Bully boyfriend? Get out now.

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

I’m literally afraid to break up with my boyfriend.
He is extremely violent and bitter to people who get on his bad side. He is malicious, spiteful, and extremely aggressive. He has gotten in trouble for physically attacking his exes, one time he was even hospitalized in a mental institution for several months.

He got out, and dated another girl. When she broke up with him, he followed her, sent her terrible and nasty IMs, emails, and text-messages. He dragged out their breakup for nearly a year.

I have been with him for a year and a half. At first, I thought these people were just overreacting and mean-spirited. He CAN be quite charming.
However, he also lies, is extremely possessive, and has tried to isolate me, especially from female friends (he hates women, and talks often about how much he wants to hurt them, and how) and is extremely threatened by other men. He frequently starts fights with younger high school kids, and enjoys pushing people around.

He has no job, and does not go to school.

He frequently has temper tantrums and outbursts, he has destroyed my property, and his family’s. By the time I realized what I had gotten myself into, I felt stuck. I am very close with his family, especially his mother and little sister. He knows this, and uses it to his advantage. If he and I are in a fight, and I say I will leave to go for a walk to cool off, he has punched holes in his mother’s walls, ripped off cabinet doors, kicked laundry hampers full of clothes into the fireplace, overturned furniture, physically hit, kicked, or pulled his sister’s hair.

Miraculously, I have never been hit by him, although he has grabbed me, and locked me in a room. He is almost 18.

I’m afraid to break up with him, because I fear he won’t LET us break up. I’m afraid I will be plagued with angry emails, “hang-up” phone calls, stalking, and harassment. I am even more afraid of what he will do to his family out of his anger, especially his little sister, who is 2 years younger and about 100lbs lighter than he is. Again, he knows I am afraid for them, and will take advantage of it. I’d have to cut off contact with his family, but I really don’t want too! I love them!

Originally, I just planned on breaking up when I went off to college, so I could get as far away as possible. He’d have no way of following me if I was in another state. Recently however, I have been considering a different school. I really like the academics, it’s a great school. It’s also about a 5-10 minute drive away from his house.

What should I do? Should I forget that school and settle for a different one out of state? Should I just “fake it” and keep dating him for another few years until I can graduate from my school of choice and move out of state? Is there any possible way he will grow up and change? I wish he’d be how he used to be when we first met. But now, I’m totally miserable. What should I do?

A: I am glad you are writing to us about your situation. Your boyfriend has a clear pattern of intimidating and bullying behavior that will require you to get some support. Unfortunately there are too many instances of this type of intimidation, but there are several resources now available for coping with individuals like your soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend.

There are several features here that I want to address, but the most important thing I want to convey is that you need to gather support for yourself and deal with this directly. Avoiding him by moving away will not make you feel safe or peaceful, and does not guarantee he won’t follow you.

First, I want you to know that you are not alone. Here are some resources on bullying in schools,and recent legislation ,which now extends the definition of bullying to “cyber-bullying” that includes IMs, texting, emails, Facebook, Myspace, etc. There are also state and federal laws you should know about.

Any relationship that is based on intimidation and manipulation through anger isn’t a relationship: It is a hostage situation. Both your college campus (and his high school) will have specific resources to help you cope with this. I would make an appointment with a counselor at your college and let him or her know of your concerns. They will be able to guide you through the emotional, and perhaps legal protection you may need. The other local resource available to you is the local women’s center. They can also provide counseling, legal advice, and if need be, shelter. You can find a local chapter through this organization.

You were most likely drawn to your boyfriend’s potential, not his reality. Often when someone has felt victimized thy are afraid of having their own power because they feel it makes them like the person who controlled them. But what you are seeking is self-empowerment, not abusive or controlling. It is part of self-care which is essential for emotional growth.

Knowing when to leave an unhealthy relationship is important because it sets a boundary and allows you to become more whole. I rarely give direct advice unless it appears that someone’s safety, or the safety of others, is in jeopardy. You say it is a miracle that he hasn’t hit you –yet. His history indicates that it is only a matter of time. He has grabbed you and locked you in a room. What’s next? Everything you have said about him, including the fact that he is charming, is likely to be part of a larger pattern of antisocial or misogynistic behavior. Your fear is enough to make the decision. Protect yourself emotionally and legally. Don’t wait until it escalates. Get out now.

Once the crisis passes you may want to continue in counseling to understand a bit more about why you were drawn to him in the first place. This should help as you move on.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Apr 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Bully boyfriend? Get out now.. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/04/09/bully-boyfriend-get-out-now/

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