Vignette: Is there hope? 

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Therapist: Before we start, how would you characterize your relationship?

Client: How would I characterize our relationship? Well, it’s pretty simple, really. One minute he’s loving and appreciative, the next he’s giving me the silent treatment. He feels entitled to preferential treatment because of who he is. He refuses to admit he’s wrong, because in his mind he’s never to blame for anything. I get the sense he’s always trying to gain the upper hand. He speaks of himself in grandiose terms. He never admits his problems or insecurities. It’s hard to feel completely relaxed and good in his presence. He seems very agitated and angry when I’m happy, unless of course he’s been the source of my happiness.

He says words with such conviction, but I get the strange feeling that they don’t represent the real or whole truth or are a distortion of the truth. He often claims to feel misunderstood by others. He doesn’t seem to have any real presence or depth to him. He’s not honest or truthful. He will bend the truth to suit his own ends.

He appears wonderful to outsiders but is often very mean at home to me and the kids. In fact, he is most happy and delightful when I’m admiring or adoring him. He doesn’t understand me well at all. He has no real empathy or compassion when I’m distressed, or for any of my feelings for that matter.

I’m starting to question my own truth and reality, because he keeps telling me how bad or how wrong I am. And he does it with such authority. I’m starting to believe his criticisms. I notice that when I’m away from him and with other people I feel so much better, so much happier. I can have fun and relax.

He tells me untruths that torment me. I find myself in discussions with him that are so twisted that it feels like I’m losing my mind. I often find I’m trying to justify myself and explain what I think reasonable people already know. He says cruel, uncaring and dismissive things without any empathy for the hurt he is causing. He makes agreements that he doesn’t keep, and then does not acknowledge ever making them. I often feel he wants it all his own way, and is not really interested in finding a solution that suits both of us. I feel he’s against me and that I’m being cast as the enemy. He doesn’t take any of my expressed needs into account. I’m blamed by him for problems. He undervalues contributions I’ve made and overvalues his own. He rarely apologizes for anything he’s done. And if he does apologize, it’s fake. He says what he has to say in the moment to get what he wants, then reverts to his previous unapologetic position.

He takes no accountability for his actions. He will speak badly about me to others behind my back. He regularly brings in allies to back up his view that I’m to blame. He tells family and friends that I’m not psychologically stable. And he uses sensitive information I’ve disclosed to him when I was vulnerable as a weapon against me.

He doesn’t follow through on promises. He has no tolerance for even the slightest criticism or constructive advice. When I need help, he gets depressed, angry or abusive. His behavior vacillates between very delightful and very mean and nasty. To get praise from others he’ll appear helpful and generous. Then, will switch back in an instant. I often get the sense that his criticisms of me are exactly what he is doing himself. He doesn’t seem to know or care how his behavior hurts others. No matter how much I do for him, it never seems enough to make him contented or happy. He’s intensely jealous when there is no justification. He never admits he may have a problem. He never, ever asks for help. And, of course, he is above all treatment. So don’t ever expect to see him here.

He doesn’t play by the rules. He lies — about everything — and avoids getting pinned down. He overestimates who he is and what he has achieved in his life in the past. He is often erratic and unpredictable. He tries to limit my contact with others and hates to see me enjoying myself. He doesn’t like it when others are receiving attention and praise. He’s extremely defensive when confronted and will often attack. He uses guilt and manipulation to try to influence me. He has little or no sense of conscience.

He believes he knows what I’m thinking and feeling, and will even inform me what that is. He often interrupts me when I’m talking, changing the subject. He will inform me a matter is resolved without me feeling that it is. He refuses to discuss any problem I bring up. He just can’t work as a team.

He avoids any real intimacy with me. I usually feel he’s emotionally absent, never fully there. He rarely wants to share his thoughts or plans with me. I don’t get the sense that he has a genuine commitment to my welfare. When I act with independence and autonomy, he’s not happy and tries to stifle me. He tells me — in subtle and not so subtle ways — that my feelings are wrong. He seems irritated with me, even though I haven’t done anything that I know of to upset him. I try so hard not to upset him. He never talks with me, instead he talks at me. He rages when I disagree with him. And, then, after he’s tormented me, he will act with empathy to soothe me. I often feel that issues don’t get fully resolved, so I can’t really feel happy and relieved. I frequently feel confused, sad, frustrated and outraged because I can’t get him to understand my intentions.

I’m upset not so much about concrete issues, but about the communication – what he thinks I said and what I heard him say. He often denies things I know he did or said. He seems to take the opposite view from me on many things I mention, but the way he says it, my view is wrong and his is right. I often feel unseen or unheard and sometimes wonder if he perceives me as a separate person. He is either angry or has no idea what I’m talking about when I try to discuss an issue with him. He often frightens me with rage to silence me. And it works. I often feel no empathy from him when I describe how you feel about something. In fact, I feel abused or negated by him, but then he insists how much he loves me. I feel diminished by the time he finishes his conversation. Then, he manipulates me by ignoring me or withholding affection.

He doesn’t sustain many close friendships. I’ve noticed how he exploits other people. He always needs to be one up or right. And I mean all the time. He never delays gratification. He believes himself to be deserving and doesn’t want to put the time into persisting. It’s always about base desires.

He attempts to define me. He blames, accuses, judges and criticizes me. He counters, blocks or diverts the conversation. He confabulates. He won’t ask for what he wants, so that we can negotiate fairly. He doesn’t respond at all to my requests, no matter how nice I am or how sweetly I ask. If he does respond, it’s with frustration. Mostly though, he only seems to respond and then not follow through. My attempts to enhance the relationship, to improve communication and find some happiness all lead to difficulties.

Whenever I try to explain that his words don’t match his actions, he refuses to listen or understand. He finds a way to negate me in some way. He behaves well towards me as long as I am of one mind with him, but the trouble starts when I express either different views from him or my own feelings about something.

We can’t banter in a fun way. The only way he has fun with people is if he is having fun at another’s expense. Especially mine. He’s often well behaved in public but abusive in private. In fact, the way he treats me has deteriorated radically since we became more settled together. I feel energetically drained when with him, and energized when not with him. I feel like I’m doing all the work in the relationship. 

So what do you think? Is there any hope?

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