In his book Friedman’s Fables, Edwin H. Friedman tells the story of a young man who had worked hard to learn and grow so that he could use his gifts and do something in the world. Finally the window of opportunity opens. Excited about his future, the young man headed for town.
As he began to cross the bridge that led to the center of the city, he noticed a man coming toward him uncoiling a rope from around his waist. The man stopped in front of the young man and asked him if he would hold the end of the rope for a moment. Surprised by this incident and being a kind person, the young man took the end of the rope. The man gave a stern directive to hold tight with both hands then he promptly jumped over the side of the bridge. He was suspended above the rushing river.
The young man, not being strong enough to pull the man up, held tight and braced himself against the edge of the bridge so the jumper wouldn’t fall to his death. He called to the jumper to climb up the rope. But the man reminded the young man that he had promised to hold on and was now in change of the jumper life. The young man suggested other ways the jumper could help save his own life but his pleas were ignored.
When I read this story, I saw this as a perfect metaphor for abusive relationships. They arrest our life, dreams, hopes and passions. We become totally responsible for taking care of another’s needs. And like the jumper, abusers don’t care that the person holding the rope is forced to give up his or her life. The abuser is not willing to make any changes, preferring the status quo.
Understanding that the jumper refuses to help himself, the young man relinquishes the responsibility for the outcome to the jumper. He clearly states that if the jumper doesn’t climb up the rope, he will let go. Like our abusers, the jumper tried all his old ticks to force the young man to hang on. We were told:
- I can’t live without you
- I’m sorry/I will change
- You said you loved me
- I’ll kill myself and/or you
- I’ll take the children away from you
- You are too stupid and inept to survive without me
- No one else would ever want you
These are only a few of the physical and emotional threats.
Because we have been conditioned to believe that we are responsible for our partner’s well being, we do a number on ourselves thinking:
- If I had been a better partner this wouldn’t be happening
- I made my bed, now I have to lay in it
- I promised to stay
- He’s in pain, I have to help him/fix him
- I can’t make it on my own
Along with many other derogatory messages that have been embedded in our psyche.
If you haven’t already, it is time to give the responsibility for you partner’s life back to your partner. Let go of the guilt, feelings of responsibility and sympathy. Let go of the rope.