I am reading an excellent book by Beverly Engel on emotional abuse and what to do about it. But I keep imagining her asking, “You don’t really expect a man or woman who is being emotionally abused to assume love, do you?”
I do. In addition to bringing back a lot of the warmth and joy in a lot of marriages, this simple practice can actually protect you against any type of abuse.
Here’s why. When you assume love, you try to explain how a loving person might come to treat you as you have just been treated. If you just act as if what happened was a loving act, even though it felt awful, you do not assume love; you pretend love. When you look for explanations as if you are confident of your mate’s love, you assume love.
Emotional or Physical Abuse
Now, imagine you have just been treated abusively. Your mate has done something to you that he or she or even a kind-hearted stranger would defend you from if a stranger did it. You have been hit, threatened, belittled in a way that cuts you down, yelled at viciously, or told you must comply with an unreasonable request to prevent your spouse from leaving or commiting suicide.
These are not loving acts. There is only one explanation for a loving person treating his or her beloved in such a manner. That one explanation is that your partner has no ability to act as he or she intends to act. Your spouse has lost or perhaps never gained control over his or her actions when frustrated, angry, drunk, drugged, or unhappy.
Intentional or Not
If you have been treated in a manner that a stranger could not get away with if you had any caring friends or an in-control spouse present, and you assume love, this is the only explanation that could explain what’s happening. And you most likely know your mate well enough to know if this is a lack of control or intentional cruelty.
If it is intentional cruelty, there is no marriage left to save. Find a safe exit route and get out.
But if it is a lack of control, whether due to drinking, drugs, a mental illness, an abusive childhood, or simply a lack of skill at handling emotional stress, it is a lack of control. Being a quieter or more compliant spouse won’t fix it. Accepting an apology tomorrow won’t fix it. Yelling or hitting back won’t fix it.
You Cannot Fix This
The only thing that will fix it is if your mate gains or regains the ability to do the loving things he or she intends to do, whether by taking a class, going to therapy, getting sober, finding a spiritual mentor, or going through rehab.
This is going to take some guts. In the meantime, hurting someone he or she intends to love leaves your mate a choice of shame or blame, feeling ashamed or blaming you for his or her unreasonable behavior. Either shame or blame does great harm to your relationship.
You Can Protect Your Relationship
Since by definition your mate has no control over hurting you, the only way to avoid shame and blame until your spouse finds the guts to get help and make a change is for you to make it a lot harder for your mate to hurt you.
This may mean moving apart for a while. It may mean having someone else move in with the two of you. In the case of a brain tumor or dementia causing the loss of control, it may mean hiring someone else to provide care instead of you.
As the only one with any control over what happens until your spouse finds the courage to change the underlying cause, it falls on you to act or to watch your love and respect for your partner drain away.
And this is where Beverly Engel’s book is a huge help for anyone experiencing emotional abuse. She offers lots of specific advice for the abused and, if the abuser is ready to change, for the abuser.
The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing by Beverly Engel. Wiley, 2003.
[Note: This is an Amazon Affiliate link, which means they pay me a very small sum for suggesting you buy from them.]