So, you’ve read The Victim Love Style, and you realize- “Yep, that seems a lot like my spouse (or someone I love).” Now what? You notice your spouse cowering, bending over backwards for others, and are surprised by how little backbone they seem to have. Your spouse is getting walked over and revictimized and you want it to stop. Or maybe your spouse has threatened to leave you or done things behind your back or seemed to ignore you when you were angry, and you are reading this because those things bother you.
Your Spouse’s Victim Love Style Tendencies
If you could hear your spouse saying many of the following, then you likely daily deal with some of these victim love style tendencies:
- When I was growing up, I experienced anger outbursts from others, violence, addictions, abuse, and neglect.
- One of my parents was abusive, and the other was passive.
- Being quiet and submissive helps me.
- I keep some things secret from my spouse so he/she won’t be angry.
- I often stick it out in relationships with people, even when they are destructive.
- At times, I’m honestly scared of my spouse. I’m afraid of making him/her angry.
- Anxiety and/or depression shade my life.
- Relationship problems are often my fault.
- Sometimes I feel life isn’t worth living.
- I have intense anger and stress from my past and live consistently with anxiety.
- A lot of times, my emotions are flat, detached, and disengaged. I feel that if I would let myself cry, I might not be able to stop.
- I felt like I had to be the parent when I was growing up. I missed out on my childhood and did not feel seen and heard, safe, secure, and loved unconditionally.
- My spouse complains no matter how hard I try.
- My spouse doesn’t treat me with love and respect consistently. When I am mistreated, I still stay, because it would be worse to be alone.
- I get nervous and suspicious when things seem calm or good. I know they won’t last, and I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- Sometimes I pick a fight just to get it over with.
- No one really knows me or what goes on in my marriage.
(Information adapted from How We Love Workbook p. 68 and other resources from Milan and Kay Yerkovich).
Your Spouse Needs Compassion
If your spouse is a victim, he or she will need your compassion and understanding. Your spouse feels a deep need to be valued and seen, heard, and respected by you. Under the surface is a tremendous amount of hurt, powerlessness, pain, fear, grief, and shame that they have never found a voice for. They likely view your requests as control. While they long to be protected and special to you, the feeling of being controlled keeps them locked in a subservient, fearful role rather than viewing themselves as an equal partner to you. More than anything, they don’t want to be abandoned by you.
If your friend were hurting or in a difficult situation, you likely wouldn’t counsel them to stuff their feelings, suck it up, and not be such a baby. Unfortunately, this is likely how your spouse’s self-talk usually goes. A simple definition of what Kristin Neff defines as self-compassion is,
“Self-compassion is treating yourself like someone you care about, with support,
encouragement and warmth.”
It’s not your spouse’s fault if you are unhappy or angry when they don’t do everything you want or the way you want it. As equal partners in a relationship, your spouse is responsible for the their equal part in the relationship. Their thoughts, needs, desires, attitudes, perspectives, dreams, and goals are all important part of the marriage. They ought to be equally represented in your marriage. They are responsible to live their life.
Are You Supporting This
That being said, it is critical for the spouse of a person with the victim love style to understand their own love style and grow, learning to use the comfort circle with their spouse. If your spouse has the feeling that you are criticizing them, blaming them, unable to hear their feelings without defensiveness or critique, or in any way uncomfortable with giving your spouse space to feel their feelings (you feeling with them) and let them be themselves and make their own choices and live their own life as an equal partner, then you will need to focus on seeking that change inside of you.
You may not feel comfortable with giving yourself space to feel your own feelings. The thought of giving your spouse space to have negative feelings, let alone negative feelings about you, is scary. Entering into that space and feeling their feelings with them might seem impossible. If that is you, you need self-compassion of your own. And you also desperately need to work on growing to be able to take in the love and empathy of others and extend love and empathy to others.
Find Out How They Got Here
If you are in a healthy place in which you feel you can be yourself and represent you in the relationship, and if you feel safe, you can take steps toward understanding your spouse better (not to fix them, but to help you have perspective).
Try to picture your spouse as a child. What do you know about their childhood? Do you know their stories about distressing moments in their childhood? If not, talk through these memories kindly with your spouse, sincerely seeking to understand the root of their fear, despair, self-neglect, intimidation, rejection, and hurt. What experiences grooved pain into their soul?
Why Your Spouse is So Surrendered to Self-Sacrifice
Much of your spouse’s responses to life are fueled by childhood pain and emotional injury. They experienced distress and trauma and weren’t able to talk about it or find comfort for it in any human relationship. If they turned to an addiction to cope (drugs, perfectionism, alcohol, workaholism, pornography, other sexual addiction, overeating, or any other form of using a substance or activity to cope in a way that controls them), they are receiving illegitimate comfort. What they end up with is temporary relief (so it seems) that leaves them craving a larger does of whatever their substance is and likely a heavy load of whipped shame and sprinkled guilt on top. They may feel like they need to appease other people at all cost to themselves in order to avoid being abandoned and alone.
How Can You Help?
You and your spouse both need to seek God to help you see how He created you each to be. You both have a unique, glorious identity that He designed. Your hurt and coping has led you down a different path, but God invites you both to walk with Him and discover the noble, kind, strong, purposeful person He designed you each to be. Seeking God to lift you up into all He created you to be is a first step in helping. Seeking God to do the same for your spouse and to begin to reveal to you the identity He imprinted on your spouse is one of the kindest, most effective things you could do.
Unless your spouse has been working toward becoming a secure connector, he or she likely doesn’t know how feelings of anger and loss from childhood trauma, neglect, abuse, rejection, and fear affect them. A focus on these feelings can possibly even make them feel uncomfortable at first, especially since your spouse likely doesn’t even realize they are there. Milan and Kay Yerkovich in their book How We Love Workbook: Making Deeper Connections in Marriage explain that you will need to seek God for guidance and apply these suggestions slowly, over time, one at a time. The following suggestions are gleaned from their book:
Communicate That You’d Like to Understand Their Past
Remember that your spouse doesn’t want to be abandoned. They must be an equal partner in the relationship, so their buried emotions are important. Ask your spouse to talk about times they felt intimidated, threatened, unworthy, unprotected, unlovable, controlled, manipulated, under stress, raged at, or in an unsafe situation due to a parent’s addition or destructive choices.
Your spouse is likely unaware of the deep pain grooved on their souls. Pull up pictures from their childhood and ask them if they can remember what they were feeling when they were that age or in that picture. Reflect back what they are saying to show you are hearing them (without interrupting),
- “It sounds like you felt ___________”
- “It seems like that memory was a really bad one, and it makes you very sad to think about it”
- “That must have been so hard. I hear a lot of hurt and grief when you talk about…”
Draw Out Hidden Emotions
Past hurt and unsafe forms of talking have taught victims to bury their emotions. Some have even decided that their emotions don’t matter and have no place. Help them draw out their emotions.
Hold and comfort your spouse as they work through these emotions. Milan and Kay recommend cradling your spouse or holding their head in your lap and maintaining eye contact while they share with you.
When your spouse shares a memory or their feelings with you, tell your spouse regularly,
That matters to me.
When their feelings matter to you, they feel more secure and can begin to let their feelings matter to themselves as well. Other options may include:
- “It means a lot to me that you shared that with me.”
- “Thank you for the honor of telling me that memory.”
- “I feel really close to you when you tell me memories like this. Thank you for letting me in.”
- “Thank you for sharing that with me. I know it’s hard to talk about. It helps me know and understand you better, and I want to know you well, because I love you.”
Helping your spouse recognize and be comforted for those sad feelings can be very healing. It will them build the ability to see that they are valuable and they have voice and choice.
Making Space to Feel With Them
How often and how much should you feel with your spouse? If you have caused a lot of pain to your spouse, you will need to be willing to listen often, as long as it takes to heal (expect it to take years). The idea is to show up trustworthy (see below how to specifically do that) consistently, day after day. Make it a goal to listen to your spouse (without any defensiveness), drawing out their emotions for 15-20 minutes at a time so that you both have time to begin to emotionally engage. Humility and the willingness to own your stuff goes a long way in rebuilding the relationship into a healthy partnership.
Make Partnership a Goal
Work toward viewing your marriage as a partnership-
- one in which your thoughts, needs, opinions, desires, and goals are taken into account.
- one in which you have freedom to do the things you manage your way.
- one in which you feel seen, heard, and valued.
Your spouse has likely felt all of the above being stifled. They have felt the agony of feeling more like a puppet or a machine in the relationship than a person. You can’t change or reform another person. If that’s why you’re here, I’m sorry. You will be disappointed. However, if you want to know better how to love and connect with your spouse, then read on.
Victims rarely if ever received Blessing from another person. They rarely felt seen and heard and respected for who they are. They did not receive praise or encouragement. Telling them often why you love them, what you respect about them, and the strengths they have could be a healing gift to them.
Look out for Addictions
You may be leaning on addictions to “deal with” your pain. You may feel completely out of control to them and unable to get free. Milan and Kay put it this way:
“Addictions are the most common method of finding relief. The constant torment they once endured on the outside has traveled inside to become their closest “friend”: a familiar place of pain with no apparent escape.”
You may tend to tend to escape through playing video games, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, doing pornography, gambling, or overspending. You may believe these help you feel better at least for a little bit, especially when you’re really stressed out. But they leave you isolated and full of regret and shame that keep you in the shadows and out of the strong, vibrant relationships you could be having with those most important to you.
Get the help you need to get free of your addictions. Do whatever it takes. You are pouring out all the best parts of you in relationship to this addiction- not to your spouse or children. Don’t lose their hearts or their presence in your life. Check out resources like Celebrate Recovery and find a counselor through Focus on the Family’s Free Counseling Session and help finding a counselor.
Support Redemptive Steps to a Healthier Relationship
If you have a controller or vacillator love style, it is likely very painful to take in how your behavior affects your spouse. Even doing just a little of that and apologizing may be a significant achievement for you. It is so important to celebrate growth.
Still, if your behavior is destructive in any way, your spouse is continuing to be victimized. Look over these strategies you could be unwittingly using that are destructive: Destructive Ways of Talking. If you are a controller, it is difficult for you to be safe and nurturing. The healthiest thing for you to do is to decide that you are going to become a safe person for those you love no matter what it takes.
If your spouse is experiencing psychological, verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, or physical abuse in your relationship, it’s time to take steps to set healthy boundaries and create safety for yourself and children. If you aren’t willing to step up and get the help you need to do that, then the best thing you can do is to support your spouse doing that.
If your spouse takes a significant step, such as separating from you or moving into a shelter, this could be the best thing to save your relationship. Continuing in an abuse cycle destroys your spouse, your relationship, and yourself. Ending that cycle is the healthiest thing for both of you. If your spouse has been brave enough to do that, you likely feel that horrible out of control feeling. Yet their action can be the very thing to save your relationship.
Instead of spinning out of control inside or outside, recognize and remind yourself that you can only control yourself. And learning to have self-control and be a safe person- taking control of yourself can be the very thing your spouse will need to see that you are growing and becoming the safe, nurturing spouse they long for.
Begin to build trust by showing up as a safe person. Your spouse may have asked you to rebuild trust, but what does that even mean? “Redemptive” is meant for you to get back together in a healthy way. But how can you successfully do something so vague as build trust? Here are some specific ways to be successful in this:
Henry Cloud on Building Trust
Henry Cloud explains that trust is built on understanding and feeling understood. Important components of this are:
- Connection: Trust is built on Understanding
- Motive: are they generally for us and for the relationship/generally selfish
- Capacity: capacity to pull it off and ability to entrust them with what I need to entrust them with.
- Character: are they lying, hiding, deceiving, cheating, stealing, blaming, or owning their stuff and showing respect, humility, perseverance, steadfastness, compassion and the willingness to do whatever it takes. Whatever the character traits are for what we want to trust them in.
- Track Record: what happened the last time I said yes/opened my boundaries. Did the person show up trustworthy or did they hurt you on repeat? Are they consistently safe?
Find out more in his course on Boundaries and Trust on Boundaries.me.
Brene Brown on Braving Trust
Brene Brown defines trust with the acronym “BRAVING.”
“BOUNDARIES: You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.
RELIABILITY: You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
ACCOUNTABILITY: You ownyour mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
VAULT: You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.
INTEGRITY: You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.
NONJUDGMENT: I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
GENEROSITY: You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.”
These are all definitions from Brene Brown, and you can listen to great podcasts explaining this here: Braving Trust Parts 1 and 2.
One of the best ways to show up trustworthy is to find, maintain, and deepen accountable community for yourself over time. Begin to find safe community and support to help you as you learn to show up safe for those you love. Healing takes place in a safe nurturing environment. You may not know where to start, but check out 12 step groups such as Celebrate Recovery. Addictions are often a part of a controller or victim’s life (whether you or someone else is addicted), and groups like this offer support to both the addicted and those who love them. And the support can be amazing. If you visit one 2-3 times and it doesn’t seem like a good fit, try a few weeks at another. Each community has a different feel. Finding professional counseling and even sticking to prescriptions that are designed to help you are also a very important component.
Critical Key: Consistently Showing Up Safe
Just as you need to make enough deposits in the bank so that when you make a withdrawl, there is something to pull from, in relationship, it is critical to consistently make deposits. This means moment by moment, day by day, showing up as a partner who is ready to listen, support, and encourage your spouse to have their feelings and make their choices. This means that the withdrawals need to be few and far between. Work towards consistently cutting out criticism and control and focus on making lots of deposits in sincere love for your spouse.
Comfort For You
As you seek to extend love and comfort to your spouse, be sure that you are taking care of yourself. You need to be practicing good self-care in all areas.
- Get good sleep
- Eat well
- Exercise regularly
- Be part of supportive and enjoyable groups (Bible studies, support groups, hobby groups, book clubs- whatever you enjoy that is fun to you)
- Get counseling (as needed)
- Relax and regularly participate in hobbies or other activities that are fun for you
- Develop friendships
One aspect of this is ensuring you have safe, healthy relationships with friends and family in which you are both giving and receiving comfort and love. This means communicating your needs in a gentle, respectful, clear way to friends and family that love you. You can invite your spouse to love you in ways that communicate love to you.
Parenting with a person with the victim love style can be frustrating at times. Find out how to be successful by reading Transformational Parenting for the Victim Love Style. Ask your spouse to consider taking a parenting class with you or working with a mentor couple with you through a parenting book. This could help facilitate discussion and a team-mindset. Set out boundaries together for your children and develop an authoritative plan together. Talk often about how you are applying the plan and encourage your spouse as they hold firm to boundaries you’ve set together and flex their no muscle.
You may be reading this because someone dear to you is a controller. I pray that God blesses you as you seek His face for your situation.
Want To Know More?
Milan and Kay Yerkovich wrote a great book called How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage. The workbook quoted and drawn from in this post is very helpful and practical for taking steps toward growth. They have a whole series for singles, couples, counselors, etc at How We Love. (note, I’m not an affiliate or anything. I just have benefited from these resources and want to share).
More Posts In the Series:
If you’d like to know more about love styles, check out the Entire Love Style Series.
- Do You Have A Destructive Love Style? Take This Quiz
- First Lessons in Lov
- The Victim Love Style
- Transformational Parenting for the Victim Love Style
The key teachings of this post are consolidated from Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s excellent resources. I highly encourage you to find out more from them directly:
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love: Discover Your Love Style Enhance Your Marriage. Christian Audio.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Workbook: Making Deeper Connections in Marriage. Waterbrook: 2017.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting. How to End the Struggles and Tension. The Crown Publishing Group: 2011.
Copyright © 2022 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.