When Love Hurts
The words loving and hurting used in the same sentence can be somewhat of an oxymoron. There are numerous phrases that are attached to the word love to enamor a positive feeling, lift a mood, or embrace a moment.
Mother Teresa said, “we can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love.”
Unfortunately, the last part of her statement is alarmingly true. I don’t think Mother Teresa was referring to the statistics of women who are literally dying in the “name of love” each day due to domestic violence. The rise in the numbers is staggering.
Loneliness, despair and hopelessness can all lead to bad relationship choices and destructive behaviors. In the search for the love of a lifetime, a different love, an earth moving love, compromises are made and the consequences can be harsh.
What are some of the common statements that have been made “in the name of love” that keep women in unhealthy and potentially dangerous relationships.
“He just yells at me, he doesn’t hit me”
“He just pushes me, he doesn’t punch me”
“He punches me, but he’s never broken anything”
“He punches me, but he has not left any bruises”
“He’s choked me, but I’ve never passed out”
……..“but I know he loves me”.
Many women in domestic violence situations leave and return 5 to 15 times before finally ending the relationship. The promise of monetary gifts, alcohol, drugs, low-self esteem coupled with loneliness, despair and hopelessness is a dangerous combination. Maybe it’s not the promises from the abuser that cause one to stay, but the verbal or physical hold that one can have over another. “You will be nothing without me.” “How are you ever going to survive financially without me?” “You will never see the kids again if you leave.” “I will ruin you.” “I will take everything that you are worth.” A powerful hold of threatening statements and the fear will cause one to be frozen, not able to escape the relationship. Often times, family members and friends are frustrated and baffled, repeatedly asking: “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
In an unhealthy relationship the answer to this question is as complex as the dynamics of the quest for “love” for this person. The reality that they are experiencing an emotional death and potentially a physical death is clouded by the void that is filled in their lives.
Take a moment to ask yourself what love, loving and being loved means for you.
Love shouldn’t hurt.
My experience in an abusive relationship:
We allow and even invite relationships that are dangerous to our safety and sanity because we are addicted to cycles and patterns with which we are familiar. For much of our early adulthood, we are unaware of our dysfunction, until we have an interpersonal event or habit that forces us to be honest with the reality of our dysfunction. Familial training sets the stage and puts a person on a course, be it good or bad. Since we’re but human, there is dysfunction at some level in all of us. But, the key for all of us is to seek out help when we realize our patterns and habits are harmful to ourselves and others and keep us from intimate and mutually beneficially relationships, or from functioning within society in a positive and healthy manner. It is helpful for me to understand the causes (some of which were not of my own doing, i.e., how I was parented and conditioned from an early age) or the eventual triggers (the events that bring me face to face with destructive, harmful habits and behaviors). For me, this is any activity or influence that would hinder me from becoming the fully integrated and creative person I am intended to be on this earth, in society and in intimate relationship.
Whether the abuser is passive or overt, the domination of your freedom, your ability to freely choose and input, the results are the same. When personal liberties are denied by threat of loss of health, peace of mind, pursuit of wellness, or by the threat of public shaming and abandonment, you are being abused. This of course presupposes that the pursuit of your liberties is not at the expense but enhances the mutual enrichment of others.
I remained in an abusive marriage relationship for 5 years. I worked before I was married and continued working afterwards. I was going to school at night pursuing my degree. One of the first signs of his control was his demand that I quit night school immediately after marriage. I refused to quit. He insisted. With the threat of violence. I remained in school. He followed through on his threat. For fear of shaming my parents by causing a scandal in our close-knit community, I quit school. It was a new demand, new in that it was never expressed prior to the marriage. “His” wife would work to contribute to the household as it supported his directives. My paying job during the day was to help with finances. The remainder of my responsibility was to care for him and the house while he pursued his goals and dreams. My evenings were to be spent doing laundry, cleaning the apartment/house, and practicing those activities that would make me into an acceptable wife. I was 21 years old; he was 34. Dating and fun, the reasons I liked him so, were over. He was ambitious for his next promotion. He was determined to live in a certain manner. “His” wife was to impress his peers and help with the pursuit and achievement of his goals. I was still formulating my own personal ambitions up to that point. If I wanted to survive, however, I would have to abandon my dreams. Survival had become the absence of threat or fears of public shame and abandonment.
So I worked. Each week my check was direct deposited into his account. I was given an allowance. He bought groceries, paid all the bills, arranged all vacations and major purchases. He decided what kind of car, china, furniture, and even clothes I could have. If I expressed an opinion, he would dismiss it or remind me how lucky I was to have anything nice at all. If I persisted in expressing myself, I was punished. I left him twice. He convinced me with the same determination and charm that had won me over when we were dating. I was always hopeful for a change. I knew the good in him. I believed he could change. He agreed to counseling at the insistence and careful oversight of his military chain of command (I’d finally gone for help after one particular episode).
Three years into the marriage I became pregnant. Shortly after the birth of our child we were transferred back to the United States. The pressures of the move coupled by demands for [rightly deserved] increase in child support by his first wife and the denial of a promotion in his career triggered violent outbursts reminiscent of the first three years of marriage. After an especially violent threat, I took my infant daughter and packed the car and left under the cover of night while he slept.
It took me thousands of dollars and several returns to court to fight for my freedom and the right to maintain custody of my child without sacrificing her liberties and safety. The threats of harm and scandal were realized. I left it all – five years of savings and no place to go or plan for how I would care for us. I was determined, however, not to subject my daughter to the violence I so willingly accepted.
In subsequent years, I had to battle my own fears and insecurity to be deliberate in my own health. Dysfunction is not limited to the obviously violent people. It is the human condition. We can be proactive in our quest to be healthier. This requires an attitude of facing our own self-destructive tendencies, fears, deepest needs, through hard work and deliberate determination. I continue to hope that there was greater good realized in our lives by attempting to overcome the severe hardships along the way. We do have an obligation to ourselves to become the healthiest fully integrated persons we can be. For our own wellbeing, for the benefit and profit of others, and the overall good of our societies. My story is still unfolding. While the hard work far from over, there is all around evidence of great good. -Danielle