“What Do You Love About Your Emotionally Abusive Partner?”

05 Dec 2016

“What do you love about him?”

What do you love about him?  is a favorite question of mine  What is it that emotionally abused women love about the abusive partner who has worked so hard to make them feel miserable, broken and worthless. 

There is little point, you see, in asking emotionally abused women why they love their partner. Doing so will only lead them into a kind of emotional Bermuda Triangle where they will rapidly lose themselves. The standard reply is, “I don’t know. I just do.” as if that explained everything.

“I don’t know. I just do.” is their Get Out of Jail Free card.  You can’t blame someone for who they love, after all.   Besides, those words serve to reassure the person who speaks them, being shorthand for, “You see, I’m just a tender-hearted woman.  I know he’s done me wrong, but I don’t hold that against him. I see the good in him. I have an almost infinite capacity for forgiveness. It’s one of the things that are special about me. One day, he will see it (and then I will finally believe it).”

How admirable is that?

Or, at least, how admirable would that be, were it not for the dark cloud of despair and worthlessness that hides behind those words.

Sadly, there lies a massive gulf between  what a victim of emotional abuse would have us – and herself – believe, and the reality.  To understand the reality, we need look no further than the abused woman’s job description, as described below.

The abused woman’s job description

Emotionally abused women are a remarkably forgiving breed. Nobody can deny that.  It goes with the territory.

If someone were to write the emotionally abused woman’s job description, it would go something like this:

  • Must have a SERIOUS people-pleasing habit.
  • Must be willing to forgive endless hurts and humiliations.
  • Must be very low maintenance.
  • Must be easily intimidated.
  • Must have little, or no, idea of her own worth.
  • Must be willing to put up with shedloads of c**p.
  • Must be a hopium addict.
  • Must believe, against all odds, in the power of the “L” word, not just to move mountains but to soften hearts of granite, also.

Even when they know they can no longer be with their abuser, most emotionally abused women will tell you:

“I still love him.” 

That’s the point at which I usually ask,

What do you love about him?”

What do you love about him? is not an unreasonable question. These women admitted to themselves that they simply cannot be with their emotionally abusive partner, because everything they have done has been thrown back in their face a gazillion times. Yet, for all that, emotionally, they still have not washed their hands of the Terminally Tiresome one.

Reasons for loving an emotionally abusive partner

What actually happens when I ask emotionally abused women, what do you love about him, is a two-stage thing.  First, there tends to be a pause, as if the question surprises them.  Then they cast about for answers, which include:

  • “I love the life I thought we could have together.”
  • “I love that he has so much potential” (This translates, roughly, as “I know he acts like a scumbag, but I love the person I thought he could be…”)
  • “I love the dream of happiness he held out for me at the start of the relationship.”
  • “I loved the financial security he offered.”

Now, you may have another, specific reason for loving your emotionally abusive partner: the specifics vary from one woman to the next.  One client of mine loved that her partner was a wonderful networker – because she wasn’t.  I loved that the wasband could dominate a room with his presence – I couldn’t.  (I had an ”Invisibility issue”.  I could probably have done cartwheels round the room, stripped off to my birthday suit, and caterwauled “God Save the Queen” without anyone noticing.  At least, that was how it felt to me.)  Other women, still, love their emotional abuser for how physically attractive he is, if they feel unattractive. Or else, they may love him for how well he behaves outside the home – even if he is a complete and utter jerk once inside it.

The bottom line is that our ‘love’ for an emotionally abusive partner falls into one or more of the following categories:

1)    He represents the promise of a life, or the fulfillment of a dream, you long for – but dare not reach out and realize for yourself

2)    His perceived qualities and strengths are meant to compensate for your perceived inadequacies. (In other words, being with him is meant to solve your self-worth issues.)

3)   There’s something you need to run away from, but you just don’t feel able to do that by yourself

4)     He appears to tick enough boxes at a time when you are anxious about your failure to achieve the next important life stage.

You can probably think of other things too, but I’m guessing that they would ultimately fall into one of those categories.

What would you like to love about a partner?

Now, let me ask you another question:

What would you like to love about a partner?” 

Would you like to love him because…?

  1. He makes you feel loved and cherished 24/7.
  2. He is unfailingly sweet-natured and kind.
  3. You know you can trust him 100%, because he is 100% loyal.
  4. Your best interests are always uppermost in his mind.
  5. He always sees you in the best possible light.
  6. He is respectful of you, and what matters to you.
  7. He always treats you as his equal.
  8. He has a great sense of humor, laughs at your jokes, and can poke fun at himself.
  9. He encourages you to be the best you possibly can be and to follow your dreams.
  10. He’s always easy and fun to be around.
  11. He’s always generous and thoughtful.
  12. He’s socially graceful and an asset to you in every way.
  13. He goes out of his way to help and support you – without ever treating you to a monologue about what a wonderful man he is.

How likely is it that you will ever be able to love an emotional abuser for those thirteen points? If – when – you find someone sweet-natured and kind etc.etc. do you think you might be able to love that person differently – that is wholeheartedly – in a way you cannot even begin to imagine when you are faced with Mr Nasty?

Learning to love the most important person in your life

It’s okay to love an emotional abuser, if that’s what you want to do.  But I don’t think that’s what it’s really about for most emotionally abused women.  They ‘love’ someone who can treat them so badly, because they don’t know how to love themselves.  Plus, they don’t really believe that they deserve better.

I understand that learning to love yourself is not necessarily something that’s going to happen overnight.  But it is something anyone can learn how to do – and it doesn’t have to be half as difficult as it is cracked up to be. This week, I had a lovely conversation with a client who could not stop smiling. She had had a great week. In fact, she had gone in a few short months from feeling broken and alone, to feeling talented, rich in possibilities, and surrounded by caring friends and well-wishers.

Does she, actually, love herself? I believe that she is truly starting to. But it is not something we talk much about, for a good reason.  Mostly, when people bring up the topic of “loving themselves”, they get a very earnest look on their face, that “I’ll try my hardest, no matter what” look. They will try to love themselves. But they do it the hard way – in a void – without first accepting or forgiving themselves.

My client and I both take a lot of pleasure in the accepting and forgiving piece. I love walking her through it. She loves internalizing it (and feeling the heavy weight of not accepting and forgiving herself) fall from shoulders. She sees herself, in a manner of speaking, as a work in progress – and she is LOVING that progress. She does not have to do battle with the bad, unlovable feelings,. She can just allow the good feelings about herself to percolate into areas of her life where no good feelings had ever percolated before. That is more than good enough for now.

Besides, it’s a delightfully non-threatening way to work on her long-term future.  You see, when you commit to loving yourself in a healthy way, it opens up the possibility of finding a partner who will love you as you deserve to be loved.  That way, you won’t ever again have to struggle  to answer the question:

“What do you love about him?”



Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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