By Heidi Hiatt
2010 has been the year of betrayals, breakups, and divorces. I continue to be shocked at the number of relationships falling down around me.
While there are two sides to every story, it seems to me that it is becoming increasingly common for one party in a relationship to carry the majority of the blame. It’s like the world is dividing into two camps in anticipation of some great shift, narcissists and those who try to follow the Golden Rule.
This week I had the opportunity to catch up with several longtime friends and discuss their situations. It hit me that in nearly every breakup I’ve seen this year, it is the stable, hard-working, faithful, committed partner that does not abuse drugs or alcohol getting dumped like garbage.
Every one of these people openly admits their quirks and the things they need to work on, but none of those issues are divorce-worthy. Many are normal human shortcomings and residual trauma that can be worked through. I see these people as attractive, intelligent, fun, and successful, but their partners have decided that the grass is greener with more risky people.
Risky is the correct word. I’ve witnessed children being put on back burners to accommodate their parent’s games and used as weapons. I’ve seen how one parent’s hatred of the other conditions the children to become abusive, hate-filled people themselves. It is heartbreaking to see children form bonds and then be forced to break bonds with the people who are cycled through their parents’ lives.
Unfaithful partners are using their unwitting faithful counterparts as child care and their families as a resource to facilitate their liaisons. In one case, a friend’s in-laws had actually been encouraging the other woman’s presence and involvement while their son was still married. Other people find themselves used financially, or being pushed away when things aren’t adding up.
It is not unusual for families to enable a relative’s pathology even when that risks hurting their children. Enabling an unhealthy or dishonest relationship is sanctioning poor parental choices and setting the kids up for their own lifetime of instability. Children are often the last people who matter in the midst of these games.
One person told me how painful it is to watch another woman—the “friend” who decided to “help” her husband and kids at a critical time—end up with her house, her former vehicle, and many of her belongings. Another told me how their spouse demanded the divorce, but tries to control who they see and to keep them on hold in case they want them back in the future. It seems that a significant number of people are practicing this “Plan B” narcissism—if their affairs don’t work out, they want the option of going back.
The lengths that people go to in an effort to legitimize these unhealthy new relationships seem to be part of some sick rush they get by having affairs. One of the most common tactics seems to be blame-shifting, an attempt to make everything that’s wrong look like it’s caused by the faithful partner. Another is flat-out character assassination, slandering or falsely accusing that partner to relieve themselves of taking responsibility for their actions.
Yet a third is embarking on a public relations mission to build their new partner up at the expense of the old. If a person has to consciously try to win support for what they’re doing at the expense of another, there’s a good reason to question what they’re doing. When I see this happening, it reminds me of playground bullies that only feel good about themselves by putting someone else down.
The mental shift that unfaithful people undergo is frightening. They seem to have no genuine concern for any aspect of their partner’s well-being, physical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual. They recklessly put their partners’ health at risk and play head games with them either to avoid getting caught or punish them for not letting them have their cake and eat it too.
This has me wondering if deceptive, dangerous, or dysfunctional is the new “sexy”. Pop culture certainly seems to glamorize those “d” words—collectively, a darkness that destroys committed relationships. I understand the attraction that bad boys can have for women and bad girls can have to men. In those conditions we are able to indulge our own unresolved character issues and desire to rescue others.
But you can have a healthy kind of crazy, “bad”, or adventurous within a committed relationship too. To me, developing that sounds way more fun than risking my partner and family’s well-being to break a vow or a covenant. I would much rather spend time working on the tough issues in a committed relationship, reaping hard-earned rewards, than flitting around in dishonest, secretive hookups that won’t last.
This may seem like a long lead-in to the subject of men and domestic violence, but the point of mentioning all of these behaviors is that they go both ways. Women are abused, especially physically, more than men, but after hearing friends talk about female-on-male physical violence, control issues, stalking, and cheating, it’s clear that domestic violence is not a gender issue. Abuse is equally wrong whether a man or woman is committing it.
Statistics about domestic violence against men are probably skewed since it is very likely to be underreported. Not only is it awkward and embarrassing for men to publicly admit that they have been hurt by a woman, but many authorities won’t take them seriously or file reports when they do. The “you’re a man, deal with it” attitude, and many stereotypes about domestic violence, run rampant in this country. Men may think that reporting abuse or seeking help for it is a sign of weakness.
Reality is that men can be victims of psychological battering, physical violence, stalking (in growing numbers), manipulation, financial control, sexual abuse, and everything that a woman can. Somehow our society doesn’t want to believe these crimes and behaviors are as serious if they happen to a man.
Our culture has normalized aberrant behaviors in women, such as striking a man in the face, putting them down publicly, controlling them through sex, and allowing certain entitlement mentalities (seehttp://wildninja.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/sitcom-wives/). Much of this may be seen as valid payback for thousands of years of mistreatment of women, but it is still WRONG.
Man or woman, being attacked by someone else on any level damages your health and your self-worth. It can forever alter your existence and the way you look at life. The denial men engage in to cope with or rationalize woman-perpetrated abuse can lead to entrapment in unhealthy relationships. Men may endure many cycles, even years and decades, of abuse because they don’t want to be abandoned, see winning the abuser back as proof of their manhood, or mistakenly believe that they can love a pathological woman into healthiness.
The most common type of abuse I see when a woman abuses a man is not physical abuse. Most of the material you will find about female-on-male domestic violence is about that. But it is psychological abuse that seems to be the most prevalent form of abuse utilized by women. This may be because psychological abuse is the more subtle form of beating someone into submission. You also can’t get arrested for it unless you threaten their life.
In the 1993 Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It, moviegoers saw Ike Turner viciously beat and belittle his partner, then turn around and buy her expensive gifts to “make up for it.” A male friend of mine pointed out that women rarely do that; instead, they rip into men’s psyches and then use sex and seduction as the “make up gifts” to worm their way back into their lives.
That is an extremely abusive cycle because a man endures great personal harm, then is lulled back into a false sense of stability for awhile until it happens again. Over and over some men are verbally abused, taken advantage of, subjected to psychological terrorism, and cheated on, then reeled back in by the “gifts” of what is essentially sexual abuse. These cycles are all about power and control, not love. I call it “Reverse Ike Turner Syndrome” (with apologies to a man who hopefully got his rage under control).
Because of the lack of resources and shelters out there for male victims of domestic violence, a man’s best defense may be to educate himself on the subject. Both sexes need to know how to attract and retain healthy people with the ability to grow in mutually beneficial relationships. Instead, we often enter adult life without a proper sense of boundaries, tend to be attracted to the same type of controlling or abusive person that our opposite sex parent was, and can’t accurately define domestic violence.
Everyone needs to be educated about pathological behaviors, psychopathy, and other selfish, evil states of being that can damage us. Because men are expected to be the tough ones who take care of themselves, they may not recognize or acknowledge such issues when they encounter them. It is important to know what you might be dealing with to save your children, your current partner, and yourself from harm. My advice: read, read, read, get into counseling, and find Bible-based support through church.
One issue that continues to jump out at me when I research domestic violence is how personality disorders may dictate a person’s conduct in a relationship. Think of a personality disorder as a way of thinking that inaccurately colors the way a person looks at life. Of all the personality disorders that seem to affect women’s treatment of men, it is borderline personality disorder that seems to lead the pack. One of the first books written on this subject was called I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me.
Movies like Fatal Attraction and Single White Female are the Hollywood versions of this disorder. From my own experiences, I don’t think Single White Female was too far off. I’ve ended friendships and had other unsettling experiences because of that type of behavior. It wasn’t behavior I could “learn to deal with”; it’s unpredictable, backstabbing, and like being in a constant competition for a Miss Popularity award that I have no interest in vying for.
Some of these women will do anything to “prove” they’re the most “desirable” or to “win”, even if it means seducing or stealing someone else’s man. They get a thrill out of disrupting or slaughtering other people’s committed relationships, much the same as the rush some serial killers get when they take a life.
Alcoholism and substance abuse is common among borderlines, and in their private lives, many are emotionally immature, never progressing beyond a junior high emotional intelligence level.
These women have an empty spot inside of them that is never filled, and their behavior may become more dangerous and erratic with time. It may also become less obvious with time because they’re well-practiced.
If you try to leave them, though, you may soon find yourself looking down the barrel of the “if I can’t have you, no one can” mindset. They’re also the ones who will leave you of their own accord, but come back as soon as they see you having a serious relationship with someone else.
Some of these women might be fine with an open marriage or open relationship concept in which you are the emotional support, the “rock”, or even a sort of parent that they always come back to. But they want the freedom of seeing other people as well, whether they do that behind your back or coerce you into it.
Women like this will use anyone and anything to keep their targets at their beck and call regardless of the cost to others. Some borderline behavior overlaps with sociopathic behavior to the extent that experts have coined a new term for such people, borderpaths. Life is all about them, and they want men who will kowtow to that. They often purposefully latch onto nice and generous men believing that they will be easy to manipulate. That’s not love, that’s slavery. That’s sick.
If any of this sounds familiar, the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, and more information, is athttp://www.borderlinepersonalitytoday.com/main/dsmiv.htm. I’d also recommend the book Sometimes I Act Crazy, below. While I do not advocate breaking up a marriage just because someone has mental issues (don’t we all), men need to be able to draw the line when they and their family’s safety is at risk. Unrepentant, chronic abuse and adultery can be valid grounds for divorce, sad as divorce is.
Men, although you may think that you have to tolerate certain behaviors because of your sex, please remember that abuse is not biblical. It’s not God’s way. This is not what He wants for you. You were created to, as I said in another post, live adventurously, love passionately, and accomplish feats that no one before you or after you can.
Abuse molds you into who someone else wants you to be, not who God wants you to be. It robs you of your strength and dignity, and it prevents your family from experiencing your authentic self. Your children especially need a consistent, healthy role model that will set the standard for their relationships.
Children are little sponges who thirstily absorb your example, and the legacy you create for them is important. It’s been said that children are messages you send to a time you will not see. Your current circumstances may be setting the stage for your great-great-grandchildren’s lives.
That’s a sobering thought. But a quick look at our own family’s histories might show that to be true already. We are the people who have to stop the dysfunction with this generation and raise the bar.
In a world of James 1:8s—double-minded people who are unstable in all of their ways—kids really need their parents to model loving, committed behavior if they are to have a chance at true love without violence.
This means that both men and women need to know their enemy—domestic violence– and get whatever help they need to deal with it. That may mean severing relationships, because you can’t solve someone else’s pathology for them, no matter how traumatic the pathology’s origins.
Lastly, I know that there are those that downplay domestic violence towards men believing that it detracts from domestic violence against women. Some experts don’t like to discuss male abuse because fewer men experience it than women, and even fewer men report it.
No one has to convince me how serious of a problem this is for women—I have been through several deceptive, damaging relationships and have experienced persistent sexism in the workplace. You’re preaching to the choir.
Here’s the bottom line, and I’m turning on the caps lock to shout it out on behalf of the men who have been hurt by it:
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS A GENDER NEUTRAL ISSUE. NO VICTIM DESERVES TO HAVE THEIR EXPERIENCES DOWNPLAYED BECAUSE OF THEIR SEX. WHETHER A MAN OR WOMAN COMMITS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, IT IS WRONG, AND IT NEEDS TO BE DEALT WITH.
When Women Abuse Men, ABC News
Men Suffer Domestic Violence Too
Male domestic violence victim speaks out
The “Duluth Model” Power and Control Wheel, a version for female perpetrators
A Men’s Guide to the Signs of a Bad Dating Choice
Abused Men: Domestic Violence Works Both Ways
Stalking & Domestic Violence Statistics
How to Avoid Dating Damaged & Destructive Women (E-Book), Sandra L. Brown
Sometimes I Act Crazy: Living with Borderline Personality Disorder, Jerold Kreisman and Hal Strauss
Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence, Philip Cook
Women Who Love Psychopaths, 2nd Edition, Sandra L. Brown
I recommend this book for men? Yes. Men can absolutely be victims of female psychopaths. The material presented in this book can go either way despite the title.
Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t, Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Too Nice for Your Own Good: How to Stop Making 9 Self-Sabotaging Mistakes, Duke Robinson
Hold on to Your NUTs: The Relationship Manual for Men, Wayne Levine
(NUTs = Non-Negotiable Unalterable Terms)
Boundaries: When to Say YES When to Say NO To Take Control of Your Life, Henry Cloud and John Townsend
The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout
Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You, Susan Forward and Donna Frazier
In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, George K. Simon
Venus: The Dark Side, Roy Sheppard and Mary T. Cleary (I have not read this, but it sounds like someone has finally come out with a book about female sociopaths. Hopefully it’s respectful.)
Love Must Be Tough, James Dobson
The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence, Gavin de Becker
Please note that most of these books are secular, but I include them because I have yet to find equivalents in the faith-based realm. Obviously if any content runs counter to your Christian beliefs, disregard it, and keep only what’s worth keeping.
Whatever I do for my spouse, I do it to Christ as well. –Emerson Eggerichs