When Your Secrets Are Used Against You (Hax Advice Column) – sounds like one of my family members
I have written of my family member, who I dubbed “Shirley” in an older post. That (Link): older post was about an ex friend of mine. My sister Shirley is a lot like the ex friend, only 100 times worse.
I could probably write a billion blog pages about my problems with Shirley – what you see here in this letter to Hax from a married man is just one of the many problems I have with my sister.
My sister is emotionally abusive. Anything you tell her in confidence, no matter how emotionally painful or sensitive it is for you, my sister Shirley (not her real name) will use against you in the future.
She is one of those people who will get angry at you about “X,” but then proceed to not only bring up the thing you did – “Z” – 23 years ago and scream at you about that (she will also bring up Y, Q, and T too, things which happened 10 or 15 years ago), but she will also dredge up some painful tid bit you shared with her at a time you were depressed or scared and throw that in your face too and mock you about it or criticize you over it.
I have since learned to stop sharing any inner thoughts or pain with her. I stopped sharing meaningful stuff with her and kept conversations shallow. In recent months, though, I had to go even further and pretty much cut off most contact with her. Prior to cutting off contact, though, I had learned to stop confiding in her.
She will take anything personal, private, and painful you share with her and use it against you as a weapon, much like this man’s wife does to him.
Sometimes, when my sister Shirley is in one of her rage fits, you can sometimes tell by her facial expression that she is searching through the files in her memory, seeing what she can dredge up from 5, 10, or more years ago to throw in your face.
My sister and I currently live apart, so she screams at me in e-mails, social media, and the phone, but if we meet in person and she snaps, you can just see the cogs and wheels in her mind turning, searching for anything you have revealed to her in the past to use against you in her fit.
Shirley almost always attacks me in private, just me and her in the room. She never attacks me in front of other people, unless it’s another target of hers, like her ex boyfriend, Dan (not his real name).
This dude’s wife sounds exactly like my sister Shirley. Exactly.
Letter to Hax, October 2015:
My wife has been telling me as long as we’ve known each other (around 10 years now) that she wants nothing but openness and honesty from me. So when she asks me personal questions, especially questions that bring up things from my past or that I have deep personal connections to, such as sexual attractiveness and other very intimate subjects, I answer as honestly as I know how.
My problem is that she reacts in a way that undermines the trust and confidence I put in her, and she uses what I tell her against me when we fight.
Such as: “You can’t criticize me for that because you [insert incident from when I was 15 that I told her about],” or my favorite, the snide comment about some personal anecdote about my sexual history, which she likes to drag out when we haven’t had sex in a while.
I find myself confiding less and less in her, and sharing less and less, and in general just not offering information with her from the heart because I fear everything I say will be used against me at some point in the future.
This leads her to complain that I’m not completely honest with her, which leads me to feel like sharing even less information because I know if I do so under duress, when she’s demanding it like this, then it will just go in the “ammo for later” file and we’ll be repeating the cycle with whatever new things I give her.
I’ve mentioned many times that this is not fair, and I don’t appreciate being manipulated into divulging my secrets only to have them thrown in my face. How do we break this habit?
signed, Trust Issues
Dear Trust Issues:
“We” break it by realizing that you have done your part by voicing your concerns, asking not to have your secrets used against you and withholding further intimacy until you can feel confident that your partner understands and won’t do this again.
Her part now is to hear you, respect you, apologize to you for her profound abuse of your trust, behave herself hereafter — and then be patient with your continued guardedness as you see whether her newfound decency sticks.
If I were Lucy van Pelt, my next dialogue bubble would read: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
Clearly, there’s nothing funny about how far your wife is from such regard for your feelings. Your account doesn’t even mention her acknowledging these hurtful remarks, much less that she mines the most painful moments in your history to find them.
There’s no intimate future left for you two unless she recognizes, admits and renounces these tactics of her own volition.
I’d advise marriage counseling to nudge her in that direction, but unfortunately the caution against counseling with one’s abuser applies here. What you describe is indeed abuse, and she could exploit therapy to keep hurting you. The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s Web site offers a thorough explanation of this risk at bit.ly/Xabuse.
So I suggest instead that you talk to a skilled therapist by yourself to learn more about the dynamic in your marriage, where it comes from, why it’s so unhealthy and what your options are if — when — she keeps refusing to do her part. That’s when you stop trying to save the marriage and focus on saving yourself.
*Excerpt from that page:
In order for couples counseling to be successful, both partners must be willing to take responsibility for their actions and make adjustments to their behavior. Abusive people want all of the power and control in the relationship and will focus on maintaining that imbalance, even if it means continuing unhealthy and hurtful behavior patterns.
Many callers to the Hotline have related stories of trying and “failing” at couples counseling because of an abusive partner’s focus on manipulating the sessions to (Link): place blame, minimize the abuse, and attempt to win over the therapist to their side.
If the therapist tries to hold the abusive partner accountable for these tactics, they will often refuse to attend further sessions and may even forbid their partner to see the “biased” therapist again. The abusive partner may even choose to escalate the abuse because they feel their power and control was threatened.
The primary reason we don’t recommend couples counseling is that abuse is not a “relationship” problem.
Couples counseling may imply that both partners contribute to the abusive behavior, when the choice to be abusive lies solely with the abusive partner.
Focusing on communication or other relationship issues distracts from the abusive behavior, and may actually reinforce it in some cases. Additionally, a therapist may not be aware that abuse is present and inadvertently encourage the abuse to continue or escalate.
Related Material (on other sites):
(Link): Learning to Trust a Friend Again
(Link): The Signs of Verbal Abuse
Related Posts (on this blog):