Wednesday, March 04, 2009

He Loves a Serially-Abused Woman


Terry,

I have been searching for advice online for men who are in relationships with women who have been in abusive relationships. I have been seeing a wonderful woman. She has always been in relationships where the guy has treated her badly, and the last serious relationship she was in was physically abusive.

She says that she cares about me very much and wants to be with me but is not ready to love again and needs to take things slow. It seems that every time we get closer, she then pulls away. I have been trying to give her all of the space she needs, and I know that the right things to do is show her that I will be here no matter what, and that I understand and respect her need for space. Sometimes I feel like it is hard for me to express my needs to her because I am nervous that she will mistake them as demands or expectations.

She is one of the nicest, most caring persons I have ever met. I want her to be able to trust again, and I know it begins when she is able to trust herself. Do you have any advice that may help make it easier to get through the rough patches?

Sincerely,
A Really Supportive Guy


Dear Supportive Guy:

Let me get this out of the way: I used to have a habit of attracting (and being attracted to) emotionally abusive and -- in one case -- physically abusive relationships. I'm not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, so please take the following for what it is: One woman's opinion.

Now, you sound like the type of man many of my readers would love to meet: Loving, kind, supportive, caring, and so on.

But you're involved with a woman who has a history of being in emotionally and physically abusive relationships. She's established a pattern. Obviously, I don't know this woman, but it's possible she's been attracted to people who hurt her.

Sounds crazy, but it's possible.

Does this mean she can't break the pattern? Of course not. I did it, but I was willing to do it. This means I sat myself down and asked myself what the payoff was in putting up with such garbage, and why I even thought I even deserved it.

I immersed myself in books like Louise Hay's You Can Heal Your Life. I learned to treat myself as a treasure yet to be discovered. The more I worked on valuing myself, the less I found myself attracted to abusive people.

And over time I stopped attracting them.

I became attracted to healthy men and happy relationships, and I attracted them. (I've been in one for many years now.)

Here's the thing, though. You can buy your friend the book (You Can Heal Your Life), but you can't make her read it. You can't make her do anything.

In the end, it will be up to her to break the pattern of attracting abusive men. You can do it for her no more than you could lose weight for her or make her stop gambling or drinking (I'm not suggesting she has these issues, but you know what I mean).

But do point her in the right direction ("You're a really wonderful and worthwhile person," you can tell her. "But I can't make you understand that. You need to make yourself understand that, or nothing's ever going to change for you").

And take care of yourself.

Be open to two possibilities: 1) That one day she'll be ready to love you fully, or 2) that she never will.

Right now, this woman is emotionally unavailable. Continue to be a good and supportive friend, but make sure you're taking time for yourself and for your other interests. Go out with your other friends. Please do not let her become your whole world until she's demonstrated that she's willing to make you hers.