I watched in disbelief as Pat, the forty-year old wife of Jeff, her forty-five year old husband, froze amidst the hail of verbal challenges by her pontificating husband. To make matters worse, he seemed oblivious to his behavior, even under our watchful eye during their Marriage Intensive.
Pat looked down as Jeff stared at her, his eyes bulging from his intensity. He continued his incessant criticism, seemingly unaware that he had lost any connection to his wife he may have previously had. Frozen in fear, she no longer talked back, slumping further in his chair. She simply sat stiffly and listened to his tirade—or at least appeared to be listening. I wondered about when I should interject my critical impressions.
“Have you always talked to her like that?” I asked Jeff.
“What do you mean?” he asked, surprised by my question. “I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m asking reasonable questions and making reasonable comments.”
“But,” I objected, “you talk to her in a parental voice. You stare at her and she cowers in your presence. You talk down to her, as if she were a child. You don’t seem to notice that she has stopped listening to you. She appears frozen in fear.”
Jeff’s behavior is not unusual and certainly is not limited to marriage relationships. Bullies thrive anywhere there are people who will be bullied, whether in marriage, dating, the workplace, in friendships and families. Bullies have stolen power since grade school playgrounds, junior high hallways and high school parking lots.
“How are you feeling?” I asked, turning to Pat. I had watched her turn from a vibrant, apparently happy mate to an intimidated, silent and threatened spouse. I have seen it before in many other marriages, and have experienced it myself in various relationships during my lifetime.
Relationships are built upon mutual respect, and anything less is something less than a true, vibrant, healthy relationship. When one person corners another, insisting to be heard, it is unlikely that they will truly be heard. It is impossible for them to be respected.
Let’s consider the traits of a bully:
Thrive on Power: No bully can exist without someone over whom they have power. Bullies must have someone in their life who tolerates their abusive behavior and bullies thrive on this power and influence. While this is a disturbed relationship, these relationships are common. Where there is a bully, there is also someone being victimized. Tragically, someone is usually cowering in their presence.
Egotism:Bullies think of themselves more highly than they ought, (Romans 12:3) and are seemingly unaware of their distorted perception. They often don’t realize how highly distorted their perceptions are. They see themselves as being “right” and are often self-righteous and entitled in their attitude.
Aggression: Bullies have trouble managing their aggression, defined here are using their power to harm another person. Bullies are disrespectful and, owing to their sense of entitlement, talk or act in hurtful ways. The “talk down” to others, use sarcasm to make their point, and usually will settle for nothing less than total domination.
Lack of Empathy or Remorse: Sadly, bullies often have a profound lack of empathy for others, and hence don’t realize the damage they are doing to others. They walk away from the scene believing they did what needed to be done, said what needed to be said. Their victims sense this egotistical attitude and know they won’t receive a heartfelt apology or change of behavior.
Read More: 5 Tips to Free Yourself From Bullies
Dr. David B. Hawkins
Is there bullying in your marriage? If you would like to learn ways to respond more effectively, please go to our website, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com. Please send responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.