Fighting Fair in a relationship

So my neighbour has a dog that barks non stop and it drives me bonkers.
“What are on you about now Cat?” I hear you ask! Well this encounter with my neighbour reveals unhealthy communication techniques that people use in relationships.

Have you ever brought up an issue with your partner or anyone and wondered how they’ve managed to twist it back on you?

Notice how it scrambles your brain and nothing gets sorted out?

Communication skills are a big part of how I help couples move forward from a space of gridlock to a space of growth.

I want to use this example of my neighbour to illustrate how NOT to communicate in your relationship/s. My  inconsiderate neighbour perfectly highlights how insidious some of these unhealthy communication styles are and how they roadblock any resolutions.

When I told my neighbour a few weeks ago very politely and assertively about her dog barking for 13 hours a day from 6am outside my bedroom window she replied in all the typical deflective and manipulative ways that I teach my couples to stop doing.

I really had to take deep breaths to keep my patience and not be dragged down her dizzying vortex.

My neighbour kept throwing the spotlight away from the problem that is her responsbility back onto me. She was focussing on the fact I worked nights rather than the fact that their neglecting their poor dog and keeping it outside and alone for 13 hours a day is causing the problem. I should be able to enjoy days off where I can sleep in regardless of my work schedule however the neighbour started to deny my polite assertions.  She kept putting it back onto me and insinuated I was the one with the problem and there was nothing wrong with her neglected dog. She also kept insisting that none of the other neighbours had a problem with it and thus invalidating my complaint. 

This actually isn’t the case and other neighbours are very annoyed by her dog but if I wasn’t feeling confident in my cause imagine how that would’ve shaken me and made me give up.

My neighbour kept deflecting again and again away from the fact that she was the one at fault and her dog was a problem and refusing to take responsibility. When have you ever encountered someone doing something like this to you?

This is a very common technique in emotionally abusive relationships. Imagine being in a relationship for years and this technique always being used on you so you never feel heard or validated.

Deflection is a way we deflect blame.  It is a kind of projection. It’s like the fruit fly of defence mechanisms!

Basically, when the fault lies with us, if we are a deflector, we project the blame and fault onto the person raising the fault. We hold up the mirror that’s been pointed at us and turn it back at the other person. This can stonewall any conflict resolution in a relationship.
Deflection happens we can’t take responsibility for something we’ve done wrong and feel good about ourselves at the same time. You see children after they spill something in the kitchen and they might blame it on the drink or the glass..

People that use deflection are not really hearing you or tackling the problem- they’re trying to divert attention back onto you as quickly as possible.

Deflection is an unhealthy way to escape self awareness. 

Here are some examples of deflection…

Say, when an abusive partner blames their partner for their own abusive behaviour saying it’s their fault they abused them because they didn’t say…react appropriately/have dinner ready/do what they were told/dare to try to say no or erect healthy boundaries etc… “I was only phyiscally violent to you because you didn’t have my dinner ready on time” is an awful example of deflection. You choose to abuse someone and can’t blame someone for your own abusive actions.

Or when a partner gives feedback to their partner about something they’re doing wrong and instead of taking it on board they think to themselves, “Oh she’s just on her period or she’s just pre-menstrual.“

Or when someone does something very hurtful to someone and they don’t own it but instead say, “Oh it’s because of his/her mental health problems/mental health diagnosis“ “Or s/he’s just triggered because of their…….. trauma/abuse/childhood/trust issues” etc.. They can sidestep any responsibility here by lumping it all onto whatever label they choose.

Or when someone does something  wrong but instead of owning it they say your reaction is “your own shit and your own projections.”

Or when a partner is abusive and the partner being abused stands up to it and gets frustrated and angry at the mistreatment.  The abusive partner using deflection tactics says to their protesting partner that  need to see a therapist for their “anger issues.”

Another example is when a parent is making mistakes raising their child but rather than own and realise that they put that all onto the child, effectively ‘scapegoating’ him or her.

How to stop Deflecting

To be able to repair rifts in a relationship you have to be able to ‘see’ yourself with a new self awareness.

You must to be able to accept that you are an imperfect being that makes mistakes and take responsibility for your actions. 
 That doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

It’s important to feel okay with making a mistake.

I teach a lot of my couples listening skills, the sort we are never taught in schools.

If you stop and actually listen to your partner you can stop going straight into knee jerk responses or feeling like you have to defend yourself.

Don’t interrupt unless you need to clarify something.

Don’t feel like you have to jump in to fill the silence once your partner has finished talking.

It’s okay for a few seconds of silence as you ponder what they’ve said.

Try to echo back to your partner what you’ve heard them say.  This can clarify that what you’re hearing is indeed what they’re trying to communicate.

You do not have to agree with what they’ve said but this important step helps you to understand clearly what they’re saying and it allows your partner to feel heard.
It can be so rewarding working with a therapist to discover how to spot your own defence mechanisms you usually lean back on in your relationships and start to work on challenging them.
Working with a therapist like me can lead to the patience and strength to openly listen to criticism.

Another important skill to develop is standing firm and standing your ground when you are feeling like the defence skills of your partner are starting to derail you.

Reeva Steenkamp texts to Oscar Pistorius teach us about emotional abuse


Here are texts Reeva sent to her boyfriend three weeks before she was killed.

I’m not posting this to make a comment about the legal side of the case but rather to help us learn how to spot the signs of emotional abuse in a relationship.
In particular notice her comment, “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will react to me. ” 

This is very important.

If you are frightened of your partner and how they might react to you then you are in an abusive relationship.

This is intimidation and is one of the main aspects of an emotionally violent relationship. 

Emotional abuse is an attack on your personality and your character in order to control you. It can be really confusing if you are in a relationship with an abuser and you might keep trying to make things work.  If you change your behaviour because you are scared of how your partner will react you are being abused.



Here’s another text from Reeva to Oscar…

“I didn’t think you would criticize me for doing that especially not so loudly that others could hear. I might joke around and be all Tom boyish at times but I regards myself as a lady and I didn’t feel like one tonight after the way you treated me when we left. I’m a person too … I am trying my best to make you happy and I feel as thought you sometimes never are, no matter the effort I put in. I can’t be attacked by outsiders for dating you and be attacked by you — the one person I deserve protection from.”

Reeva talks of how she is trying so hard to make Oscar happy even though nothing she seems to do works. Classic signs of someone being abused are when they are trying to appease the abuser and always monitoring their own behaviour. Reeva is trying to reassure and placate her abuser. This is symptomatic of an abused partner tip toeing on eggshells and trying not to make their partner mad and keep the peace.

This is not a healthy relationship. 


Oscar was mean to his girlfriend, picks on her, puts her down -especially in front of other people. Reeva feels, “picked on … incessantly… I get snapped at and told my accents and voices are annoying … Stop chewing gum. Do this don’t do that…”

Oscar critisizes how she speaks, belittles her and tries to control her actions..

Control is the hallmark of an abuser. It is meant to make you question your own thoughts and feelings. These comments undermine her sense of self and also serve to isolate her from her friends. By creating scenes when she goes out with her friends he has started the process of isolation.

Many abusers publicly humiliate their partners, it’s a way of reducing their partners self esteem by making them feel small and humiliated. This is verbal abuse and you do not have to put up with it. This is an early red flag if you are dating an abuser. They might be charming most of the time until the mask slips down for a moment and they put you down in front of friends of family. Pay attention to this! This is the beginning of a slippery slope! If they publicly humiliate you this will not get better over time!

You might start to believe these put downs about yourself as your self esteem is gradually attacked and eroded more and more over time…  Consistent criticism from someone you love and admire might make you start working super hard to try and “improve yourself” for your partners approval as you internalise their criticism and start to blame yourself. This is a no win situation.

Sure, self improvement is important in a healthy  relationship of flexible give and take with a partner who is your EQUAL but trying to “fix” your supposedly terribly flawed self for the never ending lofty expectations of an abuser is a unbalanced game you can never win.

You will never be good enough for a person who chooses to abuse and you will lose yourself in the process of trying.

In a loving and healthy relationship your partner will want to boost you up not drag you down and put you down about petty things. If you feel pressured to fix yourself  to meet your partner’s high standards then you are not in a healthy relationship.

This is a very typical statement from an abused partner…. “But perhaps it says a lot about what’s going on here. Today was one of my best friend’s engagements and I wanted to stay longer. I was enjoying myself but it’s over now.” Reeva starts out by explaining her needs but then backs down and says it’s too late now. She’s not standing her ground or standing in her power because emotional abuse tears down that power and disempowers you. You lose the anchor of your selfhood and are left floundering.

Reeva also says that Oscar always talks about his various women he’s been with but if she mentions one long term boyfriend he gets very angry with her. She then mentions his tantrums. This double standard, possessiveness and jealousy is classic text book abusive relationship.

You can see that Oscar is very jealous and deals with that by controlling his girlfriends actions. It’s normal for people to feel a little bit jealous in a relationship however it is not normal to make their partner manage and hold up their jealousy and change their actions to deal it. If you’ve never done anything to make your partner suspect your devotion to them, never lied about seeing someone or cheated on them- then them dumping all this suspicious jealousy onto you, shaming your behaviour or attachments with friends is a big red flag for abuse.

I want to include examples now of how an abuser uses jealousy, possessiveness and isolation in an abusive relationship from the standard counselling text books to illustrate my point.

Controlling or manipulating her by controlling what she does, who she sees & talks to, what she reads, where she goes, limiting her outside involvement. 

Using jealousy to justify actions, using jealousy as a sign of love instead of insecurity. Unfounded accusations of cheating, unfaithfulness, infidelity.

Abuser treats her as if he owns her; he doesn’t want her to share her time/attention with anyone else.  Isolating the victim – controlling her schedule, limiting her involvement in activities, limiting access to telephone/internet, limiting access to enroll in certain classes, controlling her access to resources (e.g., health care, medications, car, friends, school, job, etc.).

Abuser seeks to destroy her social support system-not allowing her to spend time with family or friends, criticizing her friends, so she won’t spend time with
them, discouraging her from being close with anyone else.

Isolation is intended to make the abuser the center of the victim’s universe, as well as to limit purposefully the victim’s access to others who might attempt to help her/him escape.

(As females statistically are more likely to be victims of dating violence, these items are addressed toward female victims. Please note males can be victims of dating violence as well.)

You can forget that these texts are anything to do with Reeva or Oscar Pistorius for a minute. I’m a psychotherapist not a legal expert!

This story is all about the language that underpins emotional abuse in an intimate relationship.

Recently, I read these texts to a client who recognised the words as if they were her own.

If you have a friend who is being critisized so much by their partner that their self esteem is disappearing then please reach out for help.

If you are in a situation where someone is making you feel small, controlled, worthless and like you can’t do anything right and they critisize you for small, petty things like how you dress, housework, how you talk, how loud you laugh or you feel trapped, afraid and powerless then please get in touch.

There is a way out.