A Tale of Two Relationships

when to forgive your partnerI recently heard a terrible story from the lips of a woman who endured a tragedy of the sort that changes your life forever.  The root cause of her suffering seemed to stem from the repeated decision to forgive a man too many times.  But we will come back to that story in just a minute.  This is a tale of two relationships, and I want to start with the other one.

Her name is Janice (or at least that’s what we’ll call her to preserve her privacy).  Janice is a woman I consulted with regarding relationship issues of a minor sort.  When I use the term, “minor sort” I do not mean to dismiss the emotional pain she was feeling.

I’ll put it this way: Janice was too caught up in her boyfriend’s flaws to appreciate the fantastic man he is, and the wonderful relationship she should have been enjoying with him.

There are many things that can contribute to our unhappiness.  It is my belief that one of the most common sources of unnecessary loss of happiness comes down to the mistake of wanting to be right, even if it costs us our happiness.

It is normal to crave repentance from the person that has wronged us.  You just want them to admit they were wrong and tell you they are sorry!  Is that really so much to ask?!

As you know, the problem is that people often genuinely disagree about who is in the wrong.  There are times when small arguments or missteps that hurt someone’s feelings simply cannot be resolved by everybody admitting to the truth.

That’s because sometimes the truth is that people saw the situation differently. They just don’t agree on whose fault it was that a pleasant interaction erupted into a four-hour argument.

Janice is a wonderful woman, and I like her a lot.  But Janice spends a lot more time feeling unhappy about relationship issues than is necessary.  She is one of those people that failed to learn this important life lesson: it is better to be happy than right.


Going too far

On the other hand, forgiveness can be taken too far.  The woman I spoke of earlier broke my heart as she relayed the sad experiences that unfolded several years before I met her.  I have changed some of the details of her story to avoid personally identifying information, but here’s the gist of what happened.

Leah was with a man who physically abused her.  Looking back now, she said she believes she stayed with him partly because she loved him and partly because she did not realize how abnormal the situation was.  In her words, “I was so young and I just thought that was normal.”

On top of that, he was the father of her two young children, one just a toddler when the terrible events unfolded.

Getting by on sales commissions alone was hard enough, but when news stories began playing on local television stations regarding the death of her toddler, her employers showed her the door.  Shortly after that she was arrested, allegedly for contributing to the abuse of a child.

The father’s anger problems apparently reached beyond his interactions with Leah.  When Leah was not even home, a fit of rage led to the death of their young son.  After a lengthy trial, the father was imprisoned, and so was Leah.

Why was Leah imprisoned you ask?  Because it turns out she had filed several police reports regarding her husband’s domestic abuse toward her.  Yet she had stayed with the man, and the courts felt this was proof that she was participating in endangering her child by not leaving a man known to be physically abusive with anger management problems.

In other words, she forgave too much.  The court’s ruling made clear the belief that she should have taken her children and abandoned that man in search of safety for her children.  Because she didn’t, she lost her job, her son, custody of her daughter, and her freedom for the time she spent imprisoned.

I share these two tales to sharpen your perception.  I want you to clearly see the path that leads to the greatest happiness.  Stories help us to learn of the perils and pitfalls others have encountered and avoid those same pitfalls.

when to forgive your partnerHappiness will be found when you can clearly see the path of balance.  Don’t give up your happiness in pursuit of getting your man to admit he is wrong.  On the other hand, if you find yourself in a toxic relationship, take decisive and immediate action to extricate yourself from that relationship.

What do you think?  Did the courts go too far this time in pursuit of justice for the child?   Should the mother have been sentenced for endangering a child by staying with a violent man?  Share your comments below so others can benefit from your perspective.

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46 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Relationships

  1. Petra said:

    I feel like adding a comment just beacuse victims can be so missunderstood. It’s easy to pass judgement observing the relationship as a bystander. But… you know, people kind of grow together within the relationship. He (or she) is not usually violent the first time you meet him. If he would’ve beaten you at day one, you would have known something’s terrible wrong. Instead it starts with little things like abusive comment, a fearsome silence, some yelling, a little push… and it becomes more severe with time. Each taking away a bit of your self confidence. At that point you probabily still love him and want to forgive him believing that together you’ll be able to overcome just about anything. Than you wake up one day looking back at you life and you realize that your healthy boundaries were crossed a long long time ago. On top of that you than have to face your own shame and guilt for allowing this things happening to you (and you children) making it hard to admitt to your self and the people arround you are the victim of abusive relationship. And there’s still the everlasting fear of what he might do next.
    Just saying… to stand up against abusive partner is not easy at all. And I bow to anyone who shows the courage to do so.

  2. hope said:

    Hello, dear ones,

    As a child, I often have been abused (they used to beet me) by my parents, but primarelly, by my brother, and later violated (by other men). Point. That happened because I was used to be abused, and I was supposed not to oppose any resistance at all, to nothing bad that could happen to me. I took a “long vacation” between 4 walls, under lock, no contacts, no friends, no phone, no psychiatry, no police complain (it was a shame for the family, even it was not at all my fault).
    Just me and my thoughts. Almost getting crazy. 3 years.
    I was so strong, that strong, that I recovered myself (sort of), by escaping from home, and… I begun a wonderful life, in a top industry (very high than my family level), was very proud, but… never could trust men, people in general.
    I stood 7 years with a man that used me, because he never proposed me, the relationship was going nowhere.
    The next relationship gave me reaches, but, no marriage because “he wouldn’t split his possessions”, no kids etc. But proffesionaly I grew skyrocket, incredible, I was too much for him. I was his pride and joy. But I was not gratified for that. Shortly, he escrocated me (and never admitted – everything was in “his garden” belonged to him ~ 100K ). 16 years.
    Finally, I fell in love with the greatest guy in my life – “the one” – but he is married. So?

    But… I’ve never been beetn again. My gain.

    Now, I want my love. The only chance to live the life that would mean something, a life that worth living, but above of all, I deserve.

    So… The lesson for all women … NEVER LET ANYONE ABUSE YOU … NO WAY… good for you, good for your children, for anyone around you.

    (There are men whom are being physically “corrected” by his wives, men that stay in matrimony for the sake of their children).

    Be brave, my dears, God bless you all!

  3. Lily said:

    For God’s sake why wasn’t he locked up? If he’d done it to a complete stranger he would have been. Any violence should mean jail time automatically. It should be the one first offence where a second chance is not an option.
    Rest assured that violence in a relationship rarely is the first form of the abuse – it goes from contempt, lack of respect, gas lighting to the first physical blows. If you are afraid it’s the healthy normal reaction to danger. Trust yourself.

  4. Brandy said:

    I do think she should have been punished, only if she would have suspected her children could be in danger one day I’ve never been brainwashed by a man so I can’t put myself in her shoes. I think if you are raised in a healthy environment with a strong father figure, women would be stonger and alot more wiser in their choices.

  5. debs said:

    I personally think the courts were right…this woman obviously put heraelf and her fears before protecting her own child.
    There is a saying that there is nothing more fierce on the planet than a mother protecting her child….so where was this mothers protective instinct?
    And not only that …when she clearly knew how abusive he was then what was she doing going out and leaving the child with him….serious lack of concern!!!
    I see people saying what were the authorities doing to help her….well you can only help someone who wants to be helped…she likely covered for him.
    All the times she rang the police then sge could have pressed on with the charges knowing that the law would have convicted him and child services would have kept him well away and her child and herself would have been free but for them to not prosecute him after she made reports then she must have dropped the charges or covered for him…how selfish can u get?

  6. Mary said:

    I was a trophy wife with 3 beautiful children. My husband drank on weekends when he came home after truck driving all week.I was verbally and physically abused . I left many times but came back when he promised to CHANGE. i felt trapped because i had no means of supporting my children.He was not mean to my children ,but they witnessed the violence. When the police rescued us and brought us to a neighbor,he said by law he could not take us any further.It was very difficult because my daughter was rebellious and ran away I got a job as a telephone operator but as hard as i tried he had men call me to frighten me. He had a hit man hired to murder me but did not follow through. I feared him till he died of heart failure. I looked at him in the casket and thought YOU CANT HURT ME ANY MORE

  7. VN said:

    As a P.S. to the above post about Rhonda and Billy…..
    We are always quick to say the abusive man was abused himself and that’s why he is the way he is. And I know that is in fact often the case. But not always. Billy’s brother was my uncle, having married my mother’s sister. My uncle was very much a part of my life from the day I was born. And he still is. And you couldn’t ask for a gentler, more mild-mannered, kind, peace-loving man. He’s never drank and I’ve never heard him raise his voice. His wife – and grown children – love him dearly. Billy and my uncle were raised in the same home by the same mother and father. Was one abused and one not? I definitely don’t think so. If anything, Billy was the good-looking, charismatic one (then). I think Billy just had his own demons, his own issues, his own personality flaws (jealousy, possessiveness, anger) which he made no effort to overcome or correct. And he chose to mix all that up with lots of alcohol, which some men can drink and become roly poly teddy bears, while others become…. BEARS.

  8. VN said:

    I will tell you the very true story of a sweet, soft-spoken, beautiful woman – my cousins’ aunt, who I will call Rhonda, to protect her children from embarrassment. My cousins were my cousins because our mothers were sisters. Rhonda was THEIR aunt on their father’s side of the family, therefore she wasn’t my aunt. But we were all very close and I loved her like an aunt, and I was very close to her and to her children, as well as to my own cousins. Her husband Billy drank too much – WAY too much, way too often – and became abusive when he drank. He was a very angry, jealous, possessive man, always afraid some other man would win his beautiful wife’s heart. For reasons I could never understand, she loved the jerk, and would have never dreamed of being unfaithful. She was a very moral, committed woman. Billy made his wife’s (and children’s) life a living hell because of his extreme jealousy. She wasn’t allowed to do ANYTHING. He was always checking up on her, following her, accusing her. She tolerated it quietly. But when his anger became more and more explosive as he drank more and more, she was afraid for her life – and her children’s safety. He told her repeatedly that if she ever left him, he would find her and kill her, that if he couldn’t have her, NOBODY would have her. Those closest to her, who had seen the bruises and marks, and who worried about hers and her children’s safety, begged her to leave him. For years she refused. But the time came when it became intolerable and and she was convinced she had to get away from him. She went to the police and begged for help. She told them she had to take the children and leave him, but she knew he would kill her if he found her. The police said they were very sorry, but there was nothing they could do since he hadn’t committed or been convicted of any crime. They said all they could do was get an order telling him he could not come near her.
    (A lot of good that piece of paper does with an insanely jealous, angry man.)
    Rhonda got an apartment and was careful not to let Billy find out where she and the children were. But she lived in constant fear – just as she had been doing for years. Although she didn’t see him, he obviously found her and followed her to where she was living. One morning on her way to work, his car pulled up BESIDE hers on a two-lane, rather deserted, road that she had to travel to get to work. He was driving like a maniac and kept trying to force her off the road. He finally succeeded in pushing her off the road (in front of a cemetery ironically) and pulled his car partially in front of hers so she couldn’t take off again. He jumped out of the car before she could back up and go around him, shot her in the face several times, killing her. He jumped back in his car and sped off, then called his brother (my uncle through marriage), and told him what he had just done. He then shot and killed himself rather than go to prison.
    We tell these poor women, “Leave him, get out, move away, don’t be a fool by staying”. But if we haven’t lived in their situation, we have no concept of the FEAR they are subjected to if they DO leave him. We say, “If you have no money (and believe me, men like this make SURE their wife has no money, no matter how many jobs she might work), just go stay with a friend or relative. But she knew if she moved in with friends or relatives, he would find her and THEY would have been subjected to his wrath as well. Which friend or relative should she put in that dangerous position?

    So this dear sweet lady did what everyone told her she HAD to do – she left him. But for the safety of her friends and relatives, she had to go it alone. But sadly, she was right. He DID find her. And he DID kill her. Their three school-aged children became orphans in less than an hour’s time. Am I saying she should have stayed with the jerk? No. Of course not. I am simply saying that leaving isn’t as easy for them as we think it is. Restraining orders don’t do a bit of good when you’re dealing with that kind of man. What would YOU say she should have done????????????? What would YOU have done, if you had been in her position?

  9. ChristineL said:

    Thank you for sharing this, I find this really interesting and I very much agree with the essence of the story. However I find it very difficult to find the right balance – i.e. How do I know if things are fine and I’m exaggerating or if he’s actually mistreating me? Your examples are very extreme. Obviously, Leah should have left her abusive partner. But where does abuse start? I’ve just come out of a 5-year relationship with a guy that wasn’t good for me. He was never ready to commit, I could tell that he felt he was missing out on other women (which he only confirmed after the breakup), he made me feel like I wasn’t good enough in many aspects… Overall, he was really detrimental to my confidence and I feel much better without him. They were just little things, hurtful comments here and there, disrespectful and disloyal demeanour towards me, sometimes even in front of other people… On the other hand, he was and is a genuinely good-hearted and loving person and this other side of him just didn’t make sense. When I confronted him about these things, he said that he didn’t mean any of it, he didn’t know why he sometimes acted like this and it felt honest and real. When we had this type of conversation, he would cry and apologise and promise me heaven on earth just to turn around a few weeks later and revert to becoming a mean, selfish commitment phobic. Now that we’ve been separated and I have completely cut contact I cannot believe that I actually stayed with him all this time (plus I really think he has some kind of personality disorder) but while I was in the thick of it, when we had arguments he somehow managed to convince me that I was exaggerating and made me feel ridiculous and unreasonable on top of everything. Now I’m scared to start a relationship again. I don’t trust my gut feel anymore and I would rather be single all my life than go through such a hurtful experience again. So how can I tell if a relationship is toxic?

    • James Bauer said:

      That’s a good question, and an important point you raise. Human judgment does not work very well outside the context of comparison.

      In other words, if I asked if something was big, you would need to compar it to something else before you would know whether it was big or small. If I ask you if someone is beautiful, it’s much easier to answer that question if you have several other people to compare.

      It can be the same way when you’re trying to figure out whether negative experiences are really out of the norm. The best solution is to ask someone who has a lot of comparison points to use. A licensed counselor is a good example, especially one who has experience dealing with domestic abuse issues.

      But sometimes you can also get a better perspective simply by asking friends to give you their perception on whether or not certain behaviors seem better or worse than the kinds of things they deal with in their relationships. That is another way of gaining points of comparison to help you know whether you are in a situation that is difficult versus toxic.

  10. AK said:

    Psychological abuse is such a thing that so hard to spot, let alone to prove… I lived it… and i did not even know what was going on i thought it was normal at some point… till my fiend who spent a few days at our house started telling me what she saw… i did not see it.. all i said “you just don’t know him”… well the moment i found myself crying on the floor wanting to “check out” and understanding i would never be able to do so because i already had 4 kids… i had to find a different solution..
    psychological abuse victims are real and system can’t really do much about them as of yet… we as human people have to start paying attention to those who are around us and be mindful ans aware of ourselves as well … i think that is the way to start solving such things. by speaking up…
    Thank you James for your articles and knowledge!

    • James Bauer said:

      Prevention of intimate partner violence has two levels.
      1) Understand the behaviors that normalize IPV:
      • Sexism/rigid gender roles
      • Male & female gender stereotypes
      • Victim blaming
      • Normalizing violence
      2) Use specific strategies for intervention when these behaviors are occurring:
      • Create a distraction
      • Verbally support a targeted person (whether present or not)
      • Change the perspective (e.g., Instead of asking why someone would stay with a violent partner, ask why a partner thinks it’s okay to harm a loved one.)
      • Direct confrontation (using assertive communication)
      • Naming or acknowledging the offense (e.g., “I feel like that’s blaming the victim.”)
      • Make it personal (e.g., “Dude, you have a sister.”)

      These were comments by psychologist, Aarika V. White, PhD, HSPP who posted them on a psychological bulletin called PsychBytes.

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