How to support victims of domestic abuse
Not long ago, I was listening to a song by Sam Smith called “Dancing with a Stranger.” As I was singing along to the catchy tune, I noticed the words, “Look what you made me do,” a reference to the singer moving to a new relationship after a break-up. As I heard myself sing those words, I thought to myself, “Well, those are words that should never be said in a healthy adult relationship!”
The more I thought about it, the more I thought of other words that should never be said – then I threw it into the Facebook universe to see what ideas my friends might have. Turns out, they had quite a few! With permission of those who commented (you know who you are!), I’ll share some suggestions of words that have no place in healthy relationships.
“Look what you made me do” — the kick-off. In any healthy adult relationship, each party must take responsibility for their own choices and their own actions. In abusive relationships, we call these words blaming the victim.
“You always” or “You never.” Fully aware of the irony here, sentences beginning with these words are almost always problematic because they almost always are followed by criticism. They escalate conflict rather than address the issue at hand. The exception, obviously, is when those words are followed by praise. “You always bring me flowers” will likely nurture, not harm, the relationship.
“If you leave me, I’ll ...” This is emotional manipulation based in fear at its worst. The consequences that follow these words are most often destructive, such as “I’ll kill myself” or “I’ll kill you.” Threats, whether emotional or physical, have no place in healthy relationships.
“If you loved me, you would ...” This is emotional manipulation at its second worst. Love shouldn’t have to be proved – and if someone asks you to prove it, it isn’t real or healthy. Both “If you leave me, I’ll ...” and “If you loved me, you ...”are based in the need to control the partner, not in the mutuality and respect of healthy relationships.
“It is what it is” or “If you don’t like it, there’s the door.” These ultimatums eliminate the possibility of conflict resolution or compromise. Healthy relationships depend on the ability to hear another’s perspective and to consider that ours might not be the only one.
“You are just like your mother/father.” These words do have the potential to be positive: “You are just like your mother in the way you always think of others, for example. But often they are a critique that implies a generational defect in our partner. They can be a “double whammy” criticizing our partner and their parent at the same time.
By no means is this list exhaustive, and my Facebook friends had lots of good, thoughtful, and occasionally funny responses (one of my favorites was “Could you make me liver and onions for dinner?”) If we are to work toward healthy relationships with our partners, we need to stop periodically and examine the words we use to be sure they are nurturing our relationships rather than impeding or destroying them. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can absolutely hurt me – and all of us.