This morning I was thinking about a friend who gave up everything — her friends, her family, her social life — to make her marriage work. Those of us who knew her before whe she was single, ask decades later, “Is she happy?”
Only our friend knows for sure, but, we wonder, how can she be content with such a narrow life?
We ask ourselves and each other, is she being emotionally abused?
Domestic abuse still lingers in the shadows because women are ashamed to admit they are suffering. In a perfect world, women would be able to turn to friends, family, co-workers, pastors, rabbis, doctors — anyone – and say without fear of judgment, “I’m being hurt.”
There are many good organizations working toward that perfect world, but women (and men) who can’t ask for help, can’t receive it.
Trouble is, emotional abuse can be so subtle, the victims don’t know what’s happening.
People with low self esteem who need to please are perfect targets for emotional abusers.
I can see how my friend got trapped. She needed to be in a relationship, and she met this funny guy who was interested in her.
He also was a self-centered, “my way or the highway” person who shut her out when he didn’t get his way. My friend adapted in order to “keep” him.
It was subtle: He didn’t like her favorite restaurant so they ate somewhere else. He didn’t really like to go out to eat, so they ordered in pizza. He didn’t want to spend money on pizza, so she cooked. He didn’t like her mother’s meatloaf recipe, so she came up — after many attempts — with one that was just OK.
He liked her friend Patricia, but not her friend Mary, so she let Mary drift out of her life. His friends came for dinner; her friends got occasional phone calls.
This happened over a period of years, until his life was her life. He raised the bar incrementally until she no longer could clear the hurdle, but she tries, and repeatedly “fails.”
Does this really qualify as abuse? I’m not an expert, so I can’t say for sure. But I do know, when one partner has to change, then change some more in order to make a relationship “work,” something is very wrong.
It is one thing to try to please your mate, it is another when failure to comply means withdrawal of affection, criticism, stone-cold silence or anger.
This situation isn’t confined to women. There are plenty of men who live at the mercy of their wives’ unreasonable, and unending, demands.
If you suspect you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, reach out to a friend (they still care even if you’ve been out of touch) or a therapist. If the emotional abuse has turned physical, contact SAFE Passage at 926-7233.
Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.