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Is it okay to tolerate "triggered" disrespectful behavior when I know she doesn't mean it otherwise?

Tagged as: Big Questions, Dating, Troubled relationships<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (11 April 2018) 15 Answers - (Newest, 13 April 2018)
A male United States age 41-50, anonymous writes:

I'm in a long-term relationship (about 7 years). I've accepted my girlfriend's personality, both the good and the bad. However, I'm finding it more and more difficult to tolerate the way she treats me when we disagree. It seems her "go-to" when we disagree or she's annoyed at me is to be both defensive and contemptuous.

I have always been able to not take it too personally, because I think she's great when she's rational and logical. But when she gets emotional and her "inner child" takes over, it's a beast. It's almost impossible to talk through a disagreement or argument because she uses extreme sarcasm, rudeness, projection and sometimes the silent treatment. I realize it takes two to fight and I'm not perfect either, but I do make a point of never being disrespectful or personally critical of her even when I'm mad; I'd rather talk through disagreements than bow up and fight.

I guess my question is: Is it okay to tolerate disrespectful behavior since it only happens when she's "triggered" and I know she doesn't mean the things she says? Or should I say I've had enough and if she won't figure out a way to change how she interacts with me when we're fighting, I'm out? It's not an ego thing, it's just that sometimes she's so mean that it's getting harder and harder to let go and forget about things she says, even after the fight is long gone.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (13 April 2018):

It's a difficult one kiddo.

I'll admit!

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A female reader, aunt honesty Ireland + , writes (13 April 2018):

aunt honesty agony auntI think you answered your own question and you have realized that you cannot be treated like this any longer. It is tough going when a partner treats you the way she is. It doesn't sound like she loves you, it sounds like she uses you for security and company. You deserve someone who will love you, who will respect you and not allow other people to be disrespectful. If someone grabbed my breasts believe me I would not take that as a joke!! My husband would also not sit back and think it is okay!

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (13 April 2018):

Hi OP, thanks for your detailed follow up. It helps a lot in giving you advice.

Well, it sure does look like your GF has some serious baggage. I know that we all have some baggage to a degree but she seems to have extra baggage.

First, may I ask you if you have ever cheated on her or given her reason not to trust you? This is important to ask. I am trying to figure out why it appears that she resents you so much? Resentment doesn't come from nowhere and for no reason. Have you ever cheated on her, and she forgave you your indiscretion and you both (apparently) moved on from it? Just wondering. Because if this was the case, then she has not forgiven you or forgotten about it.

It appears she does not trust you. It appears she does not feel safe with you. Why?

Has she had trust issues before? Has she acted out this way in other relationships?

I am wondering if she has had terrible experiences with men in general and as a way of protecting herself from getting hurt again, she attempts to push you (or any man) away. Her behaviour is her way of keeping you at a distance. This may even be subconscious on her part. It seems she has triggers and lashes out instantly once those buttons are pushed. This isn't normal or healthy. She acts out like a spoiled child who doesn't get her way. Not like a mature woman.

I do think she is not ready to be committed to you. Likely she may never be ready to be committed to anyone. Her behaviour is very unstable and she is overly promiscuous. I think she likes to push your buttons and she likes to verbally and emotionally abuse you. It gives her power. And puts her in control. If she is the one pulling away or calling the shots, then you cannot hurt her.

What is she escaping from in her life, OP? I wonder if you are just a distraction from her problems, from herself? I do think she may be the type of a woman to self medicate and perhaps jump from one man (or relationship) to the next without having done the work on herself to make herself whole and happy. She seems quite emotionally disturbed. Sane people do not behave as she does. But I do think she has some ghosts in her past, and likely they are influencing her behaviour with you and relationships she has had in general. She does not appear to be a very happy person. She may find temporary happiness in her little escapes, but once they wear off, she is back to being unhappy again.

I do not think she trusts men as a whole. I think she needs therapy herself, although as you describe her, she'd never go. And I don't think therapy is the answer for you as a couple. She'd never see it through even if you did manage to convince her.

I think you have reached the point where you have said and done all you could, where you have taken all you could from her. You cannot fix this woman. All the love and devotion in the world will never change her. You are seeing the real her. The woman she really is.

Now, I suspect you have great sex, and this is the reason you have held on for so long. Her emotional volatility probably spills over into your sex life, giving her a wild abandon in the bedroom. But, that is not enough to keep a relationship together. You may have awesome physical chemistry but as you can see, you are not compatible with each other. I do think you may have the rescuer complex. You seem to want to rescue her from her demons. But she has to rescue yourself. Not you or anybody else can do this. So, ask yourself if the sex is the glue that keeps you both together. And whether the sex is worth you going through repeated cycles of abuse at her hands?

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (13 April 2018):

As a female myself I know women just like this. After 7 years together no real commitment from her? Mind games which if anything are getting worse with time? Just enough 'Good time's' to keep stringing you along. You are clearly a decent man who deserves better, you are a catch. Set yourself free from this user and give yourself the chance to find someone who will truly appreciate you. Best of luck

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A female reader, Anonymous 123 Italy + , writes (13 April 2018):

Anonymous 123 agony auntI'm sorry OP, I feel really bad for you. You're right, she's a mess and you've allowed yourself to get treated like dirt by her.

Writing things down is cathartic, isn't it? You see things for yourself without someone having to point out the obvious.

You know what you have to do now right? Break up with her so that YOU can finally lead a healthy life. Your mental health is suffering because of her. I don't think she even deserves a second chance and this is one of the cases where couples counseling will not help because frankly she sounds like an awful person.

She accused you of cheating on her and while she happily allowed a man to grab her boobs and ass... And yet somehow you were the bad guy! She's messing with people online, she's looking to hook up, she can't maintain her friendships, she is abusive to you, she accused you of being emotionally unstable... And yet somehow you're the bad guy.

The best part is that, since you've been so good and almost servile with her, allowing her to get away with anything and everything, she thinks that she can lord over you forever. That she can say and do anything and you'll take her back in a heartbeat.

OP this is a very unhealthy relationship. Don't let the brief, good moments fool you. This woman is nothing but poisonous. You need to get her out of your life but whether or not she will leave you easily is the question.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (13 April 2018):

She resents you, I'm sorry but it stands out a mile. Writing can be cathartic and that is what you have done, you have wrote down these times and you have drawn your own conclusion. I'm sorry but after all these years she is not really committed to the relationship. You are getting less than you want or deserve from her. It will be hard because you have had good times with her but you have finally seen this relationship for what it is.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (13 April 2018):

I'm going to be honest with you from what you have put. I think she is using you for the fun side of the relationship but she is not wholeheartedly into the relationship. She wants the good times, the vacations, a man to be there for her but if she doesn't get what she wants from you she emotionally blackmail you, she puts the cheating on you but she has basically told you outright that she would cheat on you. She resents you

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A male reader, anonymous, writes (13 April 2018):

You must be worn out. The only advice i can really give you is don't expect her to change. Going forward you are going to face more of the same and its up to you to decide whether shes worth it.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (12 April 2018):

This is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Thanks, everyone, for your input.

I'm sure it's difficult to answer a question like this without knowing more. I apologize, I was trying to keep the post brief.

So yes, we've had stupid (very stupid) fights off and on over the years. When I say we fight, I don't mean anything physical, but that's the word I use to describe arguing about something we have different viewpoints about. Sometimes she's right and in those cases I've apologized or acknowledged that. Sometimes it's the other way around. Sometimes neither of us is right or wrong and we ultimately agree to disagree.

One thing about this is our styles of conflict resolution are totally different. She and I have talked about this many times and we both know this. My instinct when fighting is on defusing the situation, de-escalating the argument, and trying to figure out what we do about the disagreement. My philosophy, which she knows, is that we can disagree and even be mad at each other while still loving each other. I believe fights are going to happen and the fight isn't as important as getting through it. However, in the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I can be hardheaded sometimes if I perceive something as particularly offensive. Even then, I've never said mean things to her and never broken up in the heat of the moment.

My girlfriend, on the other hand, has a different style. Her instinct when faced with conflict is to fight with very mean, harsh words and then avoiding any discussion by shutting me out (she hangs up the phone, or gets in the car and leaves, or otherwise just ignores me). And many times she breaks up in the heat of the argument and says we're over.

So a typical fight (I'll give specific examples below) is that we have a disagreement about something, as we start to talk about it she gets triggered (that might not be the best word according to your comments but that's my word for it) and she becomes very cold and defensive, sometimes yelling or sometimes talking in a low, calculated voice that sounds threatening) and then she says this relationship is over and hangs up (or walks out or drives off or whatever). After that, sometimes shortly afterwards or sometimes a day or two later, I try to call her and she ignores my calls. After a couple of calls she'll answer and tell me off, but then we talk like normal people about what happened and eventually agree that the fight was stupid and reach some agreement of some sort on the issue that led to it, and then we both apologize with her apologizing for "getting so angry" and her telling me she really does love me and she says things during that fight that she regrets later and that even though she says she wants to break up when she's angry she didn't really mean it because life without me would be horrible, etc. Then we usually sail along fine for a few months until it happens again.

Now I know it probably sounds like we fight all the time, but that's not the case. We get along great, have similar interests, have fun together. We've been to four different countries together, spend almost every night we can together (she has relatively young children so we don't spend the night together when she has them), we take "family vacations" where she and her boys and I go to places like New York City, D.C., San Francisco, Miami, whatever, and we always have fun. We also have fun doing nothing and have been known to lay in bed all weekend binge-watching a television series and joking that we're going to have bed sores. We train together for long distance running (marathons and half-marathons). We sit on bar stools in the middle of the day sometimes and chat like it's the first time we've met. The point is, the relationship is GREAT except when there is conflict. But when the conflict comes, it's brutal and even she admits that. The other day she was angry at her oldest son for acting out in school and asked what I thought she should do and I said, "Tell him he's a brat, that you don't like him or love him anymore, that you will not longer be his mother, and then leave and refuse to take his calls!" She slapped me on the arm and we both laughed pretty hard and then we logically discussed parenting suggestions.

So now some examples (I know this is long, but I think my initially short post was misinterpreted):

Earlier this week (which prompted my original post) she asked if she could borrow something I have that her son needed for a week-long camping trip. Of course, I said, and she said she would swing by my office to pick it up. When she got to my office I said I'd meet her down at my car and went out to meet her. She walked by me and I playfully (yes, it was playful) said, "Hey, don't walk by me without giving me a kiss." For some reason this really pissed her off and she said I was "on her ass." I explained I was just being playful, and in fact we've both said similar things in the past and the result was just a kiss, but she said, "Well I don't like the way you play, it's not playful, it's bullshit, and I'm tired of it. In fact, I'm tired of this (pointing to her and me) and I don't even want to be around you." Then she took what she was borrowing and drove off. She called me a bit later and apologized and said she had a long day because she had gotten up at 5:00am to pack for her son and she was just worn out and didn't mean to "snap" at me. I readily accepted her apology and we moved on.

Other times have been much, much worse. A couple of years ago I was at a business conference in another state. At the end of the day's business I called her and we chatted and I told her a bunch of us (all men) were going to dinner and then to a piano bar to watch dueling pianos. There was no problem and I told her I'd give her a call when I got back to the hotel. So we loaded up in the hotel bus and went downtown where we were and had a great dinner and as we were on our way to the piano bar I texted her an update and told her my phone battery was getting low because I didn't charge it all day except for about 30 minutes between the conference and getting on the bus to go out. Seemingly no problems with that. Well it did die about an hour later and it was about 2 or 3 hours after that when I got back to the hotel. My phone battery was dead so I put it on the charger but not wanting to wait on the phone to charge I called her on the hotel phone. She was fuming and accused me of being out with women and that I had turned my phone off so she wouldn't call while I was with some woman and that now I was calling from some strange number and it must be some woman's number, etc. I told her it was the hotel phone and she said she had tried to call the hotel I was at and that wasn't the number. As it turned out, the outgoing call was on a hotel line, just not their main call-in number. But anyway, she told me that it didn't matter what I said, that she thinks I've been up to something, and that the relationship is over and that tomorrow (while I was still out of town) she was going to f**k at least one stranger. She said, "I will cheat on you, you have my word!" Then she hung up. The next day, after the conference was over, I left early (no socializing and no staying for the third day of the conference) and went home. She apologized and said she didn't mean it, and she trusts me, and she was just upset because she hadn't heard from me in so long. While we're sitting there, a notification pops up on her phone from match.com, which causes a discussion in which she admitted she joined Match as well as Tinder and a couple others that I can't remember because she was mad but that she would delete the accounts. Before she did that, she let me look and I saw many messages on Match where she chatted with men all night and tentatively planned getting together with some of them. She said she did it just to hurt me because she was mad. We got over it and moved on.

Last December we had plan to go to Denver between Christmas and New Year's, just for fun. However, there was a work-related Christmas party in mid-December. We went to the Christmas party which involved a LOT of people and a lot of drinking. As the night went on one of the women at the party approached my girlfriend from behind and grabbed her breasts and started grinding on her. Then a man at the party said, "Hey, me too!" and he grabbed her breasts from behind and started thrusting his hips into her butt. Of course I didn't like that and when she saw the look on my face she got mad and stormed out of the room and began walking to our hotel (many blocks away). I caught up with her and she let me have it: "You're just insecure and jealous and I can't do anything without getting disapproval from you, well guess what? You're not my mother, and you need to get out of my life." I told her I wasn't mad at her, I was offended by the man and woman and that the look on my face was because my instinct was to make a scene, especially with the man, but I resisted since it was a social event and I didn't want to be "that guy." She said I was "that guy" and not to talk to her again. I tried calling about a hour later and she said, "If you call me again I will call your daughter and tell her she needs to call and have you admitted because you're a danger to yourself due to you're emotional insecurity!" and hung up. So I didn't call and she ignored me until early January when she called and asked for a "booty call." I said no but she called for a couple of days so we finally got together (to talk, not the booty call) and she apologized and said she knew she had anger problems and it wouldn't happen again and she's so sorry for hurting me, etc. We moved on but it has bothered me since, especially since I learned she kept her flight to Denver (I cancelled mine) and she invited one of her female friends and they partied it up in Denver, including club-hopping, a New Year's Eve party at the house of some guy they met, etc. She says there was nothing wrong with that because we were broken up.

Another example was a few years ago her business partner died from breast cancer. She took it kind of hard and then told me that she regretted being in a relationship with me because she had spent all of her free time with me, which took her away from spending time with her friends, including that business partner. That then led to her best friend who lives in another state. She and that friend had sort of had a falling out and she told me that it was my fault because if she hadn't been focusing on me she would have had more time to nurture that friendship and that because of me she now has no friends. I really didn't know what to say to that so I didn't say much and that made her even madder as she accused me of not caring how I have affected her friendships. She broke up with me that time too but then showed up at my house in the middle of the night a few nights later explaining that she was just a bit depressed about the death of her business partner and she didn't mean any of it.

So there's a bit of the story. And as I sit her typing it all out, I've concluded she's actually kind of crazy and I have allowed her to treat me this way. I've been pretty bothered by things since the Denver in December thing and thinking about this a lot. I think it's time I move on. I'm actually sitting here crying because I know I can't do this anymore and it's incredibly sad. I'm going to miss her and everything good about our relationship but the bad now outweighs the good.

Oh, and I have suggested couples counseling for the way we fight and she rejected, saying she doesn't believe in counseling and if we need counsel then we just don't need to be together.

Sorry for the long post, and I welcome any additional feedback.

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A female reader, Anonymous 123 Italy + , writes (12 April 2018):

Anonymous 123 agony auntNo one is perfect and if we look at it that way, every single person has something or the other about them that drives their partner mad. That being said, no one (theoretically, at least) has the right to be mean to their partners. And yet at some point or the other, we all are.

That being said, what exactly do you argue about so often that things get out of hand? Does she feel that she's been wronged in some way? Maybe she thinks that you are at fault and she's the victim? Because let's be honest here, there is no smoke without the proverbial fire. What is it that triggers such emotional responses in her?

If she's defensive then she feels that she's being attacked and so she fights back. And she's contemptuous because she thinks she's being made to feel small and she's giving it back to you. You need to tell us what are the reasons for your frequent fights for us to give you a more definitive answer because surely she's not enjoying this either!

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (12 April 2018):

So you have "triggered" this behaviour?

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A male reader, anonymous, writes (12 April 2018):

"I realize it takes two to fight and I'm not perfect either, (my input - no you're not ) but I do make a point of never being disrespectful or personally critical of her even when I'm mad; I'd rather talk through disagreements than bow up and fight."

he admits he's "mad." Being mad at a woman Is disrespectful and critical. Do not get "mad" at her. Walk away, cuddle her, speak soothing words. But DO NOT "FIGHT" her.

No woman likes a mad man.

No woman can "talk" with a man who is or gets "mad" or thinks he is "fighting" or in a "fight" with her.

When a man fights - he uses a cruel arsenal of destructive weapons. A woman (generally) does not do this. So what is she left with.

Yes - you said it: Defense and contempt - and all reserved for you.

No wonder...

Leave her alone!

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (12 April 2018):

Ooooh. It's working! You are being gradually beaten down to a pulp.

I bet that's what she's thinking In her "fighting" mind?!...

How about this: No more "fight" or "fighting". That's such a man thing. Us woman don't see it your way, for as long as you think that we "fight" then man and woman should not have a relationship. We have to defend ourselves against such warped thinking. It's called self preservation.

The Cranberries song "Zombie" springs to mind.

Let her go.

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A female reader, aunt honesty Ireland + , writes (11 April 2018):

aunt honesty agony auntI guess we all have our good and our bad sides. When couples argue it can be a big strain and two people can deal with arguments in two different kind of ways. My husband would rather just end it where I need to keep going until we come to a conclusion or else it eats away at me.

Is it often that you are both disagreeing on things or arguing? I mean we all disagree and its good in life to have different opinions but does it always turn in to an argument with you both?

It sounds like she is stubborn and she spits her dummy when you don't agree with her. You shouldn't have to always deal with this, and the best way to deal with it is to talk about it when you are both calm. If you feel it is getting to a breaking point then maybe it is time for some counselling. She doesn't have a right to be mean to you.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (11 April 2018):

What is it you are "fighting" about OP? Are they trivial subjects or minor things which she picks on you about? Does she find things to argue about for the sake of arguing? Is she always argumentative and/or disagreeable? Or, does she have some very serious issues with you/your relationship? I am wondering if there is anything YOU have done to cause her to argue with you? How are you contributing? So, instead of looking at her and pointing the finger at her, what have YOU done that may have "triggered" her behaviour? It takes two to tango. There are two sides to every coin. You are telling us yours. In all fairness, she is not here to defend herself. And your view is what you may see, and not what the truth is. I highly doubt she argues or disagrees with herself. Are you causing your girlfriend undue worry or stress? Are you communicating with her? Are you showing her attention? Are you loyal and committed to her? Are you taking care of her emotional needs? Are you at all abusive towards her? Do you neglect her?

Women for the most part do not get this way unless a man is not measuring up. Most women do not reach this stage unless they are not happy with your actions. Or they feel like they are not a priority in your life.

You expect her to act and be all happy and lovey dovey without arguing? This is not reality. Are you towing the line, OP? Tell us about how you treat her. And what your relationship is like. What I need to know are the details of your lives in order to give reasonable advice. How perfect are YOU?

OP, women do get emotional, all the time. You need to accept this if you have any relationship experience. A range of reasons affect our emotions, and some of them are biological.

I'd like to know how bad the arguments are. Is she just name calling? Is she defaming your character? Is she chewing you out and then ignoring you for days? People have certain styles of fighting. Some may all out engage in WWIII and some may walk away to think before re-engaging. Some may resort to passive aggressiveness. Some may just leave and never come back. Often those are the weak minded. So, her style of fighting is different from yours.

Can you illustrate an example of an argument? What you say and what she says? Being completely honest? It really is hard to advise when you are saying she is an immature child who is disrespectful and gives you the silent treatment. None of this makes her a monster and the fact she is fighting with you does not mean she doesn't love you. It means quite the contrary.

Couples who fight or argue regularly have stronger relationships and have longer lasting relationships because the fighting signifies they still deeply care about each other and want the relationship to work. Communication is key. So, don't stop communicating or arguing. It is healthy despite your thoughts to the contrary. What you may have to temper is her fighting style. I think perhaps if or when the argument does escalate, you need to tell her you love her and you will come back once she has calmed down. And you have done the same.

She may be trying to get your attention, OP. She may feel that fighting with you is making sure she is front and centre in your mind. She may feel insecure with you for whatever reason.

So, rather than pick her apart, why don't you first look at your contribution to these arguments. How is it that you could change so that she won't feel a need to argue with you? Women fight for things they want. It is once they stop fighting with you and emotionally distancing themselves that you need to worry. How do you know that she is not finding it harder to let it go too? Perhaps you have exhausted her as well. Perhaps she is seeing there is not reason to keep trying with you?

You've been together a long time, therefore there is definitely love between you. You have made it this far. I think you need to discuss the root cause of your arguments and fight with each other in a kinder way. You are a team, not on opposing sides of the ring.

By the way, I highly doubt you have been an angel in your arguments. I am sure you have said mean things to her too in the heat of the moment and I am sure you have been disrespectful to her as well. You just won't admit it here. Usually people lash out because of some treatment they are receiving or perceive to be receiving by the other person. It does not just come out of thin air or occur for no good reason. There are reasons!

I suggest sitting down with her. Tell her you love and care about her (You do, don't you?) and say to her how it feels when she fights with you. Tell her how hurtful it is to you. Tell her that you would like to have a cooling off period if the fight is about to escalate where you will walk away and talk about it later when tempers have calmed down. See how that works.

Usually fights are about hurt feelings. About a person reaching out to you because they are hurt. It is not because she is evil, or a monster. It is likely because she loves you and there is some unresolved issue between you, and perhaps even an unresolved issue which keeps recurring which you have not been able to resolve once and for all just yet.

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