On this 12th anniversary of the blog, I want to address something a bit more serious than Valentine's Day and whether our partners chose the right candy, flower, or bauble.
As the news is making evident daily, a lot of people, especially women, have been seriously hurt by their spouses and life partners. Can someone love you and still hit, choke, shove, or threaten you? How can you tell if they still love you? When should you accept a heartfelt apology? How can you tell if it's going to happen again, when the person you love is swearing it won't and you're avoiding telling anyone else it happened even once?
As with all the other shocking, upsetting things that happen in a marriage, there's a simple way to make sense of such an event.
Assume Love and ask yourself, "If he (or she) still loves me, how can I explain what happened?" If there's no possible explanation, you can easily figure out that this person does not love you.
But we all know of situations where abuse happened just once and led to a deeper, stronger love. So there must be an explanation. What is it?
Before I answer this, I want to imagine you are standing with someone you know from work or church or the mosque or synagogue you belong to. Or perhaps a fellow gymnastics or Little League parent. Not someone very close to you, just someone who knows you.
While you two are together, imagine someone walking up to you and doing whatever your spouse did. They are careless and knock your glasses off, leaving a scratch on your face. They push you aside to get to something behind you. They give you a poke in the shoulder while they explain something. They shove you or pinch you so hard you bruise, just to get your attention to whatever they have to say. They punch or slap you for something you've done that they did not like. They get angry and choke you but let go just before you pass out. Or they stick a gun in your face and demand you give them money or wash their clothes.
What does that person who only sort of knows you do? Is their response limited to some harsh words for the attacker and some kind words for you, as it might be for a careless outstretched arm that knocks into your glasses? If so, you are probably safe forgiving and forgetting, whether the attacker was your spouse or a total stranger.
Or does the person who sort of knows you get between you and the bully or pull you out of harm's way? Do they call for others to come help protect you? If so, what happened to you was dangerous and probably illegal. You might know more about the situation and think you are somehow to blame for it, and it's extremely likely your attacker will try to make you think you are, but it was dangerous and probably illegal, regardless of any fault you might have brought to it, too.
I wanted to clarify this before we address the explanation for what your partner did to you. Why? Because if he still loves you, he would want to do at least as much to protect you as someone who only sort of knows you. And he (or she) didn't.
They didn't take a moment to consider how much more important you are to them than the debt or dirt or dent they believe you caused. They didn't go for a walk when they felt their anger rising. They didn't turn and punch a wall when they felt their fist start to move toward someone they wanted to protect. They didn't take a cold shower when you said no to a sexual advance. They didn't stop drinking while they could still control their temper. They didn't take any action to end the addiction that puts them in such ugly moods. They didn't see a therapist or take an anger management class to deal with their growing frustrations. They didn't mention any of the growing symptoms of dementia or a brain tumor to their doctor. So, even though they wanted to protect you, they hurt you or risked hurting you just because they felt frustrated.
There are only two explanations for a loving person harming you.
The first is that it was an unintended accident, the sort that anyone else might say something about but would not feel the need to protect you from.
The second is that the person who loves you has lost control of his or her behavior. He wants to protect you but can't stop himself from choking you. She wants to protect you from harm but throws a vase at your head. Normal, healthy people want to protect you. Normal, healthy people who love you want to protect you even more. When they assault you instead, nothing you might have done to add to their anger matters. They want one thing and do another. They have lost control.
Forgiving them seems like a perfectly decent thing to do. But you must also protect yourself.
If your spouse doesn't love you and is risking your life or well-being, you must protect yourself.
If your spouse loves you and wants to protect you, but instead loses control when they get frustrated and risks a loved one's life or well-being as well as arrest (because assault, rape, imprisonment, and pointing a loaded gun at your are all serious crimes), you must protect yourself. And protecting yourself is also the only successful way you can protect your spouse.
Don't wait to find out if it will happen again. Your spouse cannot control whether it happens again or not. It has nothing to do with how much he (or she) loves you. It's almost certainly a brain issue you are not in any position to do anything about. You must protect yourself until someone qualified to help your spouse with their problem gets a chance to provide that help.
Until then, being alone with your spouse with no one else aware you're in danger or available to help on short notice is foolish. It doesn't protect you. It doesn't protect your spouse.
If you suspect alcohol or oxy or meth or coke is the cause, have somewhere to go when your spouse is using them and talk to the folks at Al Anon or a drug abuse treatment center about how to avoid facilitating an addiction. If you suspect dementia or a possible tumor is the cause, bring someone else into your home to help you when you need it. If job stress or job loss is the trigger, go stay at a friend's house for a few weeks every time it comes up. Don't be alone. Don't keep it quiet. Don't hope it will go away on its own.
Own your responsibility for any way you contribute to your spouse's frustration, but know that you are not in any way responsible for his or her crossing the line into physical abuse. Any excuses offered for them are fictitious bullpucky meant to relieve the enormous distress anyone will feel upon harming someone they love. Never take them personally. Hitting, slapping, choking, shoving, and physical threats are not uncontrollable responses to frustration for a mentally healthy person.
It's ridiculous that it took a photo of a black eye to make a woman's claims seem serious enough to pay attention to this week. Research suggests a woman's chances of being murdered by her spouse or life partner skyrocket if he chokes her or points a gun at her in an earlier incident. Outsiders can't see those, but she's ten times as likely to die as a woman who has been hit.
If you're lucky enough not to be abused, be the sort of friend who takes claims like choking and gun threats seriously, maybe even the sort who asks about them if you think something scary is going on in your friend's relationship. If she claims he loves her, know that this may be true, but if it is, the only explanation for the harm done to her is that he has lost control and she needs help to protect herself until he can take care of the problem with his brain.
May you and your Valentine have a wonderful day of celebrating your love. Thank you for twelve wonderful years. I planning to keep blogging, and I hope you'll keep reading.