Save Your Best Behavior for The
One You Love
by Laura Russell, Ph.D., MFT
February 16, 2001
night, many years ago, David (my late husband) and I were fighting
about something. I don't even remember what it was. I can still
see the living room, and easily remember how full of rage and
frustration I felt.
carefully told me that he couldn't talk about this subject right
now, and walked away from me. Well, that did it! I followed him
around the house harping on him. I told him plainly how unfair
it was that he would be the person to decide what and when we
talked about things.
was so angry. This reminded me of all the unbalanced relationships
I had experienced in my life. And if we only look at this
from my point of view, well, I'd be RIGHT.
may have told me several times how unable to dialogue he was.
I didn't hear him. In my rageful state, I didn't care to hear
him. Finally, he stopped, turned around and shook me.
might be fooled into thinking that this is an article about his
abusive behavior. It is not. It is about mine.
can this be? After all, he is the one who shook me!
the wonderful world of our fantasies, all people would have grown
up loved and nourished, in safety and without abuse. At the very
least, our imagination leads us to believe that everyone but us
grew up without these problems. That, of course, is not the case.
series of articles is for us...the abused kids who grew up to
try and have normal lives. David was one of us. He deserved the
same care and concern I expected for myself. It is difficult to
balance an article like this with the reality of real abusive
relationships. What makes my story and my marriage to David NOT
an abusive relationship? I think the difference may come from
what happened next.
the time, I was so upset. Sure that I had married an abusive man;
I began to think rapidly of where I could go. I heard echoes of
all the books and talks I had heard on the topic of abuse in a
family. Instead, I went into the other room and cried.
I do not remember how much later, we talked about this. He heard
me out, all my upset and listened carefully to what I had to say.
And here is what he told me.
I walked away from you because I felt violent, he said. He continued
with a deeper understanding of how his violent childhood and early
childhood institutional living had affected him.
was struggling, he told me, to live a normal life with me. But
he didn't have many skills. Where he grew up, all arguments were
solved by the biggest, badest, and strongest individual. All confrontations
were solved with violence.
he explained that when he said, I can't talk about this right
now, that is exactly what he meant. He didn't mean what I heard
which was, I hold all the control, and decide when you get to
talk. Or, I don't care about your feelings. I'll talk to you in
my own good time. Or any of the other stories I made up in my
head in my rage.
he asked me to never, ever push him past his point of self-control
like that. And he made a commitment to let me know when he was
again able to dialogue. Then we would talk about the issues.
did. He did. And we did. For the rest of our marriage, that is
how we solved problems. Sometimes, it was me who needed time to
get clarity. Other times, it was David. Over the years, the time
it took us to calm down, think clearly and be able to talk shortened
thought deeply about what he told me. I felt ashamed that in my
selfish need to talk right now, I had violated him. I had considered
my needs, wants and wishes above his. And I had totally forgotten
that he was as hurt inside as I was.
had never, ever thought of myself as abusive. After all, I am
a NICE person! I am the victim, the fragile one. However, the
reaction I often had against my sense of self as victim led me
to behave abusively. This does not excuse David from his bad behavior.
Not one bit.
is simply that if we were ever going to be able to live together
successfully, we both would have to grow and change.
was terribly sorry I had injured him. When I looked at it, I had
injured him every bit as badly with my thoughtlessness as he had
when he shook me. We forgave each other. And it was equal. This
is the way loving people treat each other.
is the sort of behavior that many of us who were abused indulge
in. We forget that the other person is as real as we are. We know
we hurt, we are sure they don't. It is almost as if they don't
exist. In our need to stop our upset, we treat the one we love
as if they were cardboard cutouts. Our behavior is subtle, and
so it is not obvious to us that we are part of the problem.
was my final installment of the countdown to Valentine's Day for
Adults Abused As Children. I'll write more about relationships
again. But I will be writing about other topics as well.
Compliments of Laura
Russell, Ph.D., MFT
About this Contributor:
I am a Licensed Marriage
and Family Therapist in Torrance California and National Board Certified
Counselor with a Clinical Mental Health Specialization. I work most
often with the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults
and children. On a personal note, I have had CFIDS and Fibromyalgia
for the past 10 years and have much to say on coping with these
conditions. Additionally, since the hospice care and death of my
husband, I also write about grief and loss.