jobs, such as catching balls, “hunting” flies, and encouraging me to take a break. Are you doing your jobs with passion? Do you appreciate the meaning of those small everyday, annoying tasks? These small tasks are often the result of abundance in our lives. For example, if you own a car, there is maintenance involved. The annoyance of having to change the oil in the car wouldn’t be there if you didn’t have the resources to own the car in the first place. Appreciate the small, annoying things in your life and do them with passion (or...
One afternoon in late November, my husband and I were sitting in an exam room waiting for the neurologist to return. Fred had already had an extensive neurological exam and, sitting there in silence, I could see the worry and fear on my husband’s face.
Eighteen months earlier he had started having muscle twitches in his arms and chest, but the neurologist at the time couldn’t find anything else wrong and diagnosed him with “benign muscle fasciculations.” Likely temporary, minor muscle twitches — nothing to worry about.
Now Fred was having problems enunciating words. Whatever was wrong must be serious. As I watched the neurological exam, I could tell that my formerly strong husband was having significant problems with his arms, hands, and tongue. What could be going on?
It took about 15 minutes before the neurologist returned, this time with another neurologist who started doing more neurological testing. After about 10 minutes they both sat down and the...
I worked at the Portland VA Medical Center for 5 years. There were a lot of good things about that job, but as with any large bureaucracy, there were a lot of things about it that were inefficient, ineffective, and blocked progress. There were policies and ways of interpreting policies that favored some people over others and the institution over patients and staff. There were initiatives designed to make the system better, but which appeared to be designed to be a gold star in some manager’s cap, not a meaning change to the system. But I digress…
Sometime during my 4th year, I knew it was time to leave. It had become clear that I was behind the curve salary-wise and running out of options for finding the kind of work that would really challenge me. I wanted to do more work with women and working exclusively with women in the VA wasn’t an option as there were too few female patients to make that a viable focus. I also wanted to be my own boss, which meant having a...
Have you ever wondered if you are in the right relationship? At some point while you are dating, you are going to wonder if this relationship is right for you, if this partner is truly THE ONE. How do you know if you are making a good decision or if you are blinded the honeymoon phase of the relationship? There are lots of articles online that help you identify unhappy relationships or toxic people. But, if you are in the honeymoon phase everything could look much rosier than they will be later. So, how can you tell the difference?
The biggest sign of a good relationship is TRUST. Do you trust your partner with your most intimate thoughts and desires? Do you know whether he or she will be there to support you if you need help? Would your partner help out around the house, come to your rescue if you were stranded, or stay by your side if you were going through a difficult time (emotionally or physically). Do you know your partner has your best...
Many of the men and women I work with are struggling in their relationships. It is likely a relationship with their partner, but not always. Sometimes it’s a relationship with a family member, boss, co-worker, or neighbor. In almost all cases, it’s a clash between the way men and women do relationships. So I decided to write a book. After more than 15 years of working with clients and addressing relationship issues, it’s time to take what I’ve learned beyond the walls of my office.
Ultimately, I want to change the way men and women interact. I want women to get what they want and need from relationships and I want men to participate more and be less confused about what women expect of them.
The women I work with are asking for what they want, making reasonable demands on their partners, coworkers, bosses and family members, and yet are met with resistance. They aren’t getting what they need. Why is that? This book is an attempt to address this question...