A common pattern in unhealthy relationships is when (at least) one of the partners takes the other for granted, perhaps being aggressive, manipulative or dismissive – but when the other partner decides to leave, the first suddenly starts acting like an abandoned puppy. The abuser then apologizes, pleads, brings gifts, swears eternal love, promises to change, often brings up horrible stories from his/her childhood to provoke pity and guilt.
The other partner (usually caught up in his/her own childhood needs, hoping to finally resolve with this person what was left unresolved with parents) decides that the relationship is worth giving another chance and stays. Within a few days or weeks, the abuser’s behavior is back to what it was before: perhaps insults, lies, undermining the partner’s self-confidence, or even physical violence. After a while, the victim decides it’s enough and tries to leave again. The abuser is again devastated. And so the cycle can continue for years – sometimes for a whole life.
Does this sound familiar? Something important to understand if you are in such a relationship, is that if your partner sees you as a parent substitute, as soon as the relationship is safe and back to routine, (s)he will continue to take you for granted. The normal attitude of a child towards parents is to take parents for granted – unless parents threaten to leave (or perhaps get sick or similar). An emotionally childish person will act in the same way towards an intimate partner.
A childish partner might expect you to behave like a perfect, idealized parent – to fulfill and even anticipate anything they might desire, while allowing them to do whatever they want regardless of your own desires and needs. In the same time, they might vent at you all the anger and resentment they felt for their own parents, but didn’t feel safe to express to them. (It’s quite common to express our unresolved emotions from past towards people we feel safest with. Sometimes the target becomes the intimate partner – sometimes one’s own children.)
Such a childish person might defend their attitude with the idea of “unconditional love”, meaning that YOU should love THEM as they are (but they are not willing to give the same in return). This is again the kind of love a parent would give to a child. It’s normal and healthy for parents not to expect their child to share their responsibilities, or to pay back for their gifts and efforts. But this is NOT a healthy partnership of two adult people, especially if they plan to have children.
In such a situation, when a child is born, things get worse, not better. The childish partner becomes resentful of new responsibilities and demands, as well as lack of previously received attention from their spouse, which is now focused to their child. A childish parent might become jealous and resentful of his/her own child, with predictable consequences for the child.
Some people in troublesome relationships are not quite sure whether they should trust themselves of their partner’s words. This requires a quick course in knowing your own emotions and distinguishing between adult and immature emotions. Perhaps, while growing up, you were discouraged from trusting your instincts and giving importance to your feelings and needs. Your body will warn you if your fears, doubts and guilt are not realistic – but you need to learn to recognize such signals.
You are probably taken for granted if:
– your partner dismisses your emotions and needs, and refuses to communicate about them (or communicates through insults and refuses to consider your point of view)
– your partner is not willing to forgive or tolerate small mistakes
– your partner does not invest similar effort into your relationship as (s)he demands of you
– he or she refuses to compromise – but expects you to give up your desires and values
– he or she repeatedly disregards your previous agreements
– he or she expects you to take over most of the adult responsibilities (housework and/or finances)
– you don’t like your partner’s behavior, but you stay in hope that (s)he would change.
Of course, each of these ideas can be misinterpreted and twisted in many creative ways, so approach them carefully. Almost everybody has some moments of taking their partner for granted. This is to be expected – after all, whatever and whoever becomes a normal part of our lives, our brains try to fill them under “routine” and forget about them – so that we could focus on learning new things. In partnerships, we have to keep reminding ourselves not to take others for granted. A lapse here and there is understandable. But if somebody behaves in these ways more or less all the time, it’s time to seriously consider if this is what you want your foreseeable future.
If you allow somebody to treat you as described above, you were probably raised to not trust yourself much. Perhaps you were a child of an irresponsible person, so it became normal for you to take more responsibility than would normally belong to you. Or you had so little experience with unreasonable people that you cannot imagine somebody who would behave in such selfish ways without a good reason.
Check what do you hope for if your partner would change. If you hope for recognition, approval, acknowledgment… perhaps this is something you always wanted to receive from your parents, but never did? Consider that perhaps you are trying to finish something with your partner that was left unfinished with your parents.
Such emotions from childhood need to be resolved first. After that, you might need to practice trusting your feelings and expressing them in mature ways. If that doesn’t give results, you might need to end the relationship, except if you prefer to suffer. Fortunately, once you clarify your childhood emotions, you won’t feel anymore that your current partner is the only one for you and that your life would feel empty if you separate. You can go on and find a true adult relationship.