Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Love: What it is, and when to know if it isn't

Having posted recently on how tumultuous my relationship with  my mother was (while we still had one; it’s been several months since we’ve spoken), I’d like to discuss abusive relationships in general.
From the Reach Out website, these are the signs of an abusive relationship:
  • Checking on you all the time to see where you are, what you're doing and who you're with.
  • Trying to control where you can go and who they can see (this includes telling you they don't like/trust/are jealous of your friends for whatever reason; making feel you bad about hanging out with your friends/family)
  • Accusing you without good reason of being unfaithful or flirting.
  • Isolating you from family and friends, often by rude behaviour.
Put downs
  • Putting you down, either publicly or privately by attacking how smart you are, your looks or capabilities.
  • Constantly comparing you unfavourably with others.
  • Blaming you for all the problems in the relationship and for their own behaviour toward you ("I only got mad because you kept perving at that other girl/guy!" - especially if you weren't actually perving)
Menace + threats
  • Yelling, sulking and deliberately breaking things that you value.
  • Threatening to use violence against you, your family, friends or even a pet.
  • Saying things like 'no one else will want you'.
The key thing is that these behaviours are not present all the time. Generally speaking, in an abusive relationship, if it is good then it is very very good. There is joy and laughter, gifts, surprise dates in new places, strawberries covered in chocolate; the kind of stuff movies are made of. The other person is sweet and gentle and warm. When it is good, it can seem absolutely perfect. It seems like the most loving relationship in the world.

This can often cloud the bad things. 

"But he loves me... He just got angry because I was tactless and that's why he shouted and said nasty things. I'll just be more careful about how I say things next time."

"She loves me - I know she does because she's so wonderful all the time. She just gets frustrated when I do things wrong. She doesn't mean it when she puts me down, and she always apologises afterward..."

"She's just insecure because she's had a hard past. She's jealous of my friends now, but she'll get better when she realises that I do really love her and that she doesn't need to be jealous. Then she'll stop being angry when I want  a night out with 'the boys'. "

"He's just trying to look after me. He doesn't want me being felt up by strangers in a crowd, and that's fair enough I guess. Maybe I shouldn't go to that concert after all..."
I’d like to say this very clearly: If you are being treated in such a shameful way and it never changes; if the other person shows no sign of being willing to alter themselves and take steps to make themselves better as well (because it's always a two-person job), it is not love. To quote the above website:
When you are in a healthy relationship, both individuals support each other, sharing the good times and helping each other through the tough ones.  When someone matters deeply to you, and those feelings of trust and respect are returned, it enables us to face the world with confidence.
Building and maintaining a healthy relationship needs the commitment from both of sides in order to work at it. But it is worth it, because in a good relationship, you feel good about your boyfriend or girlfriend, and good about yourself.
To stay with someone if they treat you in ways that make you feel insecure and unhappy is not to stay with them out of love.
To put someone down, say horrible things to them, threaten them, and still stay with them is not staying with them out of love. 

To keep saying bad things and taking them back but not actively working to change the behaviour is not showing love.

“Love” is not just a feeling; it is a verb. Whether it is romantic love, familial love, or love for a pet, you can claim to  love all you want but if you do not consistently show it in your actions then you are not loving the person.
“Love” is a two-way street. If only one person is trying to change themselves while the other continues to lay the blame, then they are not in a loving relationship. 
“Compromise” is not one-sided. Compromise requires meeting half-way to get the best possible outcome for both parties, and sometimes there can be no compromise. If it is a difference that will affect one or more parties negatively; if it will have a negative impact on the wellbeing of either party in the long run, the relationship should end.

If you find yourself in a relationship where the characteristics above are ever on display, seek help from someone you trust. If you're not sure whether you're in one, talk to someone about it. Talk to a friend. A teacher. A family member. Your doctor. Anyone, just talk to them, as they may be able to see something you haven't. Don't be afraid that they'll judge you or that you'll look like a failure if your relationship isn't perfect or happy; appearances are a bad reason to be in a relationship anyway.

I hate the phrase “true love conquers all”. There are things love shouldn’t need to conquer. There are some things that, if it really were “true love”, wouldn’t exist to be conquered in the first place. Disney can get stuffed.

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