Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
When I look at many of my friend’s relationships, I see woman staying in horrible relationships because they believe that in some way they will change their partner’s abusive behavior. They all seem to think that through their endless sacrifice, the destructive ways of their partner will tamed. I have also volunteered in battered woman shelters and seen the bandages and black eyes on those who had thought the same way.
I don’t think that the sacrifices these women made changed anything, unless it was to destroy their own lives. Do you think any of us can change another person? Does it all work out in the end if we just keep trying?
The single strongest predictor of a person’s future behavior is their past behavior. The definition of personality itself is “a consistent set of behaviors displayed over time.” There are some statistics that show time itself might have some redemptive qualities. If a person lives long enough and survives all of their shenanigans, then some mellowing might come with age; but this is no guarantee that they will change one iota. And no one can really change for another person- in the long run, people only change if they are self-motivated.
Our culture teaches that love is redemptive. In fact, some forms of it are nothing but enabling.
One type of enabling is “blind love.” We have been taught to love others as ourselves; but others are not ourselves and they don’t think like we do. If we love blindly, we don’t really assess the person we are with. We don’t expect others to treat us badly if we would never treat others badly. If our partner is abusive, we don’t see it coming; and if we believe that we ought to love blindly, it’s easier to deny than accept how badly people can treat each other.
Another enabling myth is that love and sacrifice will change another person. This myth is so engrained in our culture that the #1 female sexual fantasy is that of being overpowered and forced into sex (sacrificed.) It also fuels Harlequin romance novels, fills battered women shelters, and, I believe, is a major contributor behind the 60% divorce rate in this country.
Sure, love can create a space for a person to grow and change; but that person has to reach out and be receptive to it.
We are responsible for the choices we ourselves make regardless of what has happened to us in the past. We are defined by what we do. Someone who loves us, but who enables us through making excuses for our behavior or sacrificing for us, is only encouraging our past behavior. It gets in the way of change and growth.
Healthy love is reciprocal and based on mutual respect. It has boundaries. It involves conversation. The myth that love is blind and has no bounds is often one sided and without common sense.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: from culture to culture, certain behaviors are more or less acceptable, according to what we were raised to believe. In the USA, we have a conflicting mass of messages- we are shown dominating women, submissive women, hen pecked husbands, and abusive louts. As far as I can see, the biggest difference between our culture and that of others is that we publicly hold monogamy as the gold standard and treat infidelity as a crime. This may be hypocritical, but that’s how the media plays it out. On the other hand, one woman I know married a man from Mexico and lived in his native town. Her husband was surprised as hell that she had a problem with his visits to brothels. The woman’s mother-in-law told her that it was shameful to raise a fuss over it, this was the way of men.
However, I do have to say that I remember watching movies when I was growing up, and invariably, the heroine in the love stories suffered or schemed patiently while praying that a man would either notice her or come around. If a woman was assertive, she was seen as a hussy. Scarlet O’Hara, who saved the homestead with her belligerent strength, was regarded as a selfish shrew; but her mother, who died sacrificing her life for others but left her family in the lurch, was regarded as a saint.
I would watch those movies and feel like there was something really wrong with me that I didn’t have the patience to docilely wait for a man to do ANYTHING. I had a natural instinct to charge ahead and make things happen. Yet it took a lifetime of seeing myself as an unreasonable bitch before finally I realized that there was nothing wrong with me at all- I was just an assertive woman who was getting cranky at being expected to silently suffer. An Affair To Remember and Stella Dallas had poisoned me with their weepy innuendo.
Healthy love is mutually supportive. I’m having a hard time seeing a man who allows a woman to sacrifice and suffer for his own needs as mutually supportive. And, in my opinion, those who are blindly in love are fated to walk into a lot of walls.