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Dr. Bill Austin

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Professional Columns -
Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin


When we go to a fine restaurant, I like it when the waiter brings the pepper in a large pepper grinder and asks if I would like pepper on my salad. After my affirmative reply, he responds with "Say when," as he begins to grind the pepper onto my salad. When I think I have had enough pepper, I will say "when." Then he stops grinding. When I transfer this scenario to life, there are people who never say "when" even when they have had enough. They let people walk all over them and take advantage of them, but they never say "ouch" or "when." What could have been a good salad is ruined because there are no boundaries.

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We have known people who are in unhealthy relationships where their partner has done cruel and hateful things to them, but these people never stand up for themselves. They seem to take it and take it. Not only do they take the unhealthy treatment but they accept the blame for the relationship not working. The "non-when" person is protective and defensive of their partner and makes excuses for his or her unhealthy behavior. The non-when person will defend the behavior with such excuses as, "He's under a lot of stress," or "He's tired."

We have known people who are in unhealthy relationships
where their partner has done cruel and hateful things to them,
but these people never stand up for themselves.

What has to happen to the non-when person before she says, "when?" What has to happen for her to say, "Stop! I don't deserve to be treated this way. I have had enough pepper!" What has to happen to cause her to stop taking all the blame, and demand that her partner share some responsibility for the condition of the relationship? What will have to happen for it to not always be one person doing all the giving and changing - where it is reciprocal? What will have to happen for her partner to begin thinking in terms of "we" instead of "I" about their relationship?

When we observe the non-when person, we see her self-image deteriorating and we sense a real sadness because she has not valued herself.

And then there is the person who continues the grinding and pouring the pepper of hurt and dishonor upon his partner even after she has said, "when." The "pepper grinder" person doesn't love; he would rather manipulate and control than strive for intimacy. He doesn't consider her dreams, her needs, or her family because it is all about making him happy. If he is not happy, it is not his fault, but hers. He sees himself as the victim as he grinds more and more pepper upon her. Because he thinks she needs to do the changing, he never assumes responsibility for his actions.

The truth is, if a person doesn't own or take responsibility for their actions, they will not change.

Dr. Austin has decades of experience dealing with relationships. He charges clients on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. His first book, Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships, was published in 2004. His second book, Keeping It Safe, was published in 2009 and can be purchased through,, and at the Parrish Book Store in Virginia Beach.  He is also a sought-after speaker at meetings and seminars.

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