Mo & Phindi: don’t let him put you down

Relationship strategists Mo and Phindi have wise words for when your partner puts you down in front of his friends.

While on vacation over the festive season we hooked up with a couple we haven’t seen in a while. We joined them with a group of friends they were vacationing with from Bloemfontein for a good old South African braai.

Anyway, in the heat of the jovial mood and loud conversations, one particular voice was screeching most audibly.

“Baby you can’t afford to add any more fat than what you’re already carrying.”

It was a piercing voice of a man and it almost abruptly ended a great evening of festive fun. We all heard him say it, and she knew it. Everything went south from there.

Besides the rude put-down, what really gripped us was what she divulged in the process of confrontation. With teary eyes, she told us how this was a norm in their relationship, and how she’d lost confidence as a result, especially because he did it in front of people.

We’ve been debating the kind of man that continuously puts down his wife deliberately. And were even more appalled at the kind of man that does so in front of his family and friends.

Don’t kill her confidence

What kind of a man openly kills the confidence of someone he claims to love, and worse, in the presence of his friends? What kind of friends would allow a friend to put his wife down on their watch? It should make you wonder what other things you’re unaware of that they allow each other to do without holding one another to any standard of accountability.

As part of our conversation in preparing for this column, we kept talking about what her role is in allowing him to treat her the way he does. But let’s deal with that towards the end of this input.

First, we believe that a man who belittles his partner and does so in public is nothing more than a small boy who happens to shave. You see, in order to belittle, you have to be little yourself.

It’s totally unacceptable for him to not only show such fundamental disrespect, but to speak words that consistently damage her self-confidence and identity just so he can feel better about himself.

The tragedy is that when you’re told enough times, especially by someone you believe you love and care about, that you’re not good enough, you’ll start believing it.

On a regular basis, we consult with partners in relationships who have been at the receiving end of this dehumanising behaviour, and it never ends well. It makes people shrink inside themselves and kills them while they’re alive.

In addition, it’s not just bruises and broken bones that amount to abuse. Consistently putting down your spouse, especially in front of your friends, fits the definition of emotional abuse. It leaves psychological scars with perhaps much more devastating effects than physical abuse. And we do not by any means minimise the atrocity of physical abuse.

It’s emotional abuse

Even more tragic is when you accept this type of despicable behaviour from your partner, and later take it as normal, because you found coping mechanisms under the guise that you love him.

There ought not to exist any coping mechanisms to manage emotional abuse because no one is supposed to tolerate it.

While we appreciated that the festive evening turned into a sombre yet awesome group therapy of sorts around the issue, we were more worried that she’s been giving her husband permission to continue to treating her this way.

Even more concerning was, why? Because, in our view, no one should allow her partner to treat her like that just because she “loves” him. There exists no such love.

As part of the conversation, we had to challenge her to think about what it is that her husband is doing for her that she’s willing to return the favour by tolerating his abusive behaviour without putting up a fight, but rather choosing to be a cry baby.

You teach people how to treat you

American television psychologist, Dr Phil always aptly says you teach people how to treat you.

If your response to his behaviour is to smooth things over, ignore it or accept it, then you’re teaching him that his behaviour is acceptable. Put a stop to it. The pain is not worth going through for anything.

Take your life back, before you completely lose it. Never tolerate being put down by anyone, no matter how much you think you love him. Talk to him, pray for him and seek third-party intervention. But if he still doesn’t get it that you disapprove of his abusive behaviour, be prepared to even walk away.

If you don’t do anything but tolerate it, you will suffer irreparable damage to your soul in the long run. You will shrink from the inside and completely lose yourself.

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