December 11, 2009


I was recently on a call, coaching a group of therapists across the country.  The conversation turned to women accepting the unacceptable, which happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves with women.  One of the male therapists on the call was relieved to hear this perspective from a woman.  He then stated with absolute confidence that his wife trained him to be the man he was.  He was clear that she would never allow him to treat her poorly...and so he doesn't.

It was an interesting comment to hear coming from a man.  The content wasn’t as surprising to me as the fact that he was so certain that his wife had trained him how to behave (his words).  He knew to the core of his being that his wife would not accept unacceptable behavior from him--period. He said that he meant to treat his wife well, but as a young man (48 years ago) he didn't know when his behavior was out of line and learned from her clarity of direction. He knew that in his younger years he would say something or do something that he thought was fine only to find out from her that it wasn’t.  He stopped as soon as he realized she wouldn’t accept it.

Many women struggle with knowing what is and is not acceptable behavior.  As a result, they take all sorts of poor behavior from men (and vice a versa—but that’s a different post:-).  Typically, however, women are fairly clear about what is and is not acceptable for the other females in their lives.  A good indicator, therefore, of poor treatment, is whether or not you would want your daughter, sister, mother or best friend putting up with that treatment.  If you wouldn’t want them putting up with it—then you shouldn’t either.

Men learn what is and is not okay regarding the women in their lives because the women show them.  Until women stop accepting poor treatment, the men (who are prone to giving poor treatment) will continue to treat them poorly.  Not accepting poor treatment does NOT mean yelling at him; it means setting a limit and invoking a consequence.  Humans learn via positive and negative consequences.  If we speed, we get a speeding ticket.  If we don’t care about the ticket, we will speed again and again. The more tickets we get, the more the consequences get ramped up until we lose our license or worse.  Typically at some point the stakes get too high for us not to care. 

Relationships are the same.  If you don’t like how your partner’s treating you—SHOW them.  Set a limit and if they don’t listen to the first limit, ramp it up (with your non-violent actions, not your words).  Don’t stop with the consequences until the behavior stops—even if that means ending the relationship.  Refuse to accept the unacceptable and know this is the only way to ever have healthy relationships.

CHALLENGE:  I would love to have the men chime in on this point and see if you’ve noticed this dynamic in your own life.  For the women readers, take an inventory of your relationships.  If anyone’s treating you poorly, what do you need to DO (not SAY) to end that treatment?  Report back your journey! 


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You know what, I am sick and tired of having to teach intimate partners how to treat me. Seriously, these people are supposed to be fully formed adults and there is a ton of information out there regarding appropriate behavior. I'm not speaking of my personal preferences. I'm speaking of the basics of respect, civility and kindness that most of us are taught from kindergarten all throughout our lives. Most of these people realize that in most social relationships certain behaviors won't get them far with friends or work colleagues (violent displays of behavior, generally being rude or uncivil, being cold or emotionally absent). So why do they think that behavior is appropriate in close intimate relationships?

Anyways, I just can't be bothered with partners who can't achieve the baseline.

I really don't appreciate the slandering of men in this article. Saying that men are prone to giving bad treatment and treating women badly. No wonder why men have a bad name, with articles like this. Women are just as proned as men are if not more. Their are two people in a relationship weather it be the same or opposite sex and each is responsible for his or her actions.
DEAR JEFF: Thank you for your view point. It is not my intent to slander anyone and I totally agree that women can behave badly in relationships just as men can. I also know that many women take poor treatment from men (and others) because they just want to be loved. This is the dynamic I was speaking to not that men treat women poorly.
While I also agree that there are two people in a relationship, I do not agree that two people necessarily have an equal share in the problems in a relationship. There are some relationships where one person is far more blatant and dysfunctional than the other. The other person's contribution is that they allow it. This is true for both men and women.
Thanks for voicing your opinion.

What is the best way to stay consistent? There are many people in my life that I need to teach how to treat me, but it is very hard for me to keep backbone lone enough for it to work. Any ideas?

DEAR MARIE: The best way to start is to come up with 2 basic rules of engagement that everyone in your life has to follow. For example: people may not physically touch or threaten me in anger or yell, scream or swear at me in anger. Next look at each rule and determine how you're going to respond to anyone who breaks that rule. Focus on these two rules only until you confidently enforce them in with a centered strength (versus an over the top aggression). Once you are consistent with these two rules you can then add another one (i.e. people must treat me with respect). You can read some of my prior posts for ideas on limit setting. Remember to follow through with limits you set or don't set them.
Good luck-Lisa

So, what are consequences that don't constitute manipulative or other inappropriate behavior on the part of the woman? I don't think that most women don't know what is inappropriate to accept, it's a struggle to have "consequences" that are not parental or controlling in nature, manipulative or inappropriate fits of temper.

DEAR STACY: Great question. Basically limits can be seen as rules of engagement. For example one of my personal rules of engagement is that people in my life cannot yell or swear at me in anger. If someone is yelling, I simply ask them to lower their tone if they want me to hear them. If they don't, I tell them they are welcome to have this conversation with me when they are calm and no longer yelling. I then end the conversation and take some space. This is not me being parental or manipulative or anything else. It's simply me following through on one of my belief systems. It's me teaching others how to treat me. If you want to be in my inner circle, minimally you need to be respectful--even in anger.
All people need to be doing this if they want cherishing relationships. It's about knowing you deserve to be treated well at all times, by all people--and vice versa. You then need to act on this belief by setting limits when others are not treating you well.
Hope that helps.
Take care-Lisa

I was just reflecting on the last relationship I had that I ended based on 1. poor treatement aka "recieving crumbs" and 2. letting him off the hook too many times. For the times I did finally speak up, I found him defensive and manipulative. This further solidified my deciision. I could have ended the relationship much earlier and saved a whole lot of heartache by speaking up sooner. I didn't. What became clear to me was that many women before me had let him behave inappropriately and he was never really pulled up for it. Pulling the plug and saying "no thanks" came as a shock to him but more importantly it helped restore my self-esteem and move through and past something that didn't support it and me. I hope I've made some dent for the next lady but I've learnt to speak up more than ever to see what I get and make the decision earlier on as to continue working on the relationship or not.

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