Unfortunate Debate

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mr. A and I know this couple whose relationship is, on many accounts, completely toxic.

For the last 15 years, person B has been verbally abusive, manipulative, controlling, and disrespectful to person C on an almost daily basis.

Person C tries as hard as they can to let person B's tantrums go, but sometimes person C fights back.

This weekend, one of their fights became physical.

No one is seriously injured, and they have already done what they always do: go their separate ways for a few hours and then return home and pretend nothing ever happened. (GRRR!!)

So here is what Mr. A and I agree upon: Arguments should never be physical. If you feel yourself getting to that point, you need to just leave the area.

But here is our debate: After years of verbal abuse, is it understandable, if person C just couldn't take it anymore, and in a moment of desperation, person C lashed out physically?

I am not a huge victim sympathizer (e.g., don't whine to me if you get mugged in an alley at 230am all by yourself- you shouldn't have been there in that situation!), and so I will admit that it is beyond reason that person C has remained in this relationship. They shouldn't stay in a verbally abusive environment and then complain about it. But I suspect that person C thinks that staying is the "right" thing to do (for better or worse, right?), so that is why they stay.

I grew up in a manipulative, occasionally verbally abusive environment, and there were plenty of times that I wanted to slam the perpetrator's head into a wall. I get how awful it is to live like that.

Mr. A says that there is no excuse for violence in a relationship. He is a believer in "sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me". Hypothetically I agree with him, but when you get blasted every day, you get very worn down. He says that doesn't matter- walk you butt out the door before you let it get under your skin.

Of course, neither person B or C is blameless. Person B should learn to control their mouth, and person C should learn to walk away. One person I was telling this story to said, where is person C going to go? I don't care where they go, but if they keep this behavior up, they're going to be going to jail (if the fights continue to be physical and someone calls the authorities)!! I don't know all the legal stuff, but I'm pretty sure that if they get reported, the powers that be aren't going to care about verbal abuse, just who threw the punch?

Bottom line, person C should have left before person B's words made their blood boil. But I can understand why person C lost it. It's a very sad situation.

What do you think?


Coco said...

Here's my novel. :) I'm going to bet that there's a lot going on behind the scenes that we don't know about...of course, there always is... but in this case it's that hidden information that I'd need to make a judgement call. I mean, if there's abuse *of any kind* then there are always other issues. Drug/alcohol addiction, affairs, pornography, etc. Those types of hidden behaviors would make this story a whole lot more clear, as to why each of them acts the way they do.

I grew up around a lot of abuse. I stayed in relationships that were abusive. It's very difficult to explain to someone why you can't just leave. Partially fear. Partially love. Largely, you just don't know any difference... this is just how "love" is. It's all you've ever known. I only broke the cycle because I decided I'd rather be alone, forever, than live like that anymore. So I went to years of counseling and stayed far away from boys...mostly. LOL. And now I'm married happily to a very good man.

I do believe that violence is never the way. You're only feeding the fire and giving in. At that point, why are you staying in the relationship? You can't be "trying to fix it" if you've decided that it's bad enough to get violent. Although, if I were super angry and literally backed into a corner, with some a-hole yelling into my face, and I couldn't get out and away. I might push and shove and scream, which could potentially make it physical. Hmmm. I guess I don't know who I would "blame" in this situation wihtout a lot more detail. BUT I can say that they should probably get away from each other and work on themselves. Stay out of all relationships for a while, or they'll only repeat behaviors. Go and get some intensive therapy! :)

Baby Hopes said...

I agree with Coco. Personally, I don't think physical violence is ever justified. It can very quickly spin out of control and at times, those driven by anger and/or adrenaline don't know their own strength. What begins as a shove or an accidental swipe can very quickly progress into full blown beatings as repressed anger rages out of control. That's how domestic violence spins out of control and spouses/significant others end up horribly injured... and the other ends up in jail for years. There's no certain way to predict when it will spin out of control, so any crossing of the line is absolutely dangerous and inexcusable.

The other side of it is this. It is also extremely damaging to be in a relationship that is verbally and emotionally abusive. I don't agree that "words will never hurt me." When used as weapons, words can wreak a lot of damage. Physical responses are still not justified in the face of horrible mental and emotional abuse... but the mental and emotional abuse is also not justified in the first place.

As Coco has said, there is undoubtedly a lot more going on behind the scenes than you see or know about. Even when this happens in relationships of close friends and loved ones of ours, there are always still secrets... always still important things that are left out of conversations. This is even the case if you've lived under the same roof with one or both for a period of time or even years. Even with parents... yes, we know a lot about them and how they interact. But we don't know every aspect of their relationship and what goes on behind closed bedroom doors or closet conversations... or what went on before we were there. Often, it's the core of the toxicity that is best hidden.

So it's really hard, if not impossible, to assign "blame" from the outside... no matter how well you know and love one or both of the individuals in the relationship. They need help and counseling, individually and, if they intend to stay together, as a couple. From the outside, the best that can be done, I've found, is to offer love and gentle support for seeking help.

Thankful said...

This seems like a really sad situation regardless. Hopefully there will be a positive resolution.

the misfit said...

Maybe person C (that's the puncher, right?) knows that person B is rotten, unpleasant, mean, unfair, etc., but hasn't come to grips with the fact that person B is actually pathological. I think that's the tipping point for a lot of people - between just thinking that the spouse is a lousy spouse, but if C is patient and ignores it, then it will blow over, and understanding that it is never OK for C even to accept behavior like that, because even by treating it as normal, C (the ostensibly innocent party) is harming the marriage. Part of creating a healthy environment is drawing the line in the right places, and if C usually has more self-control, C has to do the line-drawing. Anyway, I have little standing to speak as I'm screwed up and so are my husband and our marriage, and I do a poor job taking even the best of my own advice, BUT...maybe C should start some kind of counseling. Sounds like s/he would be the easier party to persuade. The counselor can be an outside voice of reason, to help C realize how much more the zone of unacceptable behavior covers than C probably realizes (you can get used to a lot of things). C may be able to modify B's behavior by setting firm rules and sticking by them. Or, B may decide that B is unwilling to put in any effort and would like to continue to behave badly. In that case, the counselor might help C understand that s/he needs to leave the relationship. (That can always be temporary, or conditional - even if you divorce, you can re-marry civilly if the other person makes the necessary changes.)

So, I would say getting a wise and neutral third party involved would be a good first step, if you can persuade C to do it.

But yes, I agree, physical violence is Not Acceptable.

AL said...

such a sad situation. You're right, neither person is in the clear here, but I agree w your hubby that never, ever should things get physical. Adults should always realize they are getting to that point and leave the area. I do fault person C, I get why they felt that way, but should never, ever act on it. Hope the situation gets resolved but it really seems like a separation is in order until some serious changes are made by both parties.