Easing into abuse one small step at a time

(Related: 1, 2, 3)

The following is from an advice column that I read recently. It reinforces what many agree on, that abusive relationships–be they in marriages or in cults–share many characteristics and dynamics in common:

I am involved with a woman whose husband abandoned her. At first our relationship revolved around her heartbreak over his actions. He was unfaithful to her and moved out of the house twice. The first time he left she begged and begged for him to return, and he eventually did.

He promised he would be the perfect husband, but less than a year later he left a note in the kitchen saying he was leaving again and took all his stuff. He abandoned her completely. He had emotionally abused her in too many ways to mention.

I met her four months later. Initially I provided a sympathetic ear for all her problems. Slowly we became closer until one day she told me I made the pain go away and she loved me. I fell in love also, and she filed for divorce.

After he was served papers, I overheard a telephone conversation and was shocked to hear the abuse coming from him. He screamed profanities and made threats. I watched as she listened and afterwards told her his behavior was awful. She stated “he’s just mad,” no big deal.

I was leery that she was so prepared to rationalize for him, but she swore everlasting love to me. About six weeks ago her ex found out about our relationship. He promised he would do anything, including go to church, if she would take him back. He kicked it up a notch and confessed he was the worst husband ever.

He called and cried, playing the I’m-still-your-husband card. He kept her on the phone and dragged out the conversation. Last week she agreed to see him. More tears and begging. I told her this was pure manipulation and so did every friend and member of her family.

After a day of agony we recommitted our vows to each other, and I thought we were going to get through this. Last night we had a wonderful evening together. Then when she got home, he was waiting for her.

Around noon I received this e-mail. “Real love requires risk, putting one’s feelings out there in the most vulnerable state. The thought of risking another chance with him scares me to death, but in reality, the risk would be no less with anyone. I believe this with all my heart.” She is ignoring my phone calls, and I need advice.

Tyler

Tyler, she is an abused woman who is not ready to break the cycle of abuse. Framing her decision in terms of love makes sense to her, but that is a measure of how distorted her thinking is. Real love has nothing in common with her relationship to her ex.

A person eases into abuse one small step at a time. No one step seems large, but over time a person’s perception of reality is changed. The leap from where she is to where you are is too great for her to make. It will be years before she can choose a healthy relationship over an abusive one. If there was something you could do to change her behavior, we would gladly share it, but the best thing you can do is accept her decision and move forward with your life.

Wayne & Tamara

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