The line between chivalry and abusive behavior in a relationship

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

In a relationship, there is a point when protectiveness can cross over into abusiveness. Being able to recognize that is crucial.

Speaking from the heart of a big brother here, a big brother of three beautiful, precious now adult little sisters with whom I’ve had this conversation — it is so important to know the difference between protectiveness and abusiveness in a potential spouse.

Speaking to the women out there: there are so many men who will sweep you off your feet. They will open doors for you, carry your things for you, and protect you from the dragons.

But what truly defines a good man is that he respects you.

Men love to protect. We love it. Protection and chivalry are as much a part of many of us as breathing air.

But if there is no respect in that “chivalry” — if it is twisted and comes from a place of “putting the girl in her place” and minimizing her strength, it crosses a dangerous line into abuse. 

Though things can start well, chivalry can quickly move in a bad direction, and it is so important to recognize it the second that it does.

But sometimes it’s best to look at the good so that you recognize counterfeit when it presents itself. So let’s start by talking about what chivalry, in its purest form, should look like.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with being a protector as a man. There is nothing wrong with looking out for your wife or girlfriend, just like there is nothing wrong with her doing the same for you.

That said, true chivalry looks like servanthood. Not, dominion, but servanthood.

It is a dying to oneself and looking after her more than the way you look out for yourself. It is making sure she is taken care of before you are. And it means sacrificing what you want for what she wants.

In short, true chivalry is complete selflessness.

If that means opening doors, awesome. If that means taking out the trash, awesome. If it means doing that chore she hates to do, awesome.

But it should come from a heart of serving her, not belittling her.

If that chivalry and protection turns into control and disrespect, then we have a problem. If a man has an attitude of doing those things because she “can’t take care of herself,” or worse, because he wants to remove power from her and impose himself as an authority figure, that is where it crosses over into abuse.

Counterfeit chivalry, unlike true chivalry, is selfishly motivated.

It can come from pride, insecurity, psychopathic nature, or a myriad of other things, but the road to getting there can be subtle and snaky. So learning signs of ill intent is extremely important.

Counterfeit chivalry can look deceivingly like the real thing — and even more so if the vision is distorted by blinding emotions. So how do you recognize red flags? Trust your gut; trust your instincts. We all have them — learn to listen to that inner instinctual voice you have.

But in a more practical light, know that one of the first steps many abusive personalities take in trying to establish dominance is to isolate you.

Really question his motives, especially early on, if there are isolation attempts — even (and especially) for the sake of “protecting you.”

If he whines when you want to hang out with your family, saying he’d prefer if you stayed with him, or if he asks you not to go to certain places after a certain time — your radar should be going off.

On the outside, these things may seem somewhat alright, and maybe even romantic or chivalrous — he wants to hang out with me? He wants me to be safe? He must really care for me. But if he is isolating you from friends and family, that is a big, nasty red flag.

Likewise, if he wants to care for all of your needs right away, be cautious. 

Know that one of the biggest weaknesses of a man is his desire to control. To be the king of his castle, and in some instances, to control his significant other.

So if he rapidly wants you to rely on him for all of your needs, be careful. Yes, his intentions could be good. They really could be.

But don’t throw your life away for him.

Honestly, I would recommend never quitting a job over a man. It’s just textbook abuse trajectory.

But can you see how easy it can be to fall into that trap? He wants to take care of me. Maybe he does. But maybe, like in so many cases throughout the world, he wants to be your god — in control of your every move and the sole provider of your needs.

Again, counterfeit chivalry can be a backdoor to abuse. Don’t fall for it. 

If you sense your power slipping away — if you find yourself becoming more and more suppressed and in his control, get out of the relationship. Act on your gut instincts and leave.

Even if the situation isn’t extreme at first, learn to recognize the little things that don’t feel right, and address them in your mind and with your friends, right away. Don’t ignore them.

What you brush under the rug now will likely grow into something horrible later. So ask yourself the hard questions now and avoid that pain.

There is a line between chivalry and control. Some men can see that line, some can’t. Some don’t even try. Find someone who sees that line and honors you. Find someone who loves and respects your strength as a woman.

There is no control in true chivalry; there is love, honor, and respect.

A real man, a good man, will encourage you to be yourself. He will not desire to keep your feet on the ground; he will want you to spread your wings and fly.

He will take care of you, yes, but out of the goodness of his heart, not out of the selfishness of some ambition to own you. A good man will cherish you and encourage you to pursue your dreams.

In the presence of a good man, you will feel safe, not fearful; you will feel completely free around him.

Don’t waste your time with an abusive control freak. They often control because of their own insecurities — out of the fear of rejection or out of the fear that they aren’t good enough. But that is no excuse and it is no way for a woman to live — attached to a ticking time bomb.

Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen, many women are drawn to such men, as that style of control manipulation can be overwhelmingly hypnotic and appealing to women who want to “fix him,” “help him,” or “nurture him.” But it is pure abuse. No other way to put it — you deserve better.

You deserve to be treated as the queen you are.

To conclude this: counterfeit chivalry, though it looks an awful lot like the real thing at first, is a crafty tool used by wolves in sheeps’ clothing — it is a tool used by a dangerous man to take you for his own… his very own. It is taking a good thing, chivalry, and twisting it so that he is in the driver’s seat of your life.

So be wise, be calculated, and don’t fall for it. 

Remember these two things: 1. A good man won’t try to steal your power, he’ll make you feel empowered. 2. The wrong guy will want your freedom in exchange for his protection.

So set standards for yourself before entering a relationship. Know that you are worthy of pure love, a man who would lay down his very life for you at any moment — and don’t settle for anything less.

The one you pick should give you peace and true love all the days of your life.

You deserve the best. Remember that!



Ryan Mekkes is the editor and founder of Commyounicate Magazine. He is an avid martial artist, a musician, and a fitness enthusiast, certified through ACE as a personal trainer.