Linda Arnold: Are you walking on eggshells in your relationship?

August 12, 2018

“Maybe I shouldn’t tell him I stopped by my friend’s house. It will just set him off.”

“Why does she keep checking my text messages?”

“He flies off the handle at every little thing. It’s better to keep secrets - and keep the peace.”

If any of these comments sound familiar to you - or someone in your circle - you may want to examine the level of control that could be lurking in those relationships.

My friend, “Rhonda,” is going through a breakup right now - after 13 years in a relationship. And, while it’s tough to adjust to changing circumstances, she’s also breathing a sigh of relief from the possessiveness she had gotten used to in the relationship.

Unfortunately, this is a rather common theme. That’s because it evolves over time. You don’t see it coming. And then you find you have to explain every little thing - even if it’s perfectly innocent.

Rhonda wasn’t able to spend time with her friends and family because she always felt she was going to “get into trouble,” even though she hadn’t done anything wrong. Mood swings were common in the relationship. She worried that if she said hello to someone - she may come home and be accused of cheating.

Talk about walking on eggshells!

How did this happen?

It didn’t start out this way with Rhonda. She was reflecting recently on the early days of her relationship, which were filled with happiness and a mutual love for their pets. And it certainly seemed harmonious to most of us looking in from the outside. As time went on, though, she found herself declining more and more invitations and coming home right after work. It just wasn’t worth the hassle she’d have to go through with her partner.

Toxic relationships can sneak up on almost anyone, and the controlling person can be either aggressive or passive aggressive. They use a wide arsenal of tools to dominate their partners, explains psychologist Andrea Bonier, whether they or their partners realize what’s happening or not.

Look for the signs

Spying or snooping - always suspiciousConstantly criticizing you - often in front of othersEdging out your family and friendsOveractive jealousy and accusationsPresuming you’re guilty until proven innocentRidiculing you for long-held beliefsEngaging in sexual interactions that are unsettlingCreating debt that you’re beholden toPointing out all the ways you don’t “measure up”Getting you so tired of arguing that you just give up

Again, these things don’t happen overnight. They build up over time, and then you can wake up one day and feel like you’re in a Lifetime movie.

‘It’s not really that bad’

You may have convinced yourself that the quirks in your relationship don’t rise to the level of abuse. However, abuse doesn’t have to be physical. Emotional bruises are real, too. We just can’t see them. And emotional abuse can keep you on the fence, thinking your situation really isn’t that bad. Which reminds me of a saying about relationships: “It’s not bad enough to leave. But it’s not good enough to stay.”

Pop quiz

Take a look at these quiz questions, compiled by the organization, Relate, in partnership with Status, as part of its Better Breakups initiative, to get a barometer on whether you’re in a controlling relationship.

1. How often does your partner criticize or insult you?

a) Rarely.b) Sometimes.c) Pretty much all the time.

2. Does your partner often want to know where you are if you’re not with him or her?

a) Only to make sure I’m OK.b) Occasionally.c) Yes, all the time.

3. How often does your partner get jealous?

a) Rarely.b) Sometimes.c) Very frequently.

4. Do you make plans together?

a) Yes, we try to do things we both want to do.b) Mostly. Sometimes we can’t agree, though.c) No, we mainly do what he/she wants to do.

5. Does your partner make you feel physically unattractive?

a) No.b) Not on purpose.c) Yes, sometimes.

6. Does your partner try to read your emails and texts?

a) No, he/she trusts me.b) He/she tried once or twice.c) Yes, he/she does this regularly.

7. Does your partner make you feel guilty about things?

a) No.b) Every now and then.c) Yes, frequently.

8. Do you feel able to disagree with your partner?

a) Yes, we can disagree without arguing.b) Sometimes we might argue.c) No. He/she wouldn’t respond well.

9. How does your partner act when you talk about your friends?

a) He/she likes my friends.b) He/she is neutral.c) He/she doesn’t like me bringing them up.

10. Since you started seeing your partner, has the way you feel about yourself changed?

a) Yes, I feel better about myself.b) No, I feel about the same.c) Yes, I feel worse about myself.

I’ve included this quiz as a tool for self-evaluation. You may discover some things that have been swept under the rug. You may also find areas for improvement in your relationship and work toward those. In terms of additional resources, I’m aware of several books on this topic: “Stop Walking on Eggshells and Stop Walking on Eggshells: Take Your Life Back.” Online resources, such as www.relate.org, may also be helpful, as well as individual therapy.

Why does he/she act this way?

Those who are possessive and controlling are generally “acting out” as a result of their own insecurities. A phrase that is used in therapy sessions sheds some perspective on this: “It has nothing to do with you.” When you’re in the midst of a constant storm, though, it can be pretty hard to see this.

Possessive love is not real love, explains psychotherapist Susanna McMahon. Rather, it describes real need. You can’t be possessive and also have self-esteem. Possessiveness is about needs; self-esteem is about love. Possessiveness is a prison. Self-esteem is freedom.

Linda Arnold Live Life Fully, all rights reserved. Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor and Founder of a multi-state marketing company.

Update hourly