When you’re in a relationship that’s not working it’s easy to blame the other person for not treating you right. Especially in relationships that turn abusive it’s even easier to blame the abuser for their behaviour.
But abusive relationships never start out like that. They start out as loving and caring relationships and somehow slowly but surely over time they become abusive. So how does this happen?
All behaviour is adapted to get a desired response. When dealing with toddlers and children parents are taught to reward good behaviour with attention, and to ignore bad behaviour.
This principle holds true for adults too. We all crave something, love, attention, or some other positive reward, and when a certain type of behaviour generates a certain kind of reward from another person, we quickly learn to repeat it over and over again. Once we’ve learnt it, even when it’s not working so well, we will do it more and more with greater and greater intensity.
So how does this work in an abusive relationship?
Say your partner comes home and they are in a really bad and grumpy mood. They snap at you and are generally a bit on edge.
You want to cheer them up, or you may even want to ensure their mood doesn’t deteriorate further. So you behave in a placatory way. You might do more things for them, be especially nice, and avoid doing or saying anything that might cause them to get into a further bad mood.
Although, in the short term, your intentions are good, to move them from a bad mood to a good one, your actions could actually be “training” them to act this way in future should they want you to be nice to them.
Over time if you continue to reward a “bad mood” with positive or kind attention, they will unconsciously and unintentionally start to generate a bad mood or atmosphere in order to elicit the response of care and love from you.
Over a longer period and in certain relationships, or if the placater has self esteem issues, they may blame themselves for their partner’s bad mood and work even harder to get them out of the bad mood and into a good one.
Eventually this can lead to a full blown abusive relationship.
How do you reverse this trend?
Once the pattern has been set changing it can take time, conscious effort, and most of all courage.
The Placater must learn to never reward a bad mood and unwanted behaviour with positive rewards, and begin to reward the behaviour they want. So when they are treating you with respect and kindness or in whatever way you want, then reward it with positive attention. Telling them how much you like it when they do or say that.
When they behave in a way you don’t like you have to tell them.
To find out how to do this, see my next blog: “The 5 most powerful words in the English language”