When people picture an abusive or controlling man, they imagine him yelling, threatening, or attacking with his fists. These images do capture one aspect of the experience of a woman who has a destructive partner, but at the same time they leave so much out.
They particularly miss one of the most insidious forms of relationship poison, which is when the man relentlessly – but not necessarily loudly -- badgers, criticizes, pressures, and guilt-trips the woman until she gives in. This kind of vise-grip approach, where he just keeps tightening up the pressure until she can’t take it, is especially common regarding sex, but it comes about other issues as well.
Why is this pressure so toxic? One of the key reasons is that the woman comes out blaming herself. Over and over again, women say to me, “Well, I let him get away with it,” or, “I was stupid to put up with it.” Her partner has made her feel that she made a voluntary choice, so she feels responsible for causing her own harm to herself.
But the decision wasn’t voluntary at all. You are not making a free choice if it follows an unending barrage of verbal pushing. And this is even more true when that pushing includes insults and guilt-tripping. This style of man is sending the message that you are bad and that you are inferior if you don’t give in to his demands.
And there usually is a threat, even if he isn’t openly saying that he is going to hurt you. He is often sending the message that he is going to be cold or mean to you for days to come if he doesn’t get his way – because that’s what he’s done in the past when you haven’t given in. Or he may get it across that he is going to cheat on you if don’t do what he is telling you to do. Threats don’t have to be overt to be powerful.
You are not a voluntary participant when you have been bullied into doing things that you didn’t believe you should have to do. And when a man bullies you into sexual contact that you didn’t want, or into a specific sexual act that you didn’t want, that’s sexual assault not lovemaking.