Treat them mean, keep them keen. You are teaching her to live without you!

This is one of these sayings that I often heard growing up in the 80’s and it never sat well.  I didn’t really understand the dynamics of it until I experienced it for myself.   What some of my relationships taught me was that both men and women actually do want to please their partners, make them happy, do what needs to be done to make them be happy, and that means we invest a lot of time, energy and effort into a relationship, so it works. The pain of relationship failure can be excruciating but the relief from a painful relationship is bliss.

so, by the very nature of an intimate relationship we are usually inviting that partner into that space in our world where there is failure, disgust, anger, disappointment and pain. Not with them, but with ourselves.

It’s usually locked away, hidden behind a mask of ‘it’s all good here, nothing to see or judge me on’ and outsiders certainly don’t have access.  It’s this space that we protect so venomously out of fear.

  • A fear driven by the dreadful feeling of being humiliated and embarrassed, because it’s not cool to make mistakes, stuff up or be wrong.
  • A fear driven by shame of who we are seen as, according to social standards and expectations.
  • A fear driven by guilt, that ripples through our body after we become fully conscious of the impact our choices have had on our own lives and on others, usually the people we love.

It is finally become more well known and accepted that the way in which someone treats you is both:

  • more of a reflection of who they are, and
  • the way you have allowed and taught them to treat you

As someone who has seen a lot of pain in the world, whether by neglect or deliberate intent, only when I finally and radically accepted that not only had I allowed but enabled some people in my life to treat me disrespectfully, I was actually, the co-creator of my chaos.  Chasing approval, demanding appreciation, feeling a need to prove my point to and from those people who didn’t actually care.


Things literally changed overnight.  I stopped people pleasing and left them to deal with the unreasonable expectations they had placed on our relationship.  I stopped over investing my time to meet standards that were not uniformly applied.  I pulled back from stepping in to ‘help’ and focused more on becoming independent, self reliant and happier.  It’s like ‘they’ know you would give everything you have just to see them happy. They keep throwing out the challenges, knowing you would take it up because it’s in your nature not to give up. To avoid feeling like a failure. I had to wonder if it was just an entertainment exercise for them.

I learnt about capacity, my capacity in specificity, but also about others capacity and how not ‘doing’ and just being, helped them more than if I had done it for them.  Yes, kids will do that to you, and 20 years ago I realised that adults are more capable than we give them credit for. Given the opportunity to do for themselves, they will, and they will (eventually) appreciate you for that.


My experience with conflict seems to be very different with the norm.  For me it’s a process of discovering the invisible boundaries in any relationship. On most occasions I’m quite comfortable with it. I don’t assume to know the boundaries of others, but I do know mine.  I’ve learnt conflict establishes those boundaries and over time, a resolution, especially if we care about them.

But, if we were to go behind the door of every home in Australia, you would undoubtedly find a level of conflict and coercive control tactics being used. Why? because relationships have boundaries and there is a grey area transitioning the safety felt in a relationship over to the ‘Chilling Effect’.  When you stop doing it because you care and do it because you’re scared.  Scared of the reaction that you assume might happen, because it has or has been threatened.  Fearful that if you don’t comply, they will leave, find someone else or expose you for the fraud that you feel like.

The truth is we are not all good and not all bad. Our choices determine our destiny.  Those who use shame, guilt or humiliation to achieve the outcome they want is controlling behaviour.   So whilst conversations that set up boundaries is healthy, discussing disappointment in not meeting expectations is healthy, ‘forecasting’ consequences for outcomes not achieved, trading in guilt and using emotions to ‘blackmail’ her as a means of narrowing her choices is intimidating. It is controlling. It threatens her rights to freedom of choice.   And if she has to choose between herself and you, she will eventually choose herself.

So whilst you think keeping a partner dependant on you will keep them by your side, the control tactics used consciously or unconsciously to disempower and degenerate an individuals self worth is actually teaching them how to live with out you.   It will become so uncomfortable, stifling and suffocatingly painful, that they will find a way to live without you.

Most people fall in love because that other person makes them feel safe within themselves, in the form they currently are.  Love grows because that parter helps you become a better version of yourself.   So, in the moments where you could be funny at their expense, make judgements about their ‘failure’, be dismissive or down right mean you are teaching her to live without you.

Being disrespectful of her choices, defensive when she raises concerns about yours or denying her the right to choose; you are teaching her to live with you.

Every time this happens you are teaching her to find the support and comfort she seeks with someone else; family, friends or another lover who listens, care and claims to understand.


Relationships are an incredible force, capable of great things, but there is no forcing you to do anything. You are not driven, you are in the drivers seat.  Everything is a choice. To stay, to go, to do or not, to be or not….it is no longer a question. It just is.  After reading Jess Hill’s book ‘Look what you made me do’, I was relieved to find someone else who got it.  She articulates how society, including the courts system has allowed perpetrators and more often their legal representative to make submissions of ‘blame’ against the actions, behaviours, choices and decisions of others as a justification to their reaction.  Therefore minimising the impact that was experienced by the person holding them to account.

Domestic abuse and violence come from disrespecting her, it’s about disproportioned power levels and control over and a genuine belief of entitlement.


Your partner has more than likely seen the best of you, knows your capacity and the triangulation of domestic abuse relies heavily on that partner believing she will see that version of you again.  That is why she stays. She is hopeful. She believes in who you can be because you show her slithers of that person she fell in love with.  Out of the 200 versions of you, she wants the one that respects her.

But every time, and I mean every time, a man feels disrespected and doesn’t articulate that feeling without abuse or violence,  you are teaching her to live without you. 

So in the moment you could be mean, choose to be kind.


Toolkit5 Reasons to FIND YOUR IDENTITY