I receive hundreds of letters every week. Some of the most common questions include: "What did he mean when he said _________?" "Why did she tell me that she _________?" Often, the answers are highly individualized, and I get into the nitty-gritty details of life, love, and romance with those who write in. I work to decrypt things and shine the proverbial light on the middle-of-the-road truth. But by far, one of the most-asked questions I receive every week is very direct: "Why do they treat me like sh*t?!"
Let's get something out of the way. I'm not describing physically abusive/violent relationships. That's not only treating someone "badly", it's also a felony. If you find yourself in violent relationship — leave. Period. End.
The relationships I'm discussing may not fit into the mold of "abusive", but most definitely damaging. They keep you guessing — Never-A-Dull-Moment style, leaving you muttering to yourself: "It wasn't always this way, was it?" No, it wasn't … and that's what is so confusing. They do treat you right sometimes. But now that your feelings are out in the open, things have changed. Maybe she isn't available as often as she used to be (without a genuine reason), or perhaps he is emotionally distant without an explanation, or maybe they start fights and arguments, aren't affectionate, have stopped being thoughtful, or have just disconnected from you. It leaves you asking yourself some ugly questions: "What did I do wrong? What's wrong with me? What did I do to make them change?"
A reality check: You didn't make them change. Without a weapon, no one has the power to make anyone do anything they don't want. This leaves one explanation: They are choosing to act this way. And not only are they choosing it… you are allowing and enabling it.
Here's the harsh truth: People can only treat you in ways you allow. In essence, you give permission and imbue people with knowledge of how you want to be treated. So, if you are settling for someone's poor treatment or halfway efforts, you are silently telling them, "Thank you. This is how I want you to treat me, and I like it. More, please."
Unfortunately this explanation, while accurate, doesn't provide all the information needed for an genuine explanation of this pattern. Often, the real culprit is a lack of self-esteem. People are treated in ways they don't like because: 1) On occasion, they receive the love they want on a limited basis, and they put up with poor behavior the rest of the time to get a crumb of love at some point in the future; or 2) Their self-esteem is so low, they feel (consciously or subconsciously) that this is all they are going to get. It's all they deserve.
If you put up with bad treatment, you are showing your partner that you don't respect yourself. You are showing them that you are only worthy of the unacceptable way they are treating you ... and each time you go back and forgive them, you are reinforcing their bad behavior.
Escaping this cycle is challenging, as your sense of self-worth and esteem feel like they're locked up in the relationship—creating a constant search for moments of love amidst long bouts of indifference and disconnection. If you've communicated your needs and he refuses to act or alter his treatment of you, sometimes the only way out of the cycle is, well, out. Move on to someone who will treat you like a treasure. And by "someone", I don't mean a new relationship... I mean move on to YOU. Self-worth and self-esteem emanate from self. Start with you. Respect and value you, and everyone around you will have no choice but to follow your lead.