Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Growing up in this culture, it’s easy to get confused about what loving behavior looks like.
For example: you know that iconic scene in Say Anything when Lloyd Dobler holds up the boom box outside Diane’s window, blasting Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes after she breaks up with him? For those of us who came of age in or after the 80’s, that scene was the pinnacle of romance, a shining example of how the perfect boyfriend would behave in that situation.
In retrospect, though? It’s pretty problematic. Instead of respecting her wishes, he invades her personal space to try and emotionally manipulate her into changing her mind. And ultimately, he is rewarded for that behavior.
Lloyd Dobler, in other words, understands love. But not respect.
So it’s no wonder that, growing up steeped in those messages and examples, we, too, are confused about what respectful behavior in a relationship actually looks like. We accept, excuse, and even invite or encourage all manner of disrespectful treatment by defining it as “loving” behavior.
The tragedy there is that by defining love in this way, we deprive ourselves of true intimacy. Intimacy requires trust. And how can you trust someone who does not respect your boundaries?
We need a new definition of love. One that is based on mutual respect and healthy boundaries. And we need to stop accepting anything less.
To help you recognize and dismantle unhealthy patterns in your own life, here is a list of common manipulation tactics that are all too often accepted as “normal” relationship behaviors:
Ignoring, trampling, or pushing back hard against stated boundaries
Consistently denying or ignoring reasonable requests
Breaking agreements; no follow-through
Expecting continual forgiveness with no change in behavior
Expecting constant accommodation of needs/wants without doing the same in return
Demanding an explanation or justification for stated needs, wants, or preferences; “because that’s how I prefer it” is enough
Continually blaming or making wrong, particularly in response to a legitimate concern or complaint
Jumping quickly to negative conclusions and nit-picking; no automatic assumption of positive intent
Making blanket statements such as “you always,” and “you never,” rather than focusing on specific instances
Backing up an opinion with fabricated public support, i.e. “everyone says so,” or “all your friends agree with me”
Name calling, labeling, pathologizing or evaluating the other person’s condition, i.e. “You know what your problem is?”
Conflating behavior with intrinsic value or personal worth
Publicly embarrassing, mocking, or belittling; throwing under the bus
Discouraging or disparaging; continuously offering unsolicited negative feedback; making a partner feel not-good-enough
Controlling to whom a partner speaks or what is said
Isolating a partner from and/or demonizing supportive family and friends
Encouraging a partner to ignore their gut instincts or distrust their own perceptions; gaslighting
Concealing, denying, misrepresenting or disavowing the true nature of the relationship to others
Making threats, implicit or explicit
Encouraging a partner to betray their stated values, or putting them in a position where they frequently feel the need to betray them in order to make the relationship work
If these disrespectful behaviors sound disturbingly familiar, either because you have been putting up with them or because you yourself have engaged in them (or both), be kind to yourself. It is nearly impossible to grow up in this culture and not recreate these patterns.
The important thing is to become increasingly aware of such behaviors so that you can stop thinking of them as loving, and start dismantling the pattern of accepting and perpetuating them, little by little.
You are always free to make a new choice, and create new, more respectful relationship patterns. Anyone who doesn’t respect that right does not deserve your love.