What Did Your Abusive Partner Expect?

by Annie Kaszina on July 24, 2012

Verbal communication is great, isn’t it?  Words may, or may not, mean just what they say.  They can be a tool for clarity and communication…  Or not.  Like the splendid: “We need to talk”, used religiously in soap operas – by women – to herald searingly honest communication…  Except that it’s not about talking, it’s about one partner telling the other what a problem they are, in some way.  And the unspoken, golden rule, for men, is this: the moment you hear those words, run for the hills, very, very fast.  

You see, most of us nice, generous, caring, abused women read words from our own vantage point.  As we see the world, so do we read the words people say.  Expecially when we’re relationship hunting.  

So, it’s not surprising if there’s a gulf between what we’re told, and what we actually hear.  It shouldn’t be surprising, either, when we fall into the gulf we didn’t even know was there.  

When I met my future wasband, he was running scared.  That wasn’t how he presented, of course.  He was an Aussie abroad, and he made a point of being the brashest of the brash.  (He was really rather an atypical Australian: he was short, dark, and uptight. With the benefit of hindsight, the words “Napoleon complex” come to mind, and “Jack Russell”.  He saw himself as a sophisticated cosmopolitan.  I bought into that vision.  In fact, he was domineering and snappy.) 

When I met him he was on borrowed time.  He knew he didn’t have long before his saintly mother arrived from Australia to spend a few months taking care of her poor, wandering boy.  To listen to him, his mother outshone Mother Teresa.  In reality, she could have spawned Dracula; as vampires go, she was, undoubtedly, world class.  That’s why he was so terrified of his mom’s arrival: he knew he’d never survive the tsunami of ‘motherly love’, on his own.

So, what was he looking for? 

I was going to say Rescue, but that wasn’t quite true.  He was looking for a Human Shield – and I duly stepped up to the plate!  Other abusive men look for other things, including: Magic- Wand-Wielding-Fairy, Good Mommy, Maria (as in “The Sound of Music”), Low Maintenance Arm Candy, Whipping Girl, and so on.  It all depends on their circumstances.   

I registered Napoleon’s terror – at some level, we do register this stuff, don’t we? – but I didn’t make sense of it. 

A few months into the relationship, I phoned him to tell him about the scholarship I’d just been offered.  Was I excited!  It was the first real proof I ever remember that someone thought I was more than good enough!!!  

There was a pause that lasted rather longer than I would have expected, and then he said: “Why can’t you just be a teacher, like my sister Sylvia.”  (He didn’t rate teachers, as that “just” implies, and he always referred to his sister as an airhead.) 

Now, was there an expectation there, do you think? 

Do you think he was setting a ceiling for my future achievement, and my role, in the relationship? 

He did explain he wanted someone who’d have time to be there for him – which was a relatively elegant way of saying: “… someone who’ll fit her own life around me.” 

Guess what I did. 

I remonstrated with him.  I tried to persuade Napoleon I was entitled to my own life etc. etc.  

And he made the right noises – after all he had a deadline, mother was coming very soon.  He didn’t mean those noises, but he made them. 

The point is, he told me what he wanted and expected… and I chose to make sense of it in my own way, in accordance with my own romantic vision of how things should be. 

I paid a huge price for that.  

You did, too. 

At some level, your abusive partner was honest with you and, like me, you chose to candy-coat that reality. 

What’s done is done.  Unfortunately, you had to go through what you’ve been through in order to learn the lesson.  

The point is, what happens now?  

Now, you have to learn how you can transform yourself into the kind of person, who doesn’t make big relationship mistakes again.

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