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Two Sense: How To Handle A Cruel Girlfriend

Illustration by Caitlin Kuhwald

I have been dating a woman for about 17 months, and I’m at a crossroads. Basically, she’s mean—she says and does things that border on cruelty. She is hypercritical and insulting with no thought to the consequences. She says the most hurtful things about me, and though I want it to work, each day I’m faced with the challenge of ignoring her insulting behavior. It’s like being on an emotional StairMaster. Is it time to move on?

He Said: I’m not seeing anything positive about this situation, but I’m thinking maybe she’s crazy-good in bed, and that’s why you put up with it. The easy answer is yes, move on. But here are a couple of things to try before throwing in the towel.

First, you can’t ignore regular insults. Though you might accumulate some Buddhist bennies from enduring abuse, but it isn’t helping to bring you two closer. We teach people how to treat us, and it sounds like you have mostly schooled her on how to be an insensitive bitch. If she has something specific she wants from you, she has to explain it thoughtfully. You can help her do this better by coaching her on what works for you rather than simply ignoring her insulting delivery.

Second, agree on the specific issues that divide you. If she has a laundry list, consolidate them into three or four items. These need to be so clear in both your minds that if someone asked what your issues are, both you and she would have similar answers. If you think these issues are workable (being late or flirting with other women, for example), go forward and see what you can resolve. But if these are her issues (extreme distrust of men or active addictions, for instance), then there’s not much you can do till she addresses them herself—possibly in therapy. Sometimes when you care about someone who is lashing out, the best thing to do is leave, possibly forcing them to confront their behavior. If you do break up, be as clear as you can about why.

She Said: I wish you had described exactly what she says and does, but since you use the word “cruelty,” I’m going to use that as my guide. Let me boil this down to some very specific instructions. The next time she does or says anything cruel, do not ignore her. Rather, stop what you’re doing, approach her silently, stop about a foot from her, look her in the eye, and then choose one of these three options, which I will state in ascending order based on how much gumption and energy you have at your disposal. (1) Say, 
“You are one cruel bitch.” Then leave without another word, and ignore her until she repents. This might break you up, which would be fine, or you might have to repeat as many times as necessary. (2) Say, “That’s the last time you’ll speak to me that way. The next time it happens, I’m gone. If you need something or you’re upset, tell me calmly, and we’ll take it from there.” This option will involve a lot of time and attention on your part and possibly therapy. But you must stand by your boundary, and leave if she repeats the behavior. OK, ready for the finale? (3) Laugh out loud, say, “You are really adorable when you’re furious,” drag her into the bedroom, and have the kind of sex that relieves all your pent-up rage while settling her down. This option can have several distinct outcomes, but one thing’s for sure: Energetically speaking, you must top her or leave.

Confused? Heartbroken? Curious? Send your submissions to twosense@7x7.com