Janis Ian sings a sorrow-filled, haunting song called From Me to You where she says:
I’m leaving by night
I’m leaving alone
I’m leaving it lie
When you waken I’ll be gone
I would not beg for me
As I would not beg for you
Though I’d like to be the one to see you through
It’s that last line that echoed in my head after I left my abuser. It’s one of the reasons we stay or are drawn back into unhealthy relationships. We’d like to be the one to see him through his inner struggle.
Many of us saw the vulnerable, pain-filled spirit inside our partners. We felt compassion. We spent 10, 20, maybe 45 years trying to heal his pain. We felt guilty that we were not successful. We didn’t want to give up on him. Couldn’t imagine anything worse then giving up on someone. He’d told us stories of how family and previous lovers had let him down. We wanted to be the one that stood by him, put our arms around him and assured him that everything would be okay. We wanted to save him, thinking that if we could do that, it would prove that we were worthy. (but that’s another blog)
It didn’t seem like an insurmountable task. He wanted to be treated with respect. We could do that. He wanted devotion, an eager sexual partner, children and a stable home. We could do that. After all, we wanted the same for ourselves. The answer seemed simple. All we had to do was love him unconditionally. Give him time to see that we were trustworthy, weren’t going to take advantage of him.
The problem was he wasn’t willing and saw no need to reciprocate.
Stephen Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” talks about Emotional Bank Accounts (EBA) between people. Kind words and actions fill the other’s EBA, harsh words empty it. If you have a friend who is always late for your lunch dates, you think, “She doesn’t value our relationship.” and you feel hurt and angry. If you have a friend who is never late, but this one time she is, instead of being angry you are apt to be worried. She’s made enough deposits into your EBA that one mishap doesn’t drain it.
In a relationship where one person is doing all the giving and yielding to the other and rarely, if ever, receiving it isn’t long before their EBA is empty. Abuser’s don’t recognize others’ feelings. They don’t get it. According to our logic, if our partner treats us with love and respect, we would return the love a hundred fold, giving him the devotion he craves. We’d knock ourselves out to meet his needs and express our love in a million small and grand ways. We’d be that enthusiastic lover he talks about.
Controllers believe they get what they want because they demand it. Abusers logic tells them that if they treat us with respect they would become vulnerable. It would be giving in, becoming pussy-whipped, losing the battle between the sexes. How would that look to their friends?
My partner talked a lot in terms of the war between the sexes. The concept was foreign to me. The more I tried to prove that I wasn’t in a power struggle with him the more adamant he became. He assured me that if given a chance I’d become a controlling bitch and made it known that he, not me, would be in charge at any cost.
When our Emotional Bank Accounts run out, hopefully, we leave. An aching sadness comes with the realization that love doesn’t conquer all. It can never drive out the abuser’s need for absolute control. That is something the abuser has to relinquish on his own, then decide if he’s willing to do the work it takes to heal the pain inside him and relearn how to treat others. If the relationship isn’t important enough to him to go into treatment, there is nothing we can do. We can’t heal another. We can accompany him on his journey and be supportive, but not fix him. If it’s a journey he’s not willing to take, we have to do what’s necessary to save ourselves.
Another song was popular around the time I left, “Sunshine” by the Isley Brothers. One line became an ear-worm to keep me strong:
You can’t even run your own life,
I’ll be damned if you’ll run mine.
It took a while to understand that I didn’t have to be “the one.” All I had to do was be who I was and move on when it was time. We are all influenced and shaped by the variety of people who move in and out of our lives. No one person is our everything, and we cannot be someone else’s everything.