Bullying is a hot topic. From kindergarten, kids are told there’s zero tolerance and are exposed to countless assemblies and lessons about bullying. Parents are taught how to deal with cyberbullying. Most of us have probably encountered a boss or two who used threats and intimidation as a dysfunctional motivation tactic to get you to do your job.
The last place you’d expect to feel bullied is in your own home, the supposed safe haven from the outside world.
What happens when the bully is the man (or woman) sleeping in the bed next to you or the co-parent of your children?
Stacy Kaiser, Editor at Large at Live Happy and licensed psychotherapist says, “Some spouses bully – it’s about trying to gain power and control, to get one up and make the other person feel insignificant or one down.”
Bullies don’t typically present that way in the early days of dating. Like narcissists, they need some way to reel you in. If you’re already in a relationship with a bully, you’ll know. But, how can you tell in the early days of dating?
Kaiser says bullies are typically overly critical and condescending. Pay attention to how the potential date treats wait staff, Uber drivers, and others. The bully may be either passive aggressive, eventually controlling finances and keeping you in the dark or attacking you verbally; perhaps a combination of both.
The bully may not show his or her true colors till after you’ve been dating a while or when the ring is on. “People think they can get a partner to treat them differently – and that typically does not happen,” says Kaiser. “The bully must want to change on his or her own.”
Lots of narcissists present bullying behavior. They need to win and be in control above anything else. Feeling powerful is more important than caring about you or the relationship. Narcissistic bullies have no empathy and only care about what they want.
Regardless if the bully is a narcissist or not, bullies tend to target those whom they believe will put up with the bullying behavior.
What can I do if I am married or in a relationship with a bully?
Kaiser suggests using sentences such as “I don’t like that” or “That’s not okay with me.” “You need to stop that. Set limits. Bullies need direct, concise sentences rather than long speeches. Be short and to the point.
Setting clear boundaries does not mean the bully is going to change but the goal is to stand up for yourself, for self-preservation and self-respect, as well as to model to children if you are co-parenting.
Bullies tend to escalate and often people often acquiesce because they don’t want things to get worse. Giving in just reinforces the bully to keep bullying.
Change your reaction to behavior you might have previously tolerated. Take a stand and be consistent, as you would in parenting. Follow through.
Plan moments of escape from the bully, by yourself, with your children, or with friends. You need some relaxing fun times to decompress.
What can I do to help my children?
Insulate your child as much as you can but be transparent about what is happening. After an outburst by the bully, explain the behavior to your child (not within earshot of the bully.) If the bully torments your child or children, you may need to contact authorities.
It’s difficult to tell a child to stand up to a parent. Try to give language to say “I don’t want to do that” or “I don’t like when you yell at me.” However, the bully may escalate. It’s a slippery slope.
How can I protect myself when I divorce a bully?
Many of the tactics used during divorce by a bully are similar to those used when divorcing a narcissist. Take action to protect your children through law enforcement or custody arrangements. Surround yourself with supportive friends and a team that may include a therapist, financial experts, and a divorce coach, as well as an attorney. Leave the legal and financial issues to the experts.
A relationship with a bully is a delicate dance, says Kaiser. Ideally, avoid being in a relationship with a bully who is focused on making you feel bad and will do the same to the kids. His or her goal is always to win. “Someone who is not a bully will have remorse when walking away from making someone feel bad; the bully won’t feel horrible,” says Kaiser.
Should you decide to leave the bully, aware of his actions, you and your kids will be wiser to bullying. Hopefully, you will have practiced – and modeled — setting firm boundaries. You will no longer put up with bullying because you’ve seen it and lived it.
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