This is the title of a book I just started reading by Lundy Bancroft, a well-known therapist who specializes in working with women in domestic violence and/or abusive relationships.
The title didn’t thrill me. It scared me, but the premise intrigued me. How do you know when your relationship is no longer working? Is it obvious? Is it obvious to everyone around you except you? What if I just expect too much? What if my relationship is really not that bad and I’m just one of those persnickety people who holds others to a ridiculous standard?
How do I know that the problem isn’t me?
Yesterday, as I was reading the introduction to this book, I came upon this:
The issue we address right away in Chapter 1— because we think it will be at the forefront of your mind— is whether the difficulties you are having are just the typical ones that all relationships go through, or whether they are symptoms of something deeper. We’ll ask you to examine your expectations, to answer the question “Do I just expect too much from a relationship?” (We’re already guessing that you don’t; we meet more women who expect too little than too much.)
My heartbeat started to quicken. Yes, this is exactly what I wanted to know. Do I expect too much? Is the problem me? Bancroft goes on to say:
We believe there are basics that all relationships need to have, indispensable elements such as:
- love, affection, and kindness
- mutual respect
- freedom of both partners to express their true opinions and feelings
- safe, loving physical intimacy
- making each other a high priority (though not necessarily the only priority)
- accepting responsibility for one’s own actions
- each partner caring about how his or her actions affect the other person
Nothing on this list is pie-in-the-sky. If your relationship is missing any of these elements, you have good reason to want that gap to be attended to— and to insist on it.
In Chapter 1, Bancroft describes elements of a healthy relationship. The first element of a healthy relationship is respect:
You must be treated with respect. No partner should call you names, make fun of you , roll his eyes at you in an argument, humiliate you, or mock you. Period. It doesn’t matter if he’s had a bad day or a bad decade, if he’s drunk, if he’s under tremendous financial stress, if he’s furious at you, or if he feels that you were disrespecting him. There’s simply no excuse for disrespect. There’s always another option.
The second element of a healthy relationship is safety:
You must feel safe. You should never have to worry that your partner will hurt you physically or sexually. If he behaves in ways that make you feel that an assault might be coming— even if it never actually does— or if he behaves in ways that lead you to have sexual contact with him that you don’t want, you are not in a safe relationship. Safety can also disappear if you have to be concerned that he might cause you serious harm in ways that are not physical or sexual, such as if he threatens to reveal important secrets, tries to deliberately cause you financial harm, says he will take custody of the children away from you, or exhibits other kinds of cruelty.
The third element of a healthy relationship is feeling loved:
You should feel loved the great majority of the time. Every relationship has its periods when everything seems to turn into a squabble, or where distance and disconnection take over and passion fades. But these times should be the exception, not the rule. And even during hard times, your partner should be capable of finding ways to get the message across to you that you are valued and appreciated. Although he might not be able to literally say, “I’m mad at you but I still love you,” that message should come across. If the times when you feel loved are few and far between, and if your partner completely changes his attitude toward you anytime things aren’t going his way, you deserve better.
The fourth element of a healthy relationship is passion and intimacy:
You should have passion and intimacy. Not everyone craves physical passion and sexuality, but most people do, and if these matter to you, you have the right to expect them to be a lively part of your primary relationship . Partners who care about each other and are committed to their connection can find ways to keep sexual energy and excitement kindled year after year. The notion that the passing of time inevitably makes a man lose his desire for a woman is false, a product of immature views of relationships and sexuality. Equally false is the view that monogamy deadens sexual energy and that infidelity is the only way to keep passion alive . If you want a sexy, faithful relationship, you are only asking for what you have every right to expect.
The fifth element of a healthy relationship is feeling truly known and understood:
You should feel seen. Consider these questions: Does your partner really know you ? Does he like you? (It’s possible to feel that your partner loves you but doesn’t really like you.) Does he understand your dreams and ambitions? Does he grasp what your deepest loves are—whether those are people, or places, or hobbies? Do you feel that he’s on your team in life, that he’s got your back? Does he value what you give to the world? Is he a good friend to you?
After I read through Bancroft’s list, I felt ill. This in no way describes the relationship within my marriage. This is the foil to my marriage. Furthermore, the list felt somehow impossible. Fantastical even. Once again, it felt like Mr. Bancroft was in my head when he elaborated:
As you read through this list, you may be thinking, “Oh , I couldn’t possibly find a partner with whom I could have all that.” But this list describes the minimum a relationship should have, not pie in the sky. Expecting too little can keep you trapped in an unhealthy relationship. You will tend to keep second-guessing yourself, feeling that you are to blame for having unreasonable desires.
This is the minimum?! Frankly, I was stunned. I sat at the table and tried not to openly weep. I have never experienced this in my marriage! Upon reflection, I realized that I had never experienced this sort of relational climate in my family. Maybe one of these criteria at one time or another but never all at once. Reading them again is still shocking to me. These criteria, aside from passionate intimacy, applies to all our close relationships. Respect, safety, feeling loved, and feeling understood are all qualities that should be a part of all our relationships be they with our friends, siblings, or parents. His final word on it once again:
Expecting too little can keep you trapped in an unhealthy relationship. You will tend to keep second-guessing yourself, feeling that you are to blame for having unreasonable desires.
This is incredible validation. It also takes off the blinders. “Hey, I haven’t been expecting too much! I don’t have unreasonable desires! I’m not crazy! I don’t think I should be blamed for all this!”
This is just Chapter 1. I highly recommend reading this book if you are in a relationship that isn’t working or if you feel crazy in your relationship. It is designed largely for women although men should read this if they suspect that they are in an abusive relationship. The book has a website of its own with bonus material for potentially abusive partners so that the women (or men) reading the book will not give the book itself to their partners. Mr. Bancroft knows his stuff.
Be brave! Read on…
It should be said that I did end my marriage. A little over a month after I wrote this post, my husband and I came to an agreement that our marriage was truly over after almost twenty years together. We separated three months later.
A year later I can say that it was by far the best decision I could have made.