Baby Reindeer - 6 relationship lessons from Netflix's #1 hit show!

Baby Reindeer has provoked lots of discussion already, and of course we watched it with great interest to see what kind of lessons of insights it might highlight from a relationship perspective… and we weren't disappointed! So what are the 6 relationship lessons that we took away from Donnie's story and relationship encounters?

Martha and Donnie connected initially over a cup of tea "on the house" and went on to share a disturbing relationship as the series developed

So what are the 6 relationship lessons that we took away from Donnie's story and relationship encounters?

1. Caring for your partner is not the same as taking care of your partner

"The first thought I had was to feel sorry for her…", Donnie says right at the start of the show. He'd seen Martha walk into the pub looking sorry for herself. She hadn't had the money to buy a cup of tea, but instead of suggesting that she leave he'd offered her a cup  of tea on the house.

"Great!", we might think, what a considerate thing to do.

 The challenge that he has is that the kindly gesture is construed as something more, and then he doesn't have the awareness or boundaries as the relationship develops. He's the barman, but he's immediately stepped beyond a boundary of what is required or expected of a barman.

 All of a sudden they have a connection, and friendship develops into something ambiguous, and he's confided in her and let her get emotionally close… which turns out to be too close for comfort.

 "Well you were looking after me there, treating me as someone special… so that must mean something," Martha could conclude from that point. "If you want to take care of me, that is telling me something."

2. Predators do not only come in animal form

As Donnie struggles with his failing comedy show at the Edinburgh fringe, he draws the attention of Darrien and immediately finds himself in the cross-hairs. Sensing an opportunity to help Donnie move towards his dream of success Darrien sniffs an opportunity for himself too. Darrien is successful and assured and can easily dangle the carrot of just how much he can support Donnie with connections and support.

It's a compelling piece of cheese on the mousetrap that Darrien has set for Donnie and he seizes it with both hands. You get the sense of the lion moving in for the kill on the unsuspecting wildebeest.

What happens from that point is a sobering lesson in remembering that whatever appearances might say, and however good it may feel to be given attention… other people don't necessarily have our best interests at heart.

3. Blatant untruth or lying is a red flag

"So you can't buy a cup of tea… but you own a law firm and all this property?", Donnie may have been wondering. His expression told us he could see this was some tall story, but rather than keeping on guard or calling it out, he just runs with it.

If in the first few minutes of a conversation a person tells us a lie, do we acknowledge that and deal with it accordingly or do we bury our head and continue anyway. If so, what's the gain in us doing so?

4. Beware of partners that put you down to pick you up

In the café, Martha takes a heavy tone around Donnie's work… "you're struggling aren't you… ", and even though he resists at first he does eventually acknowledge that she's right. She then moves on to pick him up with a more positive comment.

Could it be that this is a deliberate (or unconscious) strategy of saying, look we're both in a mess here… let's encourage each other.

Is that really loving? It's one thing to encourage and support, but to precede that with a negative, heavy doom story… is that really necessary?

When we can't regulate our emotions… people will find it hard to relate to us

Building on the negative comments, Martha goes on:

"Somebody hurt you, didn't they…?" she asks while grabbing his hand.

"Can you let go of my hand please Martha?", he asks to no effect. 

Once she realises that she is not getting the information she desires, she explodes in anger shouting that he "should never do that to her!".

Everybody in the café is stunned into silence including Donnie, who was even embarrassed previously by her disturbingly loud laugh.

In her comment that he should never do that to her, she is implying that her loss of control was provoked or triggered by his unreasonableness. But who is really responsible when we lose our temper like that. If someone is able to lost their temper, showing such a loss of control how are we going to feel waiting for the next such outburst?

5. Abusive behaviour is not the monopoly of any gender or sexual orientation

Some commentary from experts about abusive behaviour have categorised this a 'gendered crime', meaning that relationship abuse by this definition is something where the only perpetrators are men, and the only victims are women. This of course happen, though through their abuse of Donnie, both Darrien and Martha challenge this cliché and show that there is a more nuanced picture in reality.

Perhaps we should remember that abuse can take place in any relationship, and to always be vigilant to the signs that boundaries are broken or that uncomfortable power dynamics can play out.

How about you… what did you take away from the show?