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He wants to take his anger out on my body: that's not okay, right?

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bludragonfly7 asks:

My ex-boyfriend and I are working through a very hard situation where in his perspective I cheated on him so I'm trying to fix things and gain his trust again. There has been a lot of pain and distrust between us lately but we are finally getting to a healthier, better place. However, he said something that really disturbed me the other day and I need someone else's perspective. He said he wanted to take his frustration and anger out on me sexually. I was appalled because sex is making love and that's the way I like it. When I protested and told him how absurd I thought it was he made me feel ridiculous and went on about how it was a creative solution and that I have to let him get through this his way by doing this to me. Is this a muffed up situation or am I overreacting?

Heather Corinna replies:

I absolutely agree with you: that is seriously not okay.

I do not think you are overreacting. Not at all. I think you had a very appropriate reaction, and I'm very glad you had that reaction rather than thinking it was okay for anyone to do something like that to you. In fact, if you didn't get far away from this person after how he has behaved here, I think you may not be reacting strongly enough.

It is NOT healthy to suggest -- or more to the point, threaten -- that he needs to "take his frustration and anger out on you sexually," and that you "have to let him." That suggests he wants to do you sexual violence, or to abuse you in some way and is trying to do so. Those things are never okay, and certainly are not ways to resolve conflict or hurt feelings. All that is is a way for him to hurt you and do you harm or violence, ways to create more hurt and harm. That is decidedly not an indication of a healthier, better place: it's an indication of a very unhealthy one and a very unsafe place for both of you, especially you.

There are times when couples do have sex together when they feel or have felt angry or upset. Very few of us who have had sex with partners haven't had make-up sex at least once, after all. That doesn't have to necessarily be unhealthy if and when the motivation isn't to try to hurt someone else, physically or emotionally, but to reconnect to the good stuff to get back to a good place when we have already found healthy ways to otherwise resolve and work through our feelings. And by all means, that kind of sex is only healthy if and when both people mutually want to have sex together at the time and it's really about both people, not when someone is trying to pressure or otherwise manipulate someone into any kind of sex, especially sexual violence, and sex that's only about their own stuff. Some people also enjoy making pain or scary feelings part of sex, but again, that's different than what he's talking about here, and for that to be healthy, no one is ever telling anyone they have to do anything.

It's clear you already know that sex with someone else is supposed to be about both people, and about mutual pleasure, not about providing some form of whack therapy for one person that's about using the other as any kind of punching bag, physically or emotionally, which is what it sounds like he's wanting to do (and also already doing in some ways by telling you you have to do this and threatening you with it). It's clear this is not something you want to do, but instead, something you feel profoundly and validly uncomfortable with, and yet, something he's still trying to manipulate you into doing. Not okay, all around. In the biggest way.

If we're ever aware that we want to have sex when we're angry because we want to express that anger on or inside someone's body, that's when we need to know it's not cool, and we've got to step back, make some space and find healthy ways of expressing and managing our feelings that aren't about doing harm or causing hurt. Feeling the way he's expressing he is? That's something that should be clearly telling us that is NOT the time to have sex with someone.

If he's angry with you, he needs to find a way to work that out that's healthy. If he's going to talk to you about it, healthy ways are with his words in conversation, like by talking about how hurt he feels and you listening, or asking you to take responsibility if you did hurt him by breaking agreements (as in, you acknowledge you are responsible, not by having him harm you in any way). He could even say "I really wish you were hurt, too," if that's how he feels, but saying he has those feelings and trying to put them into action are very different things. Even if you did do something wrong, hurt him, broke an agreement, sex as punishment is not an appropriate way of making or seeking amends, and it is not appropriate for someone to suggest it and push you to do it to make them feel better or for you to prove they have control.

Maybe, for himself, he needs some more time and space away from you: you say he's an ex, so it may be that he needs more time away before he's even close to ready to communicate with you about his feelings. The way he's talking is very strong evidence of that. He may need to talk to others to get help working out these feelings, to friends, family or to a counselor; to someone with a good head on their shoulders and a good idea of what's healthy and what isn't. Usually, if we want resolution with an ex, we don't start with them: they're the last stop in the process, not the only stop or the first one.

I hear you saying you are trying to fix things and gain his trust. I can't know what your motives are in doing that, whether they're about having hurt this person and wanting to make amends, about feeling guilty and wanting to make those feelings go away, or both. I also don't know if some of this is about fear around this person, which wouldn't surprise me, because he's acting pretty scary. But not only is something like this not the way to fix anything, and certainly not to rebuild trust, it may be that you have to accept that not only can you not fix things, but that right now, this person isn't safe for you to be around. Someone trying to convince you to let them abuse you in any way isn't a safe person: they are someone giving you clear cues that they are not safe and not someone to be around. What you may need to fix is you choosing to stay involved with this person.

I'm not certain what you mean when you say that from his perspective you cheated. However, that raises another red flag for me. Maybe you're having a misunderstanding about what was cheating and what wasn't because you two never made clear agreements: that happens, and it happens a whole lot with younger people who don't get that in order to define the boundaries of a relationship, we have to...well, define those boundaries and do so clearly: we can't just assume them. If, on the other hand, he decided something was cheating that was not within your agreement, and happens to be about control -- like, say, looking at someone or talking to someone he didn't like you looking at or talking to -- that all by itself may be a signal of a relationship that wasn't healthy before you even broke up. You say you've been getting to a "healthier place," so I can't help but wonder if what you mean is that things haven't been healthy in the past. If they haven't or were not, if his idea of cheating is about something around control, that's all the more reason to get some space between you, and maybe keep some space between you. And if, for the love of Pete, this kind of dynamic seems healthier than the dynamics you have had in the past, it's time to run, not walk, away.

My advice is for both of you to take some BIG space apart from each other, regardless. Ideally, I think the space you need to seriously think about taking is one permanently located far, far away from him.

It sounds like you're going to have to be the one to draw this line. I've no doubt that probably isn't something you want to do, because you may feel even more guilty or scared, but I think you need to put your safety first here, and recognize that if these are the kinds of things being suggested, things clearly aren't as healthy as you think. It might help to recognize that this guy is not going to feel better about himself by hanging around someone he wants to do harm or by trying to violate you in any way: stepping up to draw big limits here helps him, too.

I think it might be best to have this communication with someone else present, or to do so in a letter or email, not alone in person. I just don't feel you can be sure you'll be safe given what he's been saying, especially since he's probably going to feel even more angry about what you say.

What I'd do is first make clear that any conversations about taking out anger on your sexually need to end right now and never be revisited and that the suggestion itself was totally out of line, as was pressure to let him do that to you. I'd be very clear that he was suggesting sexual violence, then following it up with coercion, and that is never okay or healthy, no matter how he is feeling, even if his whole world is falling apart. You might even see if you can't gently suggest he talk to a counselor or therapist about this. I assume you care about this person (and others), and if he winds up being sexually violent with anyone like this, he may not only do someone real and serious harm, he may screw up his own life and sense of self in the process.

I think the best thing to follow that with, for both of you, would be to terminate this relationship, full-stop. To make clear you can't be around each other, you don't want to be, and you need to be done and are done, however you want to voice that. I'd ask for him not to contact you, say your farewells, and get gone.

If you do not yet feel able to do that, or want some more time to think about all of this, I'd at least make clear that you two need to take a good deal of time apart without contact. He clearly needs a lot more time to work out his own feelings about you, and probably not with you, at least, not yet. I suspect that if he'd talked to someone sound about this who does understand what's healthy, he would never have brought this stuff up (because they'd have said similar things to what I am, and likely have been as troubled about it as you were), and might even have been able to recognize himself that you two need some space and he needs to figure out healthy ways of dealing with anger.

I'd not set a limit that's about his working his own stuff out, because I suspect that's actually going to take more time than you'd think and than he'd actually take. Instead, I'd make clear that while you think he needs to do that for himself -- in a way that's safe for both of you -- and should, you think you need at least a few months apart on both sides. If, after that time, one or both of you feels you do want to try and talk, then you can agree to give one another a call and see how the other feels at that time, taking things from there. If you do go that route, and do find you want to reconnect, please feel free to come talk to me or one of our other staff or volunteers about that first.

I'd suggest that during that time apart, if you do that instead of moving on for good from the onset, you take good care of yourself and think about if this is really any kind of relationship to continue at all, especially if this kind of conversation is similar to conversations or dynamics you've had in the past, rather than something that seemed like it came from left field. I'd evaluate why you were trying to fix things and regain his trust, especially if you're pretty sure you didn't actually cheat or break any agreements, but he just decided you did, and especially if the kind of person you're dealing with is the kind of person who would ever try and pressure you into any kind of sex, let alone into sexual violence against you (which it appears he is).

I'm going to leave you some links at the bottom of this page about both healthy relationships and abusive ones, and if you feel like this has been abusive in any way after reading them, I'd strongly encourage you to permanently disconnect yourself from it, rather than merely taking time away. I'd suggest you talk to some people you trust, know care for you and are safe, and know get what a healthy relationship is, and fill them in on all of this: whatever the relationship was like before, and what's just happened. Ask for help and support from the people you know want you to be safe and healthy. If you don't feel able to tell this person the kinds of things I'm suggesting you say, and get some distance, or don't feel safe doing it, that's another place to ask for help from people who love you.

Again, abuse or the threat of abuse isn't good for anyone: it's not good for the person being abused or who will be, obviously, but it's also not good for anyone who is abusing in any way or who aims to abuse. That person needs to be out of intimate relationships, especially those where they have been abusive in any way or feel inclined to be, and work on their own stuff first, which usually takes a lot of time and effort; often years of hard work.

In the event it seems like what I'm suggesting sounds extreme, I think at the very least you recognize that this person has been behaving in some unhealthy ways, and is suggesting violence. Knowing that, I hope you can figure that there are times in our lives where it's smart to err on the side of caution: where even if it feels like we might be overreacting, what we're going to do is so benign that we can afford to overreact without worry of harming anyone because it seems possible that if we don't, someone -- us or someone else -- will be harmed.

Getting away from this person doesn't harm him: it just removes you both from a relationship that I suspect, at best, would be lousy and toxic for the both of you. At worst, I think it is terribly unsafe for you and could become more unsafe than it is already.

Risking not having a lousy relationship isn't risking much: we want to avoid that, all by itself, anyway, because it's a waste of our time and energy. Risking your physical and emotional safety, on the other hand, is risking a lot. Too much. You have to know you're not safe with this guy: that means you have to know that to take the best care of yourself, but also both of you, what you probably really need to do is to get away. If this person is your ex, maybe you already got away once. I think you need to do it again, for good.

Here are those links for you to read. Please take good care of yourself, and know that no one who loves you is going to have a problem with you doing that or ever try and talk you out of it.

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