I recently came across one of the saddest pages I’ve ever seen on the whole internet. It’s was an article with advice for women on how to deal with a controlling partner. The article was short, but the list of comments from desperately unhappy women was long, very long. It was really disturbing to see how so many women have had the life sucked out of them by the person who is supposed to love and support them. Why was I looking at it anyway? Because unfortunately, I have to count myself among their number.
The obvious first question (especially from those who haven’t been here) is why not just leave? We all have our reasons, and in my case, I can’t be bothered. It’s too much heartache and too much hassle to up sticks yet again and start over all over again. It’s not great where I am, but I can manage. Others have nowhere to go, kids to think of, but basically, they’ve been ground down so far they don’t have the strength or confidence left to do anything. The following sixpence of my experience is for you, comrades.
Penny one. Stop wasting what little energy you’ve got left either in planning to leave, or beating yourself up because you haven’t left. There’s a whole lot you can do to change your situation right where you are. While you’re still where you are you’ve got a roof over your head, time to gather your resources, and rebuild your strength.
Penny two is also easy. Stop thinking of the person you are living with as your husband, lover or boyfriend, and start thinking of him as a flat/housemate. You don’t need to love, like, get on with, or have sex with a flatmate. You just live under the same roof and share the bills. So long as you’re doing that, you’re doing all you need to do. This simple change of attitude alone will make a big difference. You might choose to take them back later as a lover, but for the time being, they’re your flatmate.
Penny three is fun. Do stuff for you. Just for you. Go and buy a new pair of shoes, or socks, or a book, go for a coffee, go watch a film. I’m not saying do all this in one day, but every day you can, do something just for you, that makes you smile. Even if it’s just listening to music or planting an orange seed. Don’t deliberately hide this new activity from your flatmate, but don’t talk to them about it, or include them either. It’s not part of the flatmate deal. It’s your stuff.
Penny four is a bit harder. Regain your food independence. Cook as if you were living alone. Cook what you want and eat when you want it. Leave some for him if necessary, but don’t bother about cooking what he wants, or eating with him. Do flatmates always eat together? I don’t think so. Being cook isn’t part of the flatmate deal. You probably won’t be able to do this every day, but do it as often as you can (and if you don’t cook – start now).
You won’t like penny five but do it anyway. Do some physical exercise. Going for a walk is fine, but make it challenging. Walk up a hill, or walk fast. You might hate it at the time, but you’ll love yourself for it afterwards. Again, don’t try to keep it a secret, but don’t try to explain or justify your new activity—or let them join in. That isn’t part of the flatmate deal.
Penny six. Don’t bother trying to talk to them about the effect they’re having on you. It just lets them see that what they’re doing is working – they’re pushing your buttons, they’re in control. Do the opposite. Ignore them. Whenever they say something hurtful or do something controlling, ignore it. A simple uhu, or vacant yes will do as a response, then make sure you physically walk away. Not in an angry or upset, ‘you’re pissing me off’ kind of way, just in a ‘mmm, what you’re saying isn’t very interesting, did I check the mail’, kind of way. Do this even if you have to fake it. You won’t be able to do this every time, but do it as often as you can. At the same time you can try rewarding their positive behaviour with your attention, Pavlov style—if you want.
The aim of all this is to re-gain your strength. Start to remember what it was like to be you. What you used to like, what you used to think, who you used to be—before your significant other started taking control of you. Start as small as you like and take as long as you want. Try one thing one day, then give up for a month. It doesn’t matter. This is in your control. It will take time, but you’ll also be surprised by how quickly you grow stronger. Don’t forget that while the roof is still over your head, you’ve got all the time you need.
With time and a little effort you will become an independent person again, and, who knows, one day you might find that you’ve shifted the balance of power in your relationship so far that you’re happy to have your flatmate become your lover. Or it might be time to leave. Either way, now you’ll be moving forward from a position of strength. Good luck!