When it's time to walk away.
We couldn’t stop watching Bling Empire. The exorbitant wealth, flamboyant personalities, pre-pandemic setting and deep discovery around identity, family and culture kept us glued to our screens.
In this show we have examples of a number of different types of relationship; from healthy friendships with Kevin and Kane, to toxic Frenemies with Anna and Christine. We see conflict between Kevin and Kim resolved (relatively) healthily. We saw a loving relationships with Cherie and Jessey to a relationship that is in real trouble with Kelly and Andrew.
Why we need to talk about Andrew.
With Andrew and Kelly, something felt… off. Netflix has now updated the show to include trigger warnings around relationship abuse on the show. Many knew what Andrew was doing wrong, most couldn't quite put their finger on how or why. We want to break down the things Andrew did to seek try and manipulate Kelly as Andrew, displayed many red flags that line the way of a dark path.
We care so that our Couple’s can watch out for this behaviour in themselves, their relationships and their loved ones. If you're in a relationship that exhibits these traits, immediately get help here and we will share more resources below.
The first major red flag which set up the show, was Andrew screaming down the phone at Kelly, “What the f*ck is going on? Your lack of effort drives me f*cking crazy.”
Kelly had gone shopping in Paris while he slept off his jetlag. His reaction inexcusable. In watching this, we expected Andrew would be hitchhiking back home in Paris. More telling was the way Kelly responded. It was deflated, shoulders slumped, cowed. She shamefully confirmed to a horrified Anna that he had done this before, worse, she said it would sometimes take 8 hours to talk him down after a blow up like this.
Sandra Harewood, Integrative Psychosynthesis Counsellor and Couples Counsellor, lists out the difference between healthy anger - it’s possible be angry but not be abusive - and abusive anger, where is rage that is used to silence, intimidate and ultimately beat your partner down. Learn the difference in her article here.
In this instance, Andrew’s ego was hurt and seeking to control Kelly.
When she confronted him (with cameras rolling) he manages to cry, turning the situation on its head making her comfort him. Next, he pulls out a psychological magic trick and says this; “I’m actually glad it happened,” wait, we all think, what?
With this mental gymnastics, Andrew is pulling the greatest trick of all abusers: re-framing his abuse as love and with Kelly taking his emotional abuse as a positive, as something mystical and deeper. He was “only angry because he cares so much.”And the whole audience goes, what?!
Gaslighting is when your own cognitive models are turned against you, in which you will begin to question your understanding of the world. A gaslighter will negate your perceptions and chip away at your value systems, even completely inverting them. Andrew does this via a pattern of by re-labelling his anger as something good, something valuable and then something private. Right now, he is using this regarding it's his violent outbursts, but this ground work of value inversion will work out if things were every to turn physical. It also means for Kelly, for her to feel valued, she would need to find someone else that exhibits this same behaviour - a value to a destructive behaviour she must unlearn.
The cycle of abuse
It’s important to understand that toxic relationships are cyclical and with the lows will come with great highs. Most abusers are psychopaths. In a later interview, Kelly confirmed that Andrew was raised by an alcoholic mother and grew in an abusive relationship of his own. However, that's Andrew (any partner's!) own baggage is what they have to to deal with, instead he uses his as a crutch.
With abuse and violent acts, next come the high grand loving gestures. These are tactics unconsciously used by abusers to keep their partners with them.
See the abuse cycle wheel here, and watch for it in the show.
Used from teens against abuse.
After Andrew lost his temper, he cried, and now he moves to the Green Stage, he performs grand loving gestures by taking Kelly away on a wonderful weekend away to a cool airstream. Here, he tries to say he values the ‘shifts in their relationship,” and how it’s so “valuable” to him that they “weather the storms… together.” This is another example of manipulating her to thinking his anger is a good thing and (her being slowly broken down by it) is valuable.
Even here, the undercurrent of Isolation is there, "How about we live here, just the two of us," Andrew says, the subtext being a pick your own; "If it wasn't because of your career/friends/life/passion, we would be happy."
However, as Andrew carries Kelly to bed we hear her Kelly’s voice-over, “In the back of my mind, I know we have a lot of things to work on.”
Deep down, she knows something isn't right. She doesn't know exactly why, but that feeling is always there.
They go to therapy, which is fantastic (and key later in the show) but in therapy watch Andrew’s words. He does not seek to understand Kelly, only to be understood. Every sentence begins with, “I, my, I,” and he distances himself from his behaviour, "It was like a volcano," (uncontrollable, not me, a natural event) not taking any responsibility, all while making making proclamations of love.
None of Kelly’s friends can comprehend why the heck Kelly would stay with Andrew after his abusive behaviour. Later in the season, they are at a party her friends are asking her what’s up. And Kelly to her credit is honest and says, “I feel like, at the little thing he can just snap and blow up.” She's identified that she is in an abusive relationship. She is calling it that in everything but the word itself. She is in denial.
But Andrew heard her. That night, he let it go. But, if we look at the wheel above, we see he is moving into the Yellow Stage.
Later, Kelly speaks to him in his recording studio and he confronts her. The reason Andrew can't let this stand is because, a friendship network is strength. Your friends will be a sounding board, and voicing things to your friends and getting a second perspective is healthy, especially if you are being gaslit and your value structures are being undermined. Andrew knows this, subconsciously or consciously, he now seeks to destroy that extra perspective.
In terms of manipulation, that 30 seconds of footage is a masterclass. Andrew almost got away with it and so almost succeeded in destroying Kelly’s value system. I suggest rewatch it.
Blow by blow, let’s read the sentences and translate:
Minimizing. Blaming. Undermining: He’s minimizing Kelly’s feelings around his behaviour. If she is still upset by Paris, she can be. But now, he's dismissing her and the subtext, is that she is in the wrong by not "putting this to bed," where it is the very thing he needs to work on. Likely for the rest of his life. It's clever but slightly terrifying, in Andrew's mind he never did anything wrong, in the first place.
"You know how to push my buttons,"the classic line of all abusers in which the person whois being abused is held at fault. Switch the word button, for trigger, and we can the subtext Andrew is laying down.
He says. “I want to keep things private," relabeling his anger abuse as private. "This is a trigger for me," Okay, so discussing his abuse is now a trigger for the abuse? So now we have the inverted value equation where if that 'trigger' is switched it's Kelly's fault. "I don’t want our private time exposed." Here is where he begins to work again on isolation. Telling people I get angry will make me angry.
Private Time = Anger Abuse
It sounds insane right? That someone could re-label their anger abuse as Private Time? Surely this can't be right. We would be living in a truly different dimension if that were the case. If there is any question exactly what he is referring to just look at this sentence at how Andrew refers to his anger abuse in Paris.
Yup. He’s relabelled his anger as a private moment. We are now fully away with the fairies in an alternate dimension where anger and abuse = loves and the more you emotionally abuse someone the more you love them.
We can see how uncomfortable Kelly is getting. She is deeply disturbed, but as this happens over a space of fifteen seconds, she doesn't understand the barrage of psychological warfare that she has just been subject to.
She is also too scared to call him out on his bullshit, with the direct warning that anything other than total and complete capitulation will be a 'trigger', and she doesn't want to 'push his buttons'. Andrew has created a near perfect lose-lose situation.
Kelly, is obviously a veteran and deflects saying, “99% is private, this is the 1%.” Kelly tells Andrew that Anna had "never seen anything like that."
Anna's memorable quote?
This is powerful, Kelly's using her friends as a shield to launch her subtext and tell Andrew; “You know this isn’t okay. You know how you are treating me isn’t alright and now it’s out you’re trying to push it behind closed doors or ‘bury it 6 feet deep’".
Andrew's response: “Anna’s never seen anyone get angry?” wow. So again, we go into fairy land and see that he pivots here to denial of wrongdoing, minimizing Kelly's argument, with a logical fallacy argument. What Anna may not have seen is her friends be abused, which was the subtext of Kelly’s statement.
Finally. Isolation and coaching. Andrew quickly moves on, and now he tries to isolate Kelly and manipulate her, directly telling her what to say when her friends inquire on their relationship.
We get chills reading that last sentence.
Andrew is trying to corner Kelly, and creating the behaviour so that she won’t tell anyone about what he he does to her. If she does, the treat is that she has flipped his trigger, and is now causing the abuse she is trying to correct.
Without her friends to back her up, she will be helpless once Andrew flies off the hook… and what’s terrifying is that he so almost got away with this insipid speech.
Minimizing. Reframing. Coaching. Isolating. These are the tools of a manipulator. Watch out for all of these things in yourself and others.
He had almost managed to gaslit her into believing that up was down. But Kelly stuck to her guns. She is courageous. While Andrew was repeating over and over “Why can’t you just look into my eyes and believe me,” she said, “when you get heated, you can’t calm down.”
And, as promised, she had flipped his trigger. Andrew is furious. Hissing through gritted teeth. He squeezes his palms into fists and slams them into the chair. It’s a violent and threatening act. He has moved things into the physical realm. Punching things is how it starts, hitting people is how it ends. It works; he silenced Kelly because she had her point and was sticking to it.
In this moment, the subconscious breaks though, and he says "I don't know what to say." he is resorting to physical violence and anger abuse once again, rather than face into his problematic behaviour. He doesn't want to change, like water over a rock, he wants to wear Kelly down and to isolate and control her completely.
He shifts gears again. Away from the specifics of behaviour, he goes low to high. Issuing a stark choice, still aggressive. Another lose-lose question. If Kelly says yes she loves him, then he will say "then keep our private time private," and if she says "no," he will play the victim.
Kelly has been nothing but loving. Andrew is losing the argument.
Kelly knows it’s over. She makes to stand up, multiple disturbing subtexts are flooding her with emotions and she needs a time out.
This picture below says it all. Andrew puts both hands on her arm. Not in a loving way. But a threatening, get back in the chair and under my control way. Imagine if the cameras weren't there?
His own ego and anger got in the way. Thank god they had been to therapy and their therapist Dr. Bethany Marshall had given Kelly some tools to use: if he gets like this get some space. Go and be safe. Kelly directly quotes this to Andrew, using the threat that "someone else knows," and pulls her arm free.
As she is leaving, Andrew says the classic line, “I would never, ever…” and although he doesn’t finish it, we can presume he was going to say "hurt you." If there could ever actually be a more cliche line from an abuser's dictionary.
As she leaves, Andrew can't help but try to shift the blame onto her, “I’m trying to talk to you (when he has only talked over her, threatened her and tried to isolate her) and you’re walking away.”
Damn right Kelly, don't walk, run. She stood up for reality and it made Andrew hit the Red Zone. See the flywheel above. Now the cycle begins again.
We re-enter therapy. This time we see Dr. Beverly Knight's concern at Andrew’s controlling and manipulative behaviour. To her credit, she sees through Andrew immediately and picks up on the behavioural cues. Kelly can barely talk without looking at Andrew for permission. Dr. Knight sees these disturbing signs and sends Andrew out. With Andrew gone, Kelly can still can't seem to articulate what she wants. We can see her head is a mess, she is confused and gaslit, she wants her relationship to be over but has been so ground down somehow she feels like it's all her fault. But deep down, she knows she wants out.
Kelly verbalises it feeling like whatever she says, if it's not exactly the right thing, then Andrew will get very angry. He wants to hear "I'm sorry and I love you," and that's it.
This is when Andrew inturrupts her and says. "That's exactly, it. For me it's a lack of effort, love, empathy and compassion for the other person."
Just try and get your head around that.
Kelly has his number, she says "I think he needs to work on some stuff, by himself."
Dr. Knight says, do you want a separation? Kelly's words here are clear. I want to break the cycle. This is the clearest cry for help.
Dr. Knight says to Andrew. "Things will not get better, until you have a preference to live in reality." You are manipulative and controlling and you desperately need help.
Andrew's reply, "I only live in reality," just try and shake the gaslit world I've built for Kelly. You can't stop me.
At this point, it's interesting. Dr. Knight sends Andrew out, and Andrew prays to whatever dark lord helps guides his actions. Dr. Knight speaks to Kelly and manages the break up for them. They make a plan and Andrew moves his things out of her home.
We know Andrew's plan - the cycle starts up again. Andrew becomes sweet, he is charming, remorseful. He uses their dog as a hook to see her. Tells her he will always be 'faithful'.
Kelly goes on an awkward date with a bumbling Kevin which turns her head again. If that date was bad, it mean Andrew must be the one, right? Whereas what Kelly needs is some time to work on herself and sort her head and value system out. Right now, she is still in Andrew's world of abuse = love.
Eventually, Andrew, using the dog as his way into her house, forcefully kisses her.
Now, when Kelly’s friends ask if she is seeing Andrew, she does lie to them. Blatantly, on TV. She is ashamed and Andrew is still controlling her, even more effectively, now from afar.
Even despite them not being in an official relationship, Andrew confronts her about her going on a date with Kevin, seeking to continue to isolate and control her. He gets angry. And they are off again. This is the third cycle we've seen.
But, the series ends with Kelly going back to Andrew’s house after a party. Each step one step away from her individuality and as the therapist said, stepping away from her reality and into the one Andrew has created.
It is a damning view of how abuse works.
What will happen next?
Andrew’s behaviour has caused a serious reaction in the show but we see many defending him. Hence why we wanted to take the time to break all of this down.
We hope that Kelly will stay away from him for good, and take the time to reconstruct her reality. For Andrew, we;ve consistently seen a lack of remorse and a pattern of disturbing pattern of controlling and abusive behaviour. People can change, but there must be a willingness and we have seen none of that from him.
What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comment section below.
Resources: Getting help in an abusive relationship.