This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.

A Common Pattern

Fromm was writing about psychological sadists and masochists in 1956, but he could have been referring to some of today's college students. Immature relationships often fall into a pattern resembling Fromm's psychological sadism. Here is the pattern:

What pattern often occurs in some immature relationships?

The relationship starts out fine. The couple presents their best faces to each other. They fall in love and they are on cloud nine.

After the couple dates steadily for a while, the thrill starts to wear off and simultaneously the sadist (usually the male) starts to become more domineering. The domination is flattering at first but soon becomes excessive. He attempts to pick his girlfriend's make-up, select hobbies for her, even pick her friends. He is displeased if she sees old friends.

A crisis occurs. He accuses her of flirting with other men, or he picks a fight with someone at the party. Perhaps he gets rough, speaks harsh words, or strikes her. She is shocked. She gives him an ultimatum: if he ever does such a thing again, they are through! He assures her it won't happen again.

But it does happen again, because it seems to be out of his control. There is another act of violence or humiliation. True to her word, she breaks up with him.

A spectacular display ensues. The tough macho man breaks down and reveals the little boy inside. Tears flow. He promises he will never do it again, if she will agree to take him back.

Sometimes there are many cycles of forgiveness followed by repeated acts of violence or humiliation.

Eventually the person on the receiving end of the punishment sees the pattern and realizes it will not change. But breaking up with an insecure, bullying type of person is not easy! By this time he may have learned that his best tactic is stubborn persistence. He refuses to take No for an answer.

If sheer stubbornness doesn't work, he goes to pieces, threatens suicide, or threatens to kill her. He might telephone many times a day, or sabotage her car, or wait in the bushes by the place where she leaves, ready to jump out and continue the arguments about why she should come back to him. Sometimes it is months, even years, before the harassment stops.

This pattern was described by students frequently as typical of first relationships in high school and sometimes in college. Apparently it is a reflection of immaturity. It mostly occurs in first-time romantic relationships where people are not sure of how to interact, or not aware of the danger signs early in the relationship. The pattern seems especially likely to occur if the male comes from a troubled or broken home, as described next.

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