Do you ever feel like you’re being tested in a relationship to see just how much garbage you’ll put up with? Does her voice start sounding like fingernails on a chalkboard? Do you often want to pull your hair out and scream “What the heck will it take to make her get off my back??!!”
Sh*t testing, also known as testing another person’s boundaries via nagging, criticizing, shaming, guilting and manipulating is considered by many people to be a normal part of relationships. It isn’t. It’s “normal” in dysfunctional and/or abusive relationships, not healthy relationships.
Immature women and men both engage in boundary testing. Many non-disordered people, men and women both, have trouble explicitly asking that that partner meet their needs, which is often when these kinds of behaviors occur. If a person can own their needs and feelings and feel okay asking for them to be met, than manipulations like shit tests become unnecessary. This BlogTalkRadio program, which aired in March 2012, discusses these issues.
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Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. Coaching individuals through high-conflict divorce and custody cases is also an area of expertise. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for more information.
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Sh!t tests are more than just power plays! They can be found at any time in a relationship, and even BEFORE there’s a relationship.
Nobody teaches women to shit test us, it comes with the x-chromosome.
Ex 1: Girl asks me to buy her a drink– shit test! If I comply, I FAIL. I’m SUBMISSIVE.
Ex 2: I offer girl a drink– I fail! I’m now SUPPLICATING.
Ex 3: Girl asks me for drink, I make her dance with me first– Pass! She now has to invest herself in me to get what she wants.
Ex 4: Girl asks me for a drink, and I make her buy one for me instead– Win! I go home with her!
Any time a woman brings up other women in a conversation, it’s a shit test. She is having insecurity issues. It’s common, too.
One of my girlfriends asked me if I’d ever do oral sex on a client that I’m crushing for. Shit test– I replied that it would have to be both of them together… Pass!
My last ex, who was also a client, started asking me about a different client of mine, and I allowed that Yes, she’s a pretty lady. It was a shit test. She next asked me what I thought of her friend’s gorgeous teenage daughter– major shit test! I brushed that aside.
When you hit a bump like that in a conversation, it’s partly to see how focused you are with her. If she can throw you off guard and make you start scrambling for damage control, you’ve failed. Women like to do this in the middle of a makeout session.
My worst experience with shit-tests was when I took up housekeeping with a longtime female friend. It was intended to become romantic, but we skipped that and went straight to the Power Struggle. As soon as she knew I was committed to be with her, the mask came off. She began imposing abusive petulant demands on me, and like a fool, I simply complied. Within weeks, we were on the verge of physical violence, which she no doubt looked forward to. I moved out instead. She seemed disappointed that I never figured out her “game”.
Thank you for clarifying!
I’m really sorry to hear that someone was hurting enough that he was thinking of ending it. I’m glad with the help of the police the hurting fellow was able to get some help and will keep him in my thoughts.
In a truly sane world, shit tests wouldn’t exist. People should only make reasonable requests, not unreasonable ones just to test someone’s limits.
I don’t care if practically all women do it, I don’t find it acceptable. After dating my last GF, just one shit test is enough to be a huge turnoff.
I don’t make unreasonable requests of people, and I don’t appreciate anyone doing so to me. If it’s a necessary part of dating, I’d prefer to opt out of the whole damn thing.
LT Greenwald says
Day 22 update: Things took a distinct turn today. She’s the victim again. Over email she’s returned to her usual victim status, calling me immature and disrespectful. I did not respond. We need to make a property settlement in order to get divorced, and I’m sure she’ll make that as painful as possible. She’s so toxic.
Anyway, 22 days, I’ve had highs and lows, but haven’t once thought about going back. And, oh yeah, I’ve been asked out by several women. It seems that a good looking guy in his 30s with a good job and good personality can do pretty well for himself…. who knew? 🙂
But yes, she is the poor, poor victim again. She’s no longer apologizing for her heinous behavior.
Maybe you shouldn’t get involved with other women yet. If it’s too soon after the separation, she might try to claim you were cheating on her.
john roads says
” might ” ? try
LT Greenwald says
She’ll try everything, I’m sure. Her mom did the same thing to her dad… and he came back… over and over again… NOT ME. I’ve got better things to do with my life.
I have female friends I hang out with and I’ll continue seeing them. I won’t get too serious and get accused of adultery. Then she could pull the ultimate victim card. It’s worth the wait.
I’m really beginning to despise her… I hope it doesn’t cloud my judgment.
She probably expects you will do the same thing as her dad, and thinks that’s normal. That’s why she pushed you so hard. She thought she could push you away and you’d always come back. She probably doesn’t really think she’s lost you yet. You’d better stick to your guns and prove her wrong
LT Greenwald says
dude, I feel better about it EVERY DAY! this web site was a huge help too. she really does expect me to come groveling back to her saying “i’m sorry baby” for shit I shouldn’t be sorry about. little does she know I have something called integrity and character.
I need her in my life like I need a whole in my head!! She was such a drain. I’d rather be in solitary confinement than with her. lol. It’s over. O-V-E-R. And if I have to get a restraining order against her ass I’ll do that too.
I’m SO glad I left her ass.
Cousin Dave says
“I’m really beginning to despise her… I hope it doesn’t cloud my judgment”
That’s a normal part of the process. (Just don’t let it drive you to do anything stupid. Keep your guard up; you can see daylight, but you’re not out of the woods yet.) Your brain is working to reject the prior relationship the only way that human brains know how. But keep in mind the old saying about the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s apathy. You won’t truly be free of her until the day comes that you can say to yourself that you don’t care about her one way or the other.
It sounds like you’re doing a great job so far. Have patience with the process. It takes time for the mind to make these adjustments.
LT Greenwald says
Thanks Cousin Dave. Good advice. I think the “no contact” rule helps a lot. If I had to see her face or hear her voice, I know it would trigger a lot of emotions.
I have to remind myself that I DON’T OWE HER ANYTHING. I never have to say another word to her, other than through some legal papers. That’s it… In the words of the great philosopher, Porky Pig: “That’s all folks!”
Cousin Dave says
Damn straight. Good attitude. Hang in there.
First, I am happy to hear that the person whose email brought about the delay in this broadcast was contacted and able to get help. His situation was on my mind since it was first related here.
Second, as a woman who hears more relationship perspective from other women than from men, I get to see behind the “game faces” that the men generally get presented with during the course of the relationship. I’ve never heard of an intentional “shit test” (then again, if I had, I probably would have dropped the friend as emotionally abusive and manipulative), but what I have seen often is the unintentional variety. In other words, a woman with frailties and weaknesses and damage doesn’t know how much of it to reveal early in the relationship and stresses when one of them shows through and how he will react.
That is NOT intended to invalidate the men who get involved with women who intentionally test them, but I went through it myself when dating my now-husband. Does he still think I’m attractive without make-up? Will he leave me when I get upset about a fight with my mother and cry to him? I want to give him the best of me, but I’m not perfect, and how much of myself will he expect me to change in order to continue to love me? So many of us hear horror stories about the exes and hope that it won’t be us as the topic of the next story told to the next romantic interest, but keeping things a secret and flipping out when they become known can do more damage than being honest about them. Amazingly, my husband still loves me despite all the imperfections I thought were dealbreakers and stressed about as he encountered them. In fact, he still considers himself infinitely lucky to be divorced from his ex and married to me, which I have trouble wrapping my head around, because we really are just two very imperfect women. But I guess the whole reason I read here is to understand the differences between what he experienced with her and what he does with me as it’s unfathomable to me that people do the things to others that I hear about from him or read about here.
Anyway, I bring all this up because I know that once we have been hurt by something we look for it to be sure it won’t hurt us again, and I hope the discussion will clear up what is and is not a “shit test” versus a natural back-and-forth fear of who one is and whether we will be accepted, as an extension of past relationships and rejection. When I read comments from some readers who say things like, “Any time a woman brings up other women in a conversation, it’s a shit test” (jefe above) I get a little unnerved about what I do. I love my girlfriends and I talk about them often, and I’m also detachedly curious about what features my husband finds attractive, but I’m also really hoping that he’s not listening to me thinking, “oh lord, she’s putting me through another shit test.”
In a moment of rare candor, my ex-wife admitted to me that all the pressure and insults and abuse (including punching me in the face five times) was all an effort to “see how much I could take!”
I thanked her for that admission and took myself the hell out of that relationship.
I wish I could say that it taught me a lesson, but I married another woman three years later who was worse. She was different enough that I was lulled into believing she was okay (No physical abuse). Yet I ultimately found that she lied to me from day one, and had me in such a spin that after ten years of marriage, the emotional toll was tremendous.
I was saddened by the predicament of the individual who was despondent. There is no respite from that sort of abuse. It is in your head and goes with you everywhere. I wouldn’t have killed myself, but I did want to die.
I think my curiosity helped me, I wanted too much to find out how it all will end.
The healing, as stated in this excellent site, can be slow…..too slow, but the knowledge that we are not alone, or worthless, or everything they say we are, can be a liberating and saving grace.
For me the truth has been the determining factor. I never lied to her and as I said, she was incapable of telling the truth. So when I look back with regret, it is countered by the understanding that I was dealing with a very sick person.
I think the main benefit of a site like this is that what we as men were told to take out of some twisted sense of chivalry is finally being called for the abuse as it is.
Canoe Convoy says
Something women don’t understand about shit tests is, they work both ways.
Women usually aren’t prepared to face a man’s response to their tests. If he replies honestly to a minefield question, she’d better be able to handle that honesty. Lots of fights happen when she sees/hears something she should never have asked for.
Canoe Convoy says
All in all, it was a good show last night, Dr. T. I liked it, even though I just listened. Keep up the good work. Best advice: If a woman is giving one the “s*** test,” maybe its time for one to leave. Less drama in one’s life is better than always having to cave to the demands of Miss “Always Right.”
Great show. I think you should call it:
You Ain’t In Heaven Yet, So Quit Pretending She’s An Angel.
Some of what seems to be “shit testing” may be a type of instinctive response by those having an “avoidant” personality type. As this type is relatively rare in woman (relatively relative to its occurrence in men) there’s a good chance that some readers involved with an Avoidant woman may overgeneralize on this.
Here’s a good reference–good on this article’s theme & good in general:
There are many [gender-neutral] articles on the issue of avoidant personality types there; the one, “I want you in the house….” is a good one. The author is both an expert on this particular specialty area, and, is very good at conveying his point.
I have not been diagnosed, but I am pretty sure I have Avoidant Personality Disorder. I can say with confidence that my personality type was not as damaging to the relationship as my Cluster-B GF’s was. I believe the damage I did was to myself. She would do damage to others. However, I would say that my need for approval may have made it easier for her to try to manipulate me – until by the end when I had decided I didn’t care and knew the relationship could not continue with the current lopsided balance of power.
She did often say that I seemed emotionless, though. This was probably because of my personality type. She was always asking me to cry and show affection more. I thought I was doing more than enough to show my affection.
Karsk Jagare says
I listened to the program yesterday while working on a project. One of the things that struck me is the sense that shit tests are common. I wanted to mention something I read in this book: Seven Secrets for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman. Gottman claims to be able to predict failure in a marriage based on watching people in a laboratory apartment over a weekend with 95% accuracy. One secret is about the ratio of nice to nasty stuff, the presence of contempt, and so on. Well, in the latter portion of the book he mentions something that I found disturbing. I am paraphrasing greatly and I may have it wrong but I thought he said that marriages were basically successful if the woman felt that she was getting what she wanted. Whether the man was getting what he wanted didn’t seem to be the biggest issue.
Incidentally I got this book for my crazy demon ex and myself to read. She read it an I swear to you she used it to figure out how to treat me like crap. Interesting twist of purpose.
This idea of giving a woman what she wants (all the time, most of the time, some of the time…???) somehow relates to sh*t tests to me.
Maybe Gottman is basing that idea on the statistic that women initiate the majority of divorces. So, perhaps using that as a base for your logic, the woman’s satisfaction with the marriage is most essential to assuring its survival. The man is expected to toughen up and stick with her no matter what, so his content with the relationship is not as essential. Sad.
I just really think we are skeerewed in this “Oprahtized” world. Biggest thing I got out of the program…is they have to know you will walk. No bluffing..just ya treat me bad, I’m gone. Anything else, your just pissin in the wind.
This post may be long, but it’s worth reading. My boyfriend will vouch for it, too.
I am a female “giver” and I learned about this site from my boyfriend, who is also a “natural giver.” Both of us have been on the receiving end of abuse, which gives us a great starting point of understanding each other. It also makes for compatible temperaments and is VERY rewarding for both of us. (Two “givers?” Definitely worth it.) …However, (especially at first) we have both had to put in extra effort to make it work. It’s been 5 months now, and here’s how we’ve handled it so far:
From the very beginning, we have been very transparent and honest with each other. I believe any healthy person who’s interested in having a long term relationship will be willing to say what their weaknesses and vulnerabilities are, as well as their strengths, and to take responsibility for their own part of what happened in their past. Being open and honest seems really risky, because if you have a psycho-“taker,” they’ll eventually try to take advantage of it. But your honesty now may save a lot of pain later (that is, if you intend to be honest later.) For example, if I offer my boyfriend a complement and he is not sure how to take it, or if he is not sure he believes it, then he will say so. He also started out by telling me that “words are cheap,” because he’s heard them before (when their use was to manipulate). These types of things really help me to understand him. He still asks me to be patient with him, and although it may have been difficult for me for a while, *he’s worth it to me* and I’ve come to terms with that.
The most difficult part, though, is something totally unexpected. (To me, at least.) In the beginning he told me he had to be careful of people who feel too “familiar” or easy to fall into place with, because when “you know the drill,” it may be a sign that they are another abuser, with the same behaviors that you learned to live with and expect in the past. I assured him that that couldn’t possibly happen for either of us because we were, by nature, the abusees. However, a peculiar thing happened, and I’ll say it in a bit, but first:
I believe two givers cannot survive without good boundaries. Otherwise, one will eventually pick up on the other’s *perceived* needs, and provide exactly what they’re expecting: what they received in the past. In other words, one partner will re-create what the other is trained to expect, in order to “give” them what they “want” (ie. drama or turmoil). …And it may be a totally unconscious and involuntary co-dependent behavior on both of their parts.
So I started to have some issues (of insecurity, which btw is common for either gender) and become more high-maintenance. And he was very patient with me and put a lot of effort into trying to placate my insecurity. But what I Really needed was for him to tell me where his Boundaries are. I was becoming increasingly distraught, and kept pushing and pushing until he said “ouch” (…and I didn’t even know why until afterward). What he needed to know was that it was safe to say “don’t do that” or “I don’t want to.” And I needed to Show him it was safe. (Again, he says “words are cheap,” …I say they’re “priceless.”) We have both had plenty of problems to work through, but each time, if someone messed up, whichever of us it was is willing to apologize and admit that we were Wrong (not just “sorry.”) Or, if it’s a difference in opinion, we are taking our time to find solutions. There is no rush (anymore), and there shouldn’t be.
Every step of the way, we have needed to be vigilant to make sure we don’t fall into unhealthy patterns. It takes Two very committed, honest people working together to do that. Plus both of us had gone through counseling and had at least 3 years away from our abusers, and still it doesn’t seem natural or easy at first. So I’m not surprised you don’t often see two “givers” together. But maybe reading how to do it will save other people from running into the same difficulties.
I am relatively new to the site, but it seems to me that most of the articles are about how to spot and get rid of an abusive woman, not what to do once you’re pretty sure you’ve found a good one. It’s different for “givers” like us. (But it is truly awesome, and very much worth the effort!!!) I hope there can be more articles that show how to start and continue a Healthy relationship after living through a crash-and-burn.
One last thing: do you want to know what “hooked” me when we first met? Probably not what you would expect: He pretty sharply told me that he was not sure we should date because of our pasts, and nearly cut me off right then and there. That instantly gained my respect. But it also frightened me, and I believe that if I had bad intentions, I would have shown my true colors, right then and there. But I scraped myself off the floor and continued to pursue him, because I Respected him. …And he continued to pursue me because he was curious (and since he had set the groundwork, he had nothing to lose).
That is extremely insightful. I would love to try a relationship with another ‘giver’. I never realized the potential pitfalls. Thanks for sharing this.
Yes, I sure wish there could be an article about how to navigate this stuff
(hint, hint) 🙂
Dr Tara Palmatier says
Your hint has been noted 🙂