If we want healthy relationships:
- We have to guard against fantasies about a man’s “noble” nature that run counter to objective evidence.
- We have to avoid mistaking surliness on a man’s part for emotional depth and complexity.
Simple, right? As if relationships were ever simple…
This brings us to the crux of the matter, and perhaps the most compelling reason misguided thinking about relationships holds women in thrall.
By changing a man, we are demonstrating our power as women. The “civilizing influence” of the female gender is made manifest. Heady stuff, indeed.
By changing – or at least trying to change – a man, we get to exercise power without stepping outside the female stereotype. This is “Beauty and the Beast” with Beauty in charge.
Women may cling to a belief in their ability to change a man in the face of all reason – in the face of violence, itself. Why should that be? There must be powerful forces at work.
Here is what, I think, is going on:
- First, abuse tends to be self-replicating. Having observed (and frequently been subjected to) abuse since childhood, the victims of domestic violence are likely to view abuse as the norm. Poor self-esteem makes them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous men.
- Second, the flawed thinking which stems from abuse miscasts the failure to change a man as a woman’s failure. Women may be reluctant to concede defeat, when doing so would undermine their already fragile self-worth and deprive them of their tenuous – if illusory – sense of control.
- Third, the victims of domestic violence may not view escape from their situation as a viable option. Many victims remain in abusive relationships because the lives of their children have been threatened, if they leave. For these women, the impossibly remote chance of reforming an abusive partner may be a last forlorn shred of hope.
- And, finally, there is Stockholm Syndrome in which the victims of domestic violence identify with their abuser . Trained to disregard their own pain, victims will make excuses for the men in their lives, often turning a blind eye to the harm those men do.
Some women, it must be added, remain in abusive relationships for sincere spiritual reasons. Such reasons deserve an article all their own. Sadly, they can involve bad pastoral advice, and a misinterpretation of Scripture. (See, below.)
Are the assumptions on which we were raised so deeply woven into the fabric of our character that we have lost all capacity to examine and question them? Surely not.
There is a grain of truth to be found even in cliches. Men and women are capable of bringing out the best in one another. We can see that portrayed in another John Wayne Western, Stagecoach (1939) where the young cowhand and prostitute set off to make a new life for themselves.
But there is a memorable line in Born Yesterday (1950), a non-Western, that says it best. Fittingly enough, the line is delivered by the corrupt lawyer, Howard St. John, who raises a toast to Billie Dawn (Judy Holliday) and Paul Verrall (William Holden):
“To all the dumb chumps and all the crazy broads, past, present, and future, who thirst for knowledge and search for truth… who fight for justice and civilize each other… and make it so tough for crooks like you…AND me.”
 This series was inspired by a post titled “Three Common Beliefs that Make Abuse Innate to Our World” published 7/5/15 on Better Not Broken http://www.betternotbroken.com.
 Stockholm Syndrome is a complex psychological condition which cannot be adequately addressed in a footnote. Though it does not occur in every instance of abuse, Stockholm Syndrome is actually a survival strategy, on the part of victims. As such, it may help explain those tragic situations in which children are abandoned to their abuser by the non-offending parent.
A 4-part series on Christian Marriage and the Misuse of Scripture is scheduled to begin 9/13/15
FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com