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.