Abuse

In between inches

Well, I had started to write the second article to Give an Inch, but as it turns out, this is an aside that became too long to finish as Give an Inch 2, thus the title In Between Inches.

In the first of these posts, Give an Inch, I referred to a second email. Rather than just posting the entire email here, which I was actually planning on doing and then subsequently breaking it down, I think I will just post parts that would be universally helpful. Not everyone’s experience is the same so rather than pulling you into my particular drama, I think it would be more helpful to identify tricky areas that you may come across and point out the erroneous thinking behind it. I can accomplish this with highlighting just a few sentences from the email.

Another thing I am aware of is that when focusing on the smaller details like this, one can lose the big picture. After completing this article and Give an Inch 2, I think I will move away from the nitty gritty and get back to the theme for awhile. Too much of this stuff and it could be easy to misconstrue this to be a blog about a disgruntled woman dealing with the drama of an ex-husband. That is not at all what this is about, so while using real-life, real-time examples can be helpful, I think that focusing on it too much can blur the big picture.

Lastly, by moving on to this second email response, I am also moving away from the concept of “giving an inch,” so before I embark on this I would like to recap.

If you have a boundary, you must decide to keep it. This starts with you. In your head. Sometimes this is the biggest battle: figuring out what your boundaries should be (chances are you did not have a habit of making personal boundaries). Next, you most likely have to convince yourself it is ok to have this boundary. Lastly, you must stick to it. None of these are more difficult than the other. They are all hard. There will be times when one seems more challenging, particularly at the beginning.

I should note that I am writing from the perspective where the relationship has ended and now I am just trying to keep my life unaffected by any drama thrown my way. No more roller-coasters. No more emotional ploys and guilt trips. No more obligations. I do realize however that you may continue to be in a boat in the middle of shark infested waters while I am on the beach. One is in a battle for their life and the other merely dealing with the irritation of sand in the swimsuit. Regardless of whether the relationship has ended and you have limited contact or you are still neck deep, you can still implement some of these tips, especially having boundaries and using consequences. I will give a great example that my counselor had given me early on.

One of my former husband’s vices was verbal abuse. Now, having been an ER nurse for nearly 19 years, I can take some pretty tough verbal upbraiding. I have been “cussed out” more times than I can count. Not nearly however as much as by him. Perhaps it was because I have dealt with it so much professionally or just that I had grown accustomed to it, but I did not put a stop to it. To be sure I did not just tolerate it. Sometimes I got angry, other times hurt, but I never did anything that effectively put an end to it.

She encouraged me to decide that he was no longer going to be verbally abusive to me and that when he was, I should calmly inform him that it was not ok for him to talk to me that way and then make hotel arrangements and take the kids to the hotel for a few nights, while making sure he did not have access to me. Upon my return if his behavior did not change she advised an equally calm response: “I see that you need more time to change your behavior. I will give you that time.” And then, pack back up and go back to the hotel.

This does not need to be nor can it be an exact strategy for everyone, but it is wise advice to be used as a guideline. You have to draw a line somewhere and then decide what the consequences will be for crossing that line and then stick with it. Just like a child will not believe you and be confused by your lack of consistency, you cannot expect a consistent change if you do not give clear boundaries and then go through with the consequences every single time.

I know of a woman who is still in her difficult circumstances and she regularly exacts consequences for her spouse’s behavior. I know one of them is not doing his laundry. She doesn’t just passive aggressively leave it in the basket until he no longer has socks to wear. She informs him that as a result of his behavior, he will have to figure out how to get clean clothes to wear for the week as she will not be washing them. Now of course this would not work if he had enough clothes to hold out a week until she did tons of make-up laundry at the end of that week. It has to be a consequence that can actually be felt by the offender and where you are not the primary sufferer of those consequences.  The key is to make the connection. You have done X, therefore here are the consequences. There has be a clear cause/effect relationship between the infraction and its subsequent repercussion.

I am tempted to talk about how this is not a biblical mandate that you do your husband’s laundry (or insert whatever other activity you engage in to address your husband’s  day to day needs). It may seem unfathomable to you that you would do such a thing as refuse to perform these tasks, but I can already see that addressing this would be way too lengthy and needs to be saved for another post.

You will be tempted to give in, let some infraction slide by, see an infraction as a “gray area,” or just choose to ignore sometimes. Though that may make your life temporarily easier because you won’t have to deal with the ensuing drama, I can promise you that giving an inch will only make your life more difficult in the long run. It never stops at an inch. Just as the mouse in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Hitler, both to whom I referred to in the last post, did not stop at the inch they were given, so will your abuser push forward and step right over that line in the sand. They do not respect boundaries.

Giving an inch is a mistake. I made that mistake. A lot in the beginning. It took many tries before I found out the hard way that anything less than firm boundaries and consequences is ineffective. You will spend hours of emotional energy fighting the same battles over and over again.

Decide what behavior is unacceptable: pornography, philandering, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, control, manipulation. I had a lot to pick from and never did get a chance to practice setting boundaries on these behaviors while still in my marriage, but if you are still there, start with one (if there is more than one as in my case) and just work on that. As you get strong in one area it will help you grow stronger in others.

As I have said before, it will feel rigid and unreasonable, but then again this is not a normal healthy relationship you are in. The rules of engagement change. Giving in will only yield ground where the next inch will then be pushed for. This is the same for post divorce as well. I will talk about that another time.

In closing, decide what behavior is unacceptable, clearly communicate it and then state and follow through with the consequences. Whatever you do, do not give an inch.

 

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2 Comments

  • Reply Helen March 13, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    Do you think boundaries and consequences would work if the abuser is violent? I don’t believe they would if the abuser is able to physically over power the abused. In all other respects I completely agree. I have witnessed woman who were abused and were given information like this. One woman who was emotionally and verbally abused was advised to stop cooking. The abused needs to find the abusers Achilles’ tendon and then apply the consequences.

    Great post!

    • Reply Rebecca March 18, 2017 at 8:16 pm

      Helen,
      You bring up a great point. In the case of violence, one should remove themselves from the situation. Trying to manage or execute consequences on a violent person would most likely invite more violence. In the case of violence…flee!

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