Relational Health

Too Good to be True (being in an abusive relationship)


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Across the world, there are both men and women suffering from verbal abuse. The sufferers are living through repeated emotional blows while existing in continual fear and having daily to psychologically recover from the pain. Life for those living in verbally abusive relationships becomes a blur between reality and unreality as the person they are in a relationship with acts one way in public and an entirely different way in private. Often they choose to disregard the abuse because they are fearful of the implications that may arise but the abuse cannot remain ignored. Survival and recovery is attainable. Verbal abuse does not annul a person’s meaning and purpose, in turn, it strengthens and builds the person’s ability to commit and foster loving relationships.

Over the past few years, I repeatedly joked with my parents about who I expected my ideal man to be. I wanted him to be 6’4”, with brown hair and muscular arms; I desired him to be musically talented, out-going and humorous; I hoped for him to be drop-dead gorgeous. My parents continually humored me for having unrealistic standards and my friends tended to tell me I was ‘too picky’. However, I relentlessly believed my ideal man existed and that I would meet him and because of this I firmly held my own when ridiculed about my foolish expectations. So, when the day came that my good friend told me that he wanted to set me up on a blind date, I didn’t hesitate to accept because I thought: “This might be the guy!” To my surprise, He was – down to the tiniest detail – exactly what I wanted.

Meeting Him for the first time was both terrifying and exciting because I have never before met anyone in my life that I felt such a strong attraction for. Attraction being “the cornerstone for all relationships [and the] motivation to form a relationship” and it was instantaneous between us (Oliveira, C.M.). We began to see each other as frequently as possible and incessantly flirted while beginning to self-disclose our thoughts, opinions and attitudes; in other words, we began to integrate (Knapp and Vangelisti 41). Soon our social circles merged and the two of us began to be known as a package. We were beginning to become a unity and we happily displayed our oneness. Therefore, I was not in the least bit surprised, when He surprised me with a weekend trip to Seattle in which we both decided that we were attracted enough to one another to enter into an exclusive and committed relationship.

The process of deciding to commit was quick and simple: we both verbally disclosed what we expected from one another and agreed that we would be exclusive, faithful and trustworthy. We formed a verbal contract and consequently entered into a contractual relationship that was “motivated by our needs, personal wants, and personal happiness” (Strom 7). However, I was unaware at this time that to Him a contractual relationship meant: “my happiness”; whereas to me it meant: “our happiness.” Right from the very beginning, of our newly formed relationship, the costs and benefits began to be unequal and our communication took a drastic turn into verbal abuse.

After only two months of being together I began to notice subtle differences in the way He was speaking to me. Around friends and in public areas he was charming and sweet; often showering me with compliments and affection but behind closed doors, where Patricia Evans states verbal abuse begins, he was critical and mean (17). He, without any warrant, began to criticize my intelligence and often called me naïve, irresponsible and immature. I became frustrated and not being the type of person to keep quiet, I voiced my objections to him for treating me in a demeaning manner; as a child I experienced verbal abuse from my brother and vowed to never put up with verbal abuse again. Unfortunately, at the time, I was weak when it came to His displays of affection because of my great desire to be with him. My desire over ruled my worries and I allowed him to control and manipulate me into staying in the relationship (Evans 39). To win me back all He would have to do was trivialize what I “have done or expressed [as] insignificant” (Evans 95). I began to believe that I was the problem in the relationship and slowly began to accept the verbal abuse.


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Over time our relationship turned into a struggle of control versus intimacy. Whenever I voiced my feelings in the hopes of receiving empathy from him, “[he refused] to discuss a problem [and prevented] all possibility of resolution (Evans 45). Through his blatant disregard of my emotions he was able to keep me precisely where he wanted: coming back to him whenever he showed me the amount of intimacy I craved. He “disarmed [me] with his words, and controlled [me] with his presence” (Hare 21). Objectively speaking, I must have appeared completely infatuated and in awe of him but it was more fear and weariness that compelled my amiable and consenting behavior. When he slowly began to loose verbal self-control in public and in front of our friends, he not only controlled me in private, but also in public.

The public verbal abuse began when we were enjoying time with our mutual friends and the topic of music was brought up. Since I have studied classical repertoire for over 16 years, I am knowledgeable in the subject of music and music theory. So, when He made an incorrect statement regarding musical key signatures, I was happy to offer him the correct information. This sent him over the edge. In front of our friends he countered my correction and told me I was stupid and incorrect. As Patricia Evans points out, often when verbal abusers feel they are losing control and dominance they argue against their partners’: “thoughts… perceptions… [and] experience” (Evans 95). He tried to assert his control by publicly discrediting me but instead showed that he lacked the self-control that Plato states: “[is] our rational capacity to rule our emotions in order to do the right thing” (qtd. in Strom 3). After verbally mistreating me, He stormed out of the room and I meekly looked at my friends for support. Instead of concurring with me that his behavior was wrong, they simply stated: “That’s Just Him”. I was left confused and began once again to question myself if whether or not it was me with the issues.

Beginning to think of myself as the issue led me to thinking that perhaps I needed to better understand him; maybe if I understood him better and he, me, that we would be happier (Evans 61). I began opening myself up to him more. I self-disclosed in the hope that our relationship would develop on a more emotionally intimate level (Knapp and Vangelisti 260). I was worried that the relationship may turn into strictly a physical one leaving between us only infatuation and no intimacy and commitment (Knapp and Vangelisti 219). Nevertheless, the more I opened up, the less I heard from him and soon I came to the realization that I would gain no intimacy with him because he was not empathetic towards me nor the experiences I lived through (Evans 82). Even more so was that I began to recognize a pattern: if He needed something from me, he would be affectionate and kind to me but, when he did not receive what he wanted, he once again was patronizing and dismissive. Stubbornly, I still convinced myself that it was I who was hindering the growth of the relationship and I began to seek ways in which to help us grow intimately.

My first step of action was introducing Him to my parents. I thought that if I allowed him to meet my parents and to enter into our home he might feel more secure about the relationship and therefore open up to me more. Nervously, I waited with my parents for him to show up and after the initial awkward greeting, the dinner and conversation was a success. Both of my parents enjoyed his company but surprisingly, my father said: “Something feels wrong here, I just can’t put my finger on it.” His statement sent shock waves through me. I finally breathed a sigh of relief thinking that perhaps it really wasn’t me with the problems but maybe He really was a ‘little off’; maybe I wasn’t imagining the verbal abuse I was quietly tolerating. Rippling through me was a revelation that this relationship may actually be on a foundation of abuse (Evans 149). I made a quiet promise to myself that I would stop looking at the relationship in an emotional manner but allow myself to step outside and gaze inwards objectively.

Sitting down one evening I took out a piece of paper and began to evaluate my relationship with Him. After writing out my feelings and seeing everything written on paper, it was enough to convince me that the relationship I was in was unhealthy. First, I was the only one self-disclosing my thoughts and experiences. Second, it was entirely my effort to set updates and trips. Third, he never accommodated to my schedule or my needs. Lastly, he was verbally abusing me. It felt as if someone had brought me back to reality; He constantly patronized my intelligence, criticized my looks and through manipulation controlled me to do what he wished. As other sufferers of verbal abuse, I came to the realization I was not loved, only controlled (Evans 153). I was heart-broken. I was very angry; the promise I made to myself, about not allowing to be verbally abused ever again, was broken. In one-way or the other, I decided I needed to gain the upper hand in the relationship. I would not allow this verbal abuse to continue and allow Him the satisfaction of controlling me.

Throughout the next month I studied Him objectively and out of fear and unknowing of how weak his self-control was withheld from terminating the relationship. Slowly but surely, the blindfold of emotion began to slip away and I was seeing Him for who he clearly was. I began to notice inconsistencies in his stories and realized that he contradicted himself often. His ability to lie was horrifyingly strong and I caught him numerous times lying to our friends and me. Even more baffling was that he had some inherent skill to tell who would fall for his lies. As Dr. Robert Hare states in his book: “A good liar is a good judge of people”, and He was an excellent judge of people (Hare 111). He always knew just the right amount of charm and flattery to bestow upon someone new he was meeting and was capable of seducing anyone into doing his will. The language he used was strongly egocentric; when he spoke his sentences always began with “I”, and every topic in one way or the other he was able to steer towards how great he believed himself to be and what a privilege it was to be in his presence. What alarmed me most, however, was his ability to manipulate me through verbal abuse and I began to grow very suspicious of what his motivations were for keeping me in a relationship with him.

I ignored my parents’ and friends’ opinions on how great they all thought He was because I had a gut feeling something was terribly wrong. The verbal abuse had to stop because I began to lose self-confidence and was obsessively trying to uncover what was wrong with me (Evans 67). As miserable as the thought of loosing my seemingly ‘ideal’ man made me, I prayed and managed to garner the courage to confront him. It is still hard for me, after terminating the relationship three months ago, to believe that I discovered He was cheating on me. The night I confronted him with the knowledge of knowing his infidelity, he called me an idiot and told me that it was none of my business with whom he slept with. I felt utterly betrayed and furious with him and could not comprehend why he was seemingly “unflappable even after his deceit was revealed”; it was as if I stated a fact to him and he had no emotional reaction to it, only empty abusive words to direct towards me (Hare 14). Our contractual relationship was nothing more to him than a business deal – if that – gone wrong.

Unsurprisingly, I was left to answer the question: “Why?” While working my way through the initial shock and anger I was supported by my family and friends and told that it was not, in any way, my fault. Over time I reconciled with myself that indeed I had done nothing wrong; He was the one who broke our commitments and turned a healthy relationship into a verbally abusive one. I found within myself a new sense of courage and strength. Humility allowed me to seek God for support and forgiveness in any of the wrong I may have caused Him and allowed me to realize that His pride hindered him from the ability “to admit fault, to ask forgiveness, or for that matter, offer forgiveness”; it was not me left empty, but him (Strom 3). Unless, as Patricia Evans says: “he actively seeks personal change through hard work of therapy, he will to some degree, have lived a nonlife… This is his own great personal tragedy” (Evans 172). It is not me who is broken, it is Him who is broken and will never experience what Knapp and Vangelisti call consummate love: a love of intimacy, passion and commitment (221). Surviving the verbal abuse left me more aware of myself and with a stronger sense of what my life’s meaning and purpose is.

I would lie if I said that I did not try to struggle my way through finding a reason as to why I suffered the abuse I had. I went through the emotions of overwhelming sadness and immense rage at Him that he had the audacity to treat me the way he did. Until one day, when I was visiting my local bookstore, Chapters, I came across a book entitled Man’s Search for Meaning. It is a book written by Dr. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist that had survived the Holocaust. Upon reading this book I found a meaning to my life again. If Dr. Frankl, a man who survived not only verbal but physical abuse in a concentration camp was able to live a life full of love, then I was capable of this also. For one thing that I had and He did not was the ability to love. For, “the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart [is]: The salvation of man is through love and in love”, through the ability of loving others we give not only our life but also their life a meaning (Frankl 37). Verbal abuse and its inner hatred cannot define a person’s life; it is not inescapable and it cannot hinder a person’s meaning and capability to love.


Sources:

1. Evans, Patricia. (2010). The Verbally Abusive Relationship (3rd ed.). Avon, MA: Adams Media

2. Frankl, Victor. (1997). Man’s Search for Meaning. New York, NY: Pocket Books

3. Hare, Robert D. (1999). Without Conscience. New York, NY: The Guildford Press

4. Knapp, M. L. & Vangelisti, A.L. (2008). Interpersonal Communication & Human Relationships. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon

5. Oliveria, Carrie M. (2009). Interpersonal Communication. East Tennessee University. Podcast received from: iTunesU

6. Strom, B. (2010). Relating Redemptively: How Self-Control, Humility, Work, Faithfulness and Wisdom Renew Our Relationships. Langley, BC: Trinity Western University. Unpublished book manuscript.

7. Strom, B. (2011). Contractualism, Commitalism, and Covenantalism: Worldviews for Human Relating. Langley, BC: Trinity Western University. Unpublished book manuscript.

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Amie writes on relational health and eating disorder recovery.

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