A friend emails with a question about a girlfriend's situation. Her husband has kicked her angrily (he didn't bruise her, she points out) and he's thrown a glass of water at her. At what point is it considered dangerous to stay in a relationship with someone? she asks.
There should never be a question of danger in a relationship with anyone. We should never be afraid of an intimate partner.
Each of us has a different tolerance level for bad behaviour. Throwing a glass of water at someone is not acceptable to me. It sure was in the movies. Audrey Hepburn did it in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and she was soooooo cute when she was angry. But was it acceptable? No. Was it cute? Absolutely not. But in the movie -- we accepted it as such because it moved the plot along, it was a character device and we didn't feel the splash hit us. In reality, throwing a glass of water is a tantrum unfitting an adult. It's a selfish, disrespectful act. It's unacceptable.
It isn't the act of throwing the glass of water that's the issue. It's the lack of impulse control underlying the action. Throw a glass of water. Throw a kick. Throw a punch. They all have the same effect upon the recipient. They're acts of violence against another human being. They may not break bones, but they'll all break spirits if administered frequently.
It was four years before the conman no longer in my life used physical force with me. By then, I was already lost from rational thinking. It was too late for me to realize what had happened, what was happening, and to realize the danger I was in. I believe he held off using physical force because he intuitively knew I would walk away. I abhor violence. He knew it and was cunning enough to know it was a 'no go' zone with me. He threatened it often enough -- and thus, kept me in the fear zone anyway. He didn't have to get physical. The threat of it was enough. Challenge was, in my head, I couldn't say, "You hit me. I'm out of here." Instead, I told myself, "He's never hit me. If he hits me I'm gone. He's just upset about all that has gone wrong. At least he isn't violent."
By the time someone has thrown that first glass of water, there have been a hundred little markers lining the path to escalating disrespect. Angry retorts that undermine self-confidence. Disrespectful outbursts that create pain in the recipients heart and mind. Words that pierce like swords. Facial expressions that cut like a knife. The act of throwing a glass of water is simply the continuation of steps taken in the wrong direction when someone believes they have the right to use angry words and actions to get what they want -- even if what they want is unclear.
The mind is an interesting place. It can make up stories to justify actions that never happen. It can make up stories to explain actions that do.
For the woman my friend wrote about this morning, a husband's kick, a glass of thrown water are explained away as random acts.
Truth is, nothing is random about the acts. What's random is our explanation of them. We don't have a script inside that says, "When someone throws a glass of water, we do a, b, c." In fact, what we've got are some vague memories of seeing it happen on film, or perhaps it's happened in our childhood when father and mother fought. We take those events, minimize their impact and explain away what's happening in our lives.
And through it all, we live with the fear it might get worse as we tell ourselves, it could be worse, he could have hit me. And then, we breathe a sigh of relief in gratitude for the fact, he didn't hit.
Fear and love should not live together under the same roof. Fear in a marriage bed lays the foundation for a fearful life. Fearing the one we love, creates an atmosphere of distrust -- and undermines every element of our marriage.
Fear comes in many colours. Multiple tones. Fear of never knowing what mood he'll be in when he walks through the door. Fear of worrying about whether or not he'll like the dinner we prepared (I use the male gender but it's important to note, women can also create fear in the same situations). Fear of his reaction when he opens the Visa bill and discovers we've charged more than he's expecting. Fear of our reaction when we open the Visa bill and know we've acted out through over-spending. Fear of what he'll do when the new puppy pee's on the kitchen floor, again. Fear of what he'll do when the children aren't quiet while he's trying to nap in front of the blaring TV . Fear of his next angry outburst, shunning silence, silent back when he turns away and won't kiss you goodnight. Fear of....
A close cousin to fear is anxiety. When we fear someone else's response to normal, everyday happenings, we live with the anxiety that we can never 'do it right', never be perfect, never meet their expectations.
Truth is, our best should be good enough. Our best should be all we need to give. What we don't see, is that when he throws the glass of water, or he kicks us -- possibly he's giving us his best. If a glass of water in our face is an acceptable way to express anger, what's next?
I couldn't answer my girlfriend's question this morning, At what point is it considered dangerous to stay in a relationship with someone? What I asked instead was, Is she willing to ask him to go for counselling? If she is fearful of his response, if she is afraid to ask him to go for help, then she has her answer. She's living in fear of someone else's response to something she needs to do to feel safe in her marriage. If she is feeling unsafe, she is at risk.
I teach people how to treat me. When I accept a glass of water thrown in my face as a random act, and then live with the fear he might do it again, or it might escalate, I'm lying to myself. I know the truth. I'm just not willing to accept it.
What someone else is doing is never about me. How I respond, my reactions -- they tell the tale of where I'm at, what I'm doing about taking care of me, what I'm willing to accept in the name of love. When I undermine myself by accepting the unacceptable, I tell myself, I'm not worth treating with respect, dignity, love.
All the love in the world, won't stop someone from being abusive if that is what they are intent on doing. I cannot change someone else. I can stop abuse in my life by changing how I treat myself when someone else is treating me with their bad behaviour.