Four ways to deal with a hostile and aggressive partner
Relationship advice Tips From Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Are you trying to placate a hostile partner?
Are you scared of your partner’s reactions?
Do you regret saying what you think and feel if your partner’s feelings get ruffled?
Then it’s likely that your partner is terrorizing you by tearing you down so you melt into the background, and then provoking you into reacting when they want you to come back to life.
So how should you approach and interact with your partner so that you can live without fear of being silenced and destroyed over and over again?
This was the dilemma Mason faced when he tried to have a peaceful relationship with his partner.
Mason loved his partner for her support when his family ignored him. He loved sharing his interest in architecture and design. Mason also loved Kelsey’s extended family. They were so accepting and comforting, the exact opposite of his own family. But Kelsey had moods that would come out of nowhere and he was always on the rough end of her anger when things didn’t go her way.
Kelsey would yell slurs at him, turning good deeds into bad ones, and good intentions into neglectful ones. The tone of her voice was demeaning and it made Mason cower. It was as if she was trampling on him as some kind of ‘reject!’
Mason bought into Kelsey’s derogatory remarks.
He was unable to make love to her for fear of being ‘no good’ and incurring even more distaste and rejection. He couldn’t share his feelings or his desires. He couldn’t share any of himself for fear of unleashing her aggression if his sharing displeased her.
Life was made up of dodging Kelsey’s aggressive attitude and hostile words, or preparing for the onslaught.
But Mason had times when he got angry, and wanted to stand up to her. He wanted to be seen as the kind and loving man that he was. The shame of being weak got in the way and he continued to give her the floor to beat him up with her venom.
Mason was very relieved when he discovered that Kelsey’s treatment of him wasn’t because he was a bad or inadequate guy. I helped him understand that Kelsey was an anxious, insecure woman who didn’t know how to be comfortably intimate with him because she felt rejected by her father as a child.
photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Research reported in Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2011 found that children who grew up feeling rejected by their fathers grew up to be hostile and aggressive towards others.
These children held onto their pain and manifested it later in adult relationships. The lack of acceptance by a father who is perceived as the source of power at a particularly young age in a child’s life damages their chances of making and maintaining secure, trusting and loving connections with other adults.
Kelsey was unable to trust in Mason’s good intentions. She was convinced that he like her father was going to reject her, and so she developed a hostile and aggressive streak as a preemptive strike. She would reject him first and make him feel bad so that he wouldn’t be able to do it to her.
Once Mason understood where Kelsey’s destructive tendencies came from, he was able to build his confidence back up by working in therapy.
Mason needed a lot of help to muster his courage and sense of self-worth that was necessary for the plan to work. Here are four ways I helped Mason to equalize the relationship:
1. Make clear rules about how Kelsey can communicate with you and respond when she follows them.
2. Recognize her fear of rejection when she is hostile to stop her in her tracks and open up a dialogue box to talk about fear, pain and heartache on both sides.
3. Share your moment to moment experience with Kelsey in words so that she felt included, accepted and a part of him, even if it upsets her.
4. Remind Kelsey that you chose her and continue to stay with her because you accept her, not because you have to.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.