I recently enjoyed participating in a powerful conversation with fellow relationship personality Candice Harper on her podcast, “Ask for Candy,” about labeling relationships as “abusive.” Candice regularly calls one of her past relationships her “abusive relationship.” I asked her to consider eliminating the “abusive” characterization of the relationship because it lacks nuance and is overused. We went back and forth about it over the course of an hour and then closed out in peace. Check out the episode of her podcast here.
Many of my readers know that I am divorced from the mother of my oldest two children. I have often publicly stated that I was not a good husband to her, and I do not waiver in that sentiment. Unfortunately, I did not adhere to my own counsel in the way I characterized her. There were times when I spoke about her in an unflattering manner. I did so with an interest in justifying the challenges we were navigating at the time. It was unnecessary and ultimately pointless . . . at least if my point was anything positive.
I cannot recall ever calling her or our relationship “abusive,” but I can relate to the reasoning for some people doing so. Many of us may feel tempted to dismiss a relationship and our investment in it by attaching an egregious offense to it, ourselves, and/or our partner. It’s a bit crazy, but if I tell someone that my partner and I “split up,” there tends to be a lingering question of “Who is to blame for the breakup?” But if I say that my partner was or we were abusive, manipulative, crazy, violent, or a slew of other “unacceptable” behaviors, then the breakup becomes reasonable and understandable. Everyone, myself included, would feel like the breakup was justifiable, and I hadn’t just given up. The labels explain why it was not possible for the relationship to work out. In a sense, we wage a public relations campaign on our own psyche.
Though my marriage ended, I learned a lot from it—lessons and principles I have carried into my current union. For one, I place great importance on taking care of my partner and wife. This must lead my actions and attitude as it pertains to her and to us. If I am irritated with her or after she has done something, it is important that I take care of her. If she is irritated with me or after I have done something, it is important that I take care of her. If I am offended by her over something that she has done, it is important that I take care of her. It is always important that I take care of her. This is non-negotiable . . . for me.
In many marriage vows, the parties promise to love and cherish each other “’till death do us part.” This is powerful and sounds good, yet it takes a great deal of commitment and fortitude to execute. Labeling our partners in one or more of the most undesirable and, to many, unacceptable fashions is an unloving way out of this commitment and fortitude. When the partner or the relationship can be labelled as abusive, manipulative, crazy, and/or violent, we are no longer held to a high standard of commitment by others and by ourselves. We are off the hook. We can now leave the relationship with a version of peace of mind.
Moving forward, let’s reconsider the temptation or need to villainize our relationships or our partners in order to make sense of the tough times that we will, are, or have encountered. Instead, let’s double down and investigate ourselves. The need or desire to besmirch our partners or our relationship may have deep roots. It may even be a reason that we are having trouble or breaking up in the first place. Have we been willing to look down on our partners over the entire span of our relationship? Have we considered them crazy instead of reasonable? Have we dismissed their emotions, outbursts, and/or concerns because we write them off as being ridiculous? There is a strong possibility that the challenges that present themselves in a breakup have been there during the entire relationship . . . and I’m pretty sure that we have were involved.
Let’s assess our culpability and the beliefs and behaviors we brought to the relationship instead of writing it off by fitting it into an ugly category. And if the relationship is already complete, consider working to repair. If not the relationship, perhaps the person.
There are real humans behind those painful relationships. If we can’t love them up close, let’s love them from afar. Just please help them feel loved. We all want it, and we all deserve it.
And check out Candy’s response to the conversation we initially had about abuse. She dedicated a podcast episode to it. You may agree with her. I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can post them here or shoot me an email at Frank@FrankLove.com.
Frank Love coaches individuals who are in (or wish to be in) a relationship on ways to be more loving. He is also the author of “Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway)” and “25 Ways to Be Loving.” To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.