Relationships: Protection and Projection

By Dr. Margaret Paul
December 17, 2018

Conflict, projection

“I think I’m an open person, but Sarah keeps telling me how closed I am. She gets furious when she wants to talk about our relationship and I don’t.”

Matthew, in his late 20s, and married to Sarah for 2 years, had consulted with me due to relationship problems. He was feeling a lot of confusion about their relationship system.

“There must be a good reason you don’t want to talk about your relationship with Sarah,” I stated.

“I’d be happy to talk if she wanted to talk about her, but she always wants to talk about what she thinks I’m doing wrong and what I need to be doing differently. And it’s never a discussion – it’s a demand. It always leads to a fight, which I hate.”


Projection is Common in Relationships

“Matthew, it sounds like Sarah is projecting her lack of openness onto you. She is getting angry rather than opening to learning about why you don’t want to talk, or why you do whatever it is she doesn’t like, which means that she is not open. Sarah is in denial about herself and her own lack of openness and is instead accusing you of doing what she is doing. This is called projection. And she is acting out of her wounded self by getting angry at you rather than taking responsibility for her own feelings. She is indulging her wounded self in blaming and attacking you, rather than looking within. This must feel crazy making to you.”

“Yes, it does, and I don’t know what to do about it.”

“What are you doing? How do you respond when she gets angry at you for not talking about your relationship?”

“I usually try to do what she wants because I don’t want her to continue to think that I am closed, but it is always a disaster.”

“So she is trying to control you with her anger, and you are trying to control how she feels about you and sees you by giving yourself up. As long as your intent is to control her rather than take loving care of yourself, you will be participating in the dysfunctional relationship system.”

“But when I try to walk away, she gets even angrier and accuses me of running away. I feel like I need to prove to her that I am open.”


Perpetuating a Dysfunctional System by Giving Yourself Up

“As long as your intent is avoid her anger and to prove to her that you are open, you are trying to control how she acts and how she feels about you, and you are perpetuating the system that you don’t like. Until you are willing to focus on what is loving to you rather than on controlling her, nothing will change. If you had an actual child and someone was treating him this way, what would you do?”

“I would get him away from the interaction and let him know that how she is acting is not his fault.”

“You see, you know exactly what you would do with a child, which is the same thing you need to do with your inner child.”

“But I’m afraid that things will get even worse – that she will get even angrier and that we will end up in divorce.”

“So, you are willing to lose yourself rather than risk losing her. Is this working to bring you inner peace and joy?”

“No, not at all. I can see that in order to take care of myself, I have to risk losing her. Whew! This feels very challenging.”


Self-Abandonment Doesn’t Work

“Yes. It is a huge shift in intent. But in any relationship, we always need to be willing to lose the other rather than lose ourselves. You cannot be loving to her when you are not being loving to yourself, which is what is causing your end of the relationship problems. Sarah feels unloved by you, and she is being unloved by you – as well as by herself – because you resent her as long as you are abandoning yourself by giving yourself up to her.

“Okay, I’m going to really try to take care of myself instead of control her.”

It took awhile, but Matthew found that, gradually, things started to improve between him and Sarah.

Heal your relationship with Dr. Margaret Paul’s Intimate Relationship Toolbox, a 12-week online course.

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