I went out for lunch with my girlfriend and her close friend.
My girlfriend’s close friend was in the midst of a separation from her X. Throughout their marriage he had exhibited and acted out anger, aggression, and control of her. She had moved out of their family home and into her own place. She was dealing with the aftermath of their split. He was now going to counselling to try and remedy his patterns of behavior.
My girlfriend remarked, “I was so surprised when you told me that there were problems in your relationship, because you seemed like such a perfect family. You always spoke highly of your husband. You seemed so happy.”
I had immediate feelings of shame around this comment. It is one that I’ve heard many times about my own involvement in an abusive relationship. People tend to think that relationships are good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, loving or unloving. That we are either telling the truth or lying about what happens within them. But we all know that relationships are much more nuanced than that.
In my experience, these things go hand in hand. The relationship is good than goes bad than swings to good again. It is healthy than unhealthy than healthy again. It is loving than unloving than loving once more.
You can love your X, think they are devoted, and kind, and helpful AND witness their incredible imperfections, cruelty, and darkness that consumes them, and spreads out over their family. Also, hope is ever present. Hope for change. Hope for better understanding. Hope for better communication. Hope for a better marriage or relationship.
This is the dichotomy of abusive relationships. The pendulum can swing from love and care to manipulation and harm. And these extremes or subtleties can come and go so quickly, that you barely have time to process it. Or there can be a slow build up of pressure, like a balloon swelling with air, until BOOM, it pops. Then there is calm once again.
There really is nothing surprising when a woman reveals that a relationship is toxic. We have all been in one of those relationships or know someone who has. We all have carried secrets in our heart and spirits.
Let’s support women in understanding the commonality of these challenges.
As Brene Brown has said, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
When we do away with shame, there lies our power.