I guess I got into a bit of a debate with someone online recently. I didn’t mean to and usually I know better but I guess I couldn’t let it slide. Not surprisingly, this started from something posted on a social media site. The original poster had been trying to end a relationship with her live-in boyfriend. She described behaviours that were emotionally and verbally abusive towards herself and her kids, showed a domestic violent relationship pattern and stated that she was drawing the line at her kids. (unfortunately that kind of means she was willing to put up with the behaviour towards herself)
She told him it was over and asked him to leave. He did something he’s done before. He threatened to kill himself. This is not unusual behaviour in a domestic violent relationship. It’s fairly common actually for the abusive person to use that as a tool to manipulate the other person into backing down and not calling them out on their behaviour. The problem is, he has made some motions in the past that has shown he is willing at least to put himself in danger as part of the threat. She took him back but only long enough to convince him to go and get some help at the hospital. She took him to an appointment at the hospital, with the doctor’s support, told him very clearly that it was over and he was not leaving the hospital and coming back to her. She dropped his belongings off with his family.
The reaction to her behaviour from others is kind of mind-boggling. We know from personal experience with the people we work with that if he killed himself (and some guys do), then his family, friends and acquaintances would have blamed her. She would be viewed by most people as uncaring or cold or heartless – definitely at fault. Even though it was his actions, surely she could have done something to help him or something.
This particular lady truly believes that her soon to be ex-partner will try to kill himself, whether he actually means it or not. She stated she needs to feel like she is doing everything in her power to end it in such a way that he can get help so that she can walk away and not look back.
So far so good? Not really. The abuse this woman has taken is not okay. Most folks were concerned and more or less supportive at first while she tried to work it out. It didn’t take long though before someone weighed in with “well if that was me…”. It’s one thing to state your opinion on what you think you would do. We’ve mentioned before that what we believe we’ll do and what we actually do in a crisis situation can be very, very different due to how our brains respond but I wouldn’t expect everyone to know that. So that part didn’t get me going. This part did;
“your behaviour is sickening. I would be glad if he killed himself. How dare you bring him back in your home after he abused your children”. I may not have it exactly quoted but that is the main gist. Suddenly others come out of the woodwork with comments about ‘hand holding’ someone who shouldn’t be exposing their kids to this man and so on.
In particular, the “your behaviour is sickening” part. Really? I get that when you’re on the outside looking in you can see the manipulation so very clearly but when you’re in the middle of it, you just can’t. There are too many emotions and too many relationship pieces to just pull back and go “aha, that’s what he’s doing”.
I also get becoming frustrated because it seems so simple when you’re looking at it from a distance.
I also think there’s nothing wrong with people saying things like “he’s manipulating you” and other such stuff. It’s good that others can call this guy out on his behaviour, especially if she can’t see it herself. But to condemn her actions and insult her for it? wow.
Being supportive of someone who is struggling with an unhealthy relationship can be very tough. However, insulting their actions or making them feel like they can’t do anything right is certainly not going to help them get to a better place. That’s not the same as pretending that everything’s fine when it’s not. It’s stating what you think and see in a way that is respectful, honest and still supportive of the person who is struggling. Why is that so difficult when the person in question is in an unhealthy relationship?
Sometimes we do a crappy job of supporting people to make the changes that they need to get to a better place. One of the reasons why others don’t want to come forward is because of the “your behaviour makes me sick” types of comments that you get from literally everyone. We don’t have a right to judge others in such a way and to do so when they are at their most vulnerable is kind of like kicking a helpless puppy. We don’t have the right. Please take the time to think about those words either out loud or on-line and make sure that even if you don’t agree, they at the very least remain respectful.