What Not to Say

My article today was inspired by Elizabeth Mosley-Banks’s article “10 ‘Harmless’ Things You Say that Hurt Me” (Elizabeth Mosley-Banks).  She lives with bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder and writes to increase kindness by educating others and letting those who have BPD and OCD know that they are not alone.

After reading her article about hurtful things, I remembered a few things said to me while in the midst of a violent marriage and I thought I would jot a few of them down here today. I believe the folks that said these things thought they were being helpful, but it hurt at the time.

  1.  Why can’t you two just get along with each other?
  2. What did you do to provoke him?
  3. Have you tried counseling?
  4. Well, some people just grow apart.

These questions and statement scream confusion and misunderstanding. I’ll briefly address each.

“Getting along” with someone implies that you both want the same thing: to get along; to have camaraderie, friendship, equality.  You can’t “get along” with a person who seeks to control you because it doesn’t matter what you say to him or her. The controlling person isn’t interested in conflict resolution; he or she is interested in demeaning, controlling, and having power over you, so a rational response that you’d have with a normal individual will never work.

Everything “provokes” a person who wants to control you. Spilled milk, burned toast, a certain expression on your face, the way you did or did not clean something, you name it. I remember early on in my abusive marriage I thought, “OK, I’ll stop doing that one thing that makes him angry” and then there would be three other things that popped up that provoked his rage and violence.  There was always something that I or someone else did that “provoked” him.  There is a serious flaw in the question. It’s not as if wives are poking a sleeping bear! These are our husbands and we should be on equal ground with them, not afraid that they will lash out in violent rage over daily life occurences like spilled milk.

Yes, we’ve tried counseling, we’ve read books, we’ve gone to our pastor, and attended seminars, we’ve done everything we could think of to fix this marriage and nothing works. Nothing. And by the way, marriage counseling is a terrible idea. We went to a session and he seemed fine in front of the therapist, but after we left, he didn’t talk to me for three days after and then his rage was worse than ever. We never went back.

This isn’t about growing apart. Domestic abuse is about power and control. One person wants all the power and control and to do that, he makes the other person feel demeaned and small. She feels afraid to speak her mind, afraid to do anything.

If you learn that someone is in an abusive marriage, you can assume that person has tried hard to get along with his or her spouse, done all he or she can to make the marriage work, that the raging spouse has been “provoked” over the tiniest of “infractions”, and that this is about power and control and the only hope the abused has is to get out. (Even then, we see that the abuse and violence continues on. We need to see tougher laws against violence against spouses!)

I’d also like to encourage someone who has no idea what it’s like to be in an abusive marriage to imagine going home to a spouse who glares at you, misreads everything you say, picks fights with you everyday, throws things at you, pushes you, hits you, swears at you, calls you names, isolates you from all your friends and family. How long would YOU stay?

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