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How do I change anything if I'm terrified of conflict?

(18 Posts)
thecharlottechronicles Fri 13-May-16 20:06:55

I'm starting to think I'm in an emotionally abusive relationship, which has been the pattern for my entire adult life. I've been with my partner for 14 years and really thought I had broken the pattern and we had a great relationship, until I realised how much control he has over my life. The stupid thing is that he doesn't really 'do' much that is abusive- I'm about half way through the Lundy Bancroft book and, while I recognise a lot of the traits, my husband is far more subtle than any of the examples given. Lately I've been wondering though if this is because he has no actual need to get worse because I'm so pathetically amenable to everything and spend my life trying to avoid conflict.
I think my difficulties come from childhood and I still feel sick and shaky at the thought of anything close to an argument happening. I keep trying to say something to my husband about how I'm feeling but I can't physically do it- it's like when I was a child trying to jump into a swimming pool and unable to make myself move, I literally feel 'frozen'.
In the last few months, since I've started questioning our relationship, I can feel myself detaching emotionally from him and this has really highlighted how unloved and unwanted I feel. He rarely touches me, is seldom complimentary and seems to be annoyed by me most of the time- he's even developed a special 'annoyed whistle' to do when I'm particularly irritating him. Whereas before I would be the one to keep some level of affection going and still want to have sex as it was often our only physical contact, I've stopped trying and absolutely do not want sex with him, which has made us drift even further apart.
The couple of times he has tried to initiate sex (sadly I'd known it was coming because he'd given me a cuddle in the daytime both times) I've put him off but the last time I asked if we could just cuddle, which he did, but I'm sure it must have been obvious I was crying. He didn't ask me about this and I can't decide if he hates the thought of talking about it as much as I do or he just finds it easier to ignore it.
He's always had a very sarcastic and odd sense of humour which, when I felt loved and like we were a 'team', I didn't mind him directing at me. The way things are now though I feel like I'm only getting the negative with nothing to balance it. Most recent example of this is that I've been trying to eat healthily for quite a while and so have been avoiding a lot of processed foods and eating as naturally as I can. I've slipped off the wagon lately and been eating everything in my path blush . I said to him that I'd worked out why I was eating so much (was going to say something about remembering how much I like food) and he said 'because you're a greedy, fat cow?' I get that this is his sense of humour but I don't understand how his reaction when he realises I'm hurt by one of his crap jokes is to get defensive and act like he's the affronted one. I just said 'no, that's not what I was going to say, but thanks for putting that out there'. Crap response but my mind went blank. If that was me I would have felt awful that my joke had hurt someone but he got all huffy and hurt looking and said 'oh come off it, stop coming over all (name of our very sensitive son who takes things very literally as he has aspergers). It's like he's decided that I'm not allowed to be hurt by something and is pissed off with me for trying to make him feel bad.
Ohhh, my post is huge and I've barely said anything, thank you to anyone who has got this far...! Anyway, does anyone else find conflict impossible and has anyone found a way to deal with it?

Froginapan Fri 13-May-16 20:18:31

Er, a 'whistle' when you're annoying him?

That is beyond creepy.

Passive aggressive and certainly EA.

thecharlottechronicles Fri 13-May-16 20:29:14

It's hard though because if I were to question him he'd completely deny it. At first I thought it was a sub concious thing (he is a whistler, but it's generally quite cheerful!) but I honestly can't see how he could not be aware of it.
All of the things are so little taken in isolation, so I feel stupid and petty commenting on any of them, but it's like the whole death by a thousand cuts thing that Bancroft describes. I find conflict so hard and to have to do it so often is beyond me sad
Another brilliantly witty joke is about getting me 'past my prime' (mid 30s when we got together). I'm a couple of years off of 50 now and honestly happy and confident to be this age, until I see myself through his eyes.

trackrBird Fri 13-May-16 20:35:32

I actually think: 'no, that's not what I was going to say, but thanks for putting that out there' was a really good response. So a virtual high five from me.

Instead of just taking his unfunny insulting 'joke', you bit back. And he knew it, hence the huffing, and the nasty jab at your son. (That's not his sense of humour by the way: that's a way of abusing you, without you being able to complain because he 'was joking/wasn't serious.')

There comes a time when you've had enough. You're starting to reach it.

annandale Fri 13-May-16 20:35:43

You both sound miserable.

How about going away for a loNg visit somewhere - parents siblings friend? Get a break and a change of scene.

I can't helP as I really left my xh rather than have a roW with him. I found it Possible to say I was going after watching a movie. Film and Play dialogue is alL about conflict and change so might be useful to watch. Tv dialogue Or at least soap and sitcom dialogue is no good as the Programme must end with nothing having changed.

thecharlottechronicles Fri 13-May-16 20:46:28

Thank you trackrBird! I was actually a little proud of saying anything at all, I usually just gloss over it, and I did go all hot and sick feeling!
It is abusive isn't it? It feels designed to keep me down, I'm beginning to see a pattern where I will be coming to terms with stuff/getting over the last dig/sulk/huff and I'll be feeling quite chirpy and optimistic and he seems to swoop in with a joke or a put down.

thecharlottechronicles Fri 13-May-16 21:21:07

Annandale, this is my second marriage and my first one ended with us hardly ever having had an argument because of my conflict avoidance..! It probably would have ended many years earlier than it did if I'd had the nerve to talk to him though grin I really can pick 'em!

Naicehamshop Fri 13-May-16 21:32:29

He sounds very unkind and unpleasant OP. Be kind to yourself, gather your courage and confidence and start to think seriously about leaving. flowers

thecharlottechronicles Sat 14-May-16 10:22:34

Thank you naiceham, I just can't believe that I've sleepwalked into another bad relationship. I know it's hard for anyone to leave a relationship but it feels like it would be practically impossible for us to split because of our set up.
I need to do some serious thinking, I may start a journal (and keep it well hidden!) so I can see properly how bad things are. It sounds daft but most of the time it's like my brain 'forgets' or turns away from difficult things when I try to think about them.

thecharlottechronicles Sun 15-May-16 11:51:28

Thank you to the people who've replied, it really helps to know that I'm not just being over sensitive and I'm 'allowed' to feel hurt and pissed off!
Does anyone have any advice about how to deal with my fear of conflict? I keep thinking of writing a letter (it feels like the only way I would be able to say what I want to without crying, forgetting what I wanted to say or being made to feel my points are 'silly'. I can't help feeling this is just another way of avoiding direct conflict though.

RiceCrispieTreats Sun 15-May-16 12:34:02

I think you sound very perceptive. Yes, it's very likely that your conflict avoidance and desire to be amenable has kept you in a relationship with someone who enjoys putting you down.

I also thought your comeback was perfect, btw, and will join trackrbird in high-fiving you for that.

I think you need to do all the things which collectively help boost self-esteem:

- surround yourself with people who love you for who you are
- rid yourself of people who don't
- exercise, dance, etc (endorphins)
- follow the creative pursuits that feel right for you (self-expression)
- do a course of therapy with a therapist you feel comfortable with
- set yourself small achievable challenges and liberally praise yourself
- treat yourself as you would treat your best friend
- I'd also recommend you take an assertiveness course.

Triliteral Sun 15-May-16 12:44:43

With regard to conflict avoidance, is it worth getting some assertiveness training? I noticed in my twenties that many of my relationships with men, whether at home or at work, ended with me being bullied or at least ended up with me aquiescing to things I would have preferred not to do or felt were unfair and I felt powerless to do anything.

At the time, I read this book: and it brought home to me that I had a fundamentally skewed view of relationships. The main thing I learned, (apart from some ways of explaining how I was feeling without that being an attack on others) was that I had a RIGHT in any relationship, to hold an opinion, even an inappropriate or unsuitable opinion, without that giving the other person a right to behave in an aggressive manner towards me. I'm not explaining very well, but fundamentally it was an eye opener. It might sound really stupid, to have had to have it spelled out in a book that other people should show me some basic respect, but I had never really considered before that I might have some fundamental rights in dealing with other people, be they my boss or my partner. I had somehow accepted that if I loved someone, or if they were my superior in some way, then I had to accept whatever behaviour they handed out.

I'm not perfect now. I struggle massively with my teenage son. But I'm way better at approaching potentially conflict-filled situations than I was, not least because that book gives a lot of practical advice about disarming other people's aggressive behaviour patterns. Even if it is based on work-conflict, many of the principles can be applied more widely.

thecharlottechronicles Sun 15-May-16 15:54:57

Thank you both so much! ricecrispie that sounds like a brilliantly gentle plan to build myself up before I tackle the whole conflict issue. In the meantime I think I'll make similar retorts to the one I described as it's a not especially confrontational thing to do while still demonstrating that I'm not happy with it (thank you for my virtual high fives, they made me smile!) The counselling would be difficult as we live very rurally, but I will keep it in mind for the future.
Triliteral You are spot on about the way I interact with men, I find it very difficult not to try and please them. I have always prided myself on being 'nice', thinking it's a very under-rated skill, but I think actually it's just been another way to avoid conflict. I feel like I've lived my life being completely unsure of what please me (music, clothes, life choices, EVERYTHING!) because I've been scared of my choices being deemed 'wrong'.
That book looks perfect and I will order myself one to be delivered to work so there's no awkward questions.

CharlotteCollins Sun 15-May-16 16:44:24

Hello, Charlotte, it's another Charlotte here! grin

I avoided conflict in my marriage, too, and thought I was being nice. But in my marriage, as in yours, conflict was never a means to resolve differences, as it would be in a healthy relationship. It was a competition and H had to win, whatever the cost.

I think if you want to work on assertiveness, don't choose the brick wall to bang your head against as the first exercise.

thecharlottechronicles Sun 15-May-16 16:55:17

Hello Charlotte grin
I think you're right, I've been thinking I need to change my relationship but I think I need to start more gently on myself and the things I want from life. I definitely need more kindness and happiness in my life and I think (hope) I can build the resilience I need to do what is right for me in my marriage. I don't think I will know until I start to tackle it whether it's salvageable or whether I need to be leaving. I just hate the thought of ending a second marriage- how the bloody hell did I manage to misjudge things this badly?!

CharlotteCollins Sun 15-May-16 22:40:19

I think that's sensible, to start with building your self-esteem. I read a book on boundaries by Cloud and Townsend which was very good - I know you've already got a book to read, though!

CharlotteCollins Sun 15-May-16 22:42:52

Be kind to yourself, too: I expect he hid the worst of his behaviour until he had a ring on your finger.

Have you done the Freedom Programme? That could help your confidence, too.

thecharlottechronicles Sun 15-May-16 23:03:38

Oooh, I'll pop that on my list too- I love a good read. Part of my anxiety is that I need to read and google obsessively to reassure myself I have as much information as possible!
I looked for the Freedom Course but there is nowhere anywhere near me (I really do live in the middle of nowhere!) I think I saw that it is offered online so I may look into that and see if it's a possibility.
I'm already feeling more positive, I have a (very gentle) plan for myself. Because it's so gentle I will be able to follow it and hopefully gain what I need to tackle the hard bit.
Thank you so much to everyone who answered me, I haven't told anyone in 'real life'. Also, I was bracing myself to be told that I need to grow up and stop being such a wimp so I'm feeling pretty relieved!

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