In any relationship, there are only every two possible operating conditions - Trust/ Love Or Power. You need to have either of these two things in a relationship for your own good. If you have neither, its best to walk away if you can. If not, the second best thing is to gather strength to fight for respect.
|Ophelia: "incapable of her own distress"|
But both these types of relationships have some sort of balance between the partners. The first is where the presence of love/ trust creates a nurturing atmosphere for both the parties. The second is where there might not be love, but at least there is give and take - some sort of equality in power, some measure of respect.
But sadly, most relationship fall into the third type - where one party enjoys disproportionate power over the other. I am talking about these relationships. It is not just about marriages, but the imbalance may manifest in any kind of relationship - bosses v/s subordinates, US v/s poorer countries, Israel v/s Palestine, child v/s elder parents, husband v/s wife etc.
What is common to all these relationships is the sheer imbalance in power - only one party can affect change either for itself or for its partner's. Not the other way round.
The parasite and the hostMay it be Israel and Palestine or a cheating husband and a manipulated wife.
In both relationship, one party is the aggressor, the trust-breaker. Often times, these are also the people who are more powerful. Israel decimates Palestinian identity and then cries hoarse when Palestinians get angry. Similarly, a cheating husband might go and cheat, and yet have the balls to blame the wife for the failing marriage. Both are power tactics whereby the victim is blamed incessantly and never allowed to fight back. All the while, the powerful continues to exhaust and consume the life of the victim completely. They won't stop until they completely devour their partner's self esteem and identity. They are like the parasitic worms - they devour the lives of their victims slowly and surely, without allowing for any red flags to be raised. The strategy for them is to make the victim feel guilty, make the victim doubt about its own actions while the aggressor himself gets a free pass to do as he pleases. If the victim is busy doubting herself, how is she going to question the other person?
So what should a Palestine or an emotionally abused wife should do in this case?
The brave ones fight back right away. And that is great. But many are not strong enough to fight back in battle where the support system turns out to be the enemy. Often, when we are weak and vulnerable, our self-preservation instinct tells us to shut down, to look the other way. Maybe there is merit in that thought too for vulnerable us. The question is - how. When does it help you and when will it turn toxic?
1: Self-preservationWhen you are weak and vulnerable and when you have neither love nor power in a relationship, you need a way out of that situation. So this is the first thing to understand, that you must find a way out.
Maybe Palestine will never be able to shake off the geographically joined to the hip abuser - Israel. Or a wife may be invested in child's future and financial status quo, so can't leave her husband. Even then, she must think of getting out of the situation, if getting out of relationship is not possible. The endgame is getting equal power and not stopping until you get the respect you deserve.
Probably, you don't have the power to fight now. Take your time. Perhaps, the initial denial and depression are the first steps in excusing yourself from the pressures of the situation and making time and space to heal.
So take your time, but you need to keep the endgame in mind. Perhaps you might need a friend to help you remember and remind you from time to time. The point is not to hope for 'things to get normal'. But the hope should be to get enough strength to 'change the things that must change'.
2: Don't identify yourself as the victimThe easiest way out for some is to blame themselves and believe that 'I deserve this, I am weak. I can't handle it. etc'. When you say things like these, you are identifying yourself as victim and relinquishing control of your life to this identity. This is obviously not good for your self esteem. Even if you are not ready now to fight, you must focus your energy in building a more assured identity for yourself. Look at your positives, your inherent strength. You deserve respect, kindness, love, support. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise.
3: Find support / OrganiseIn absence of support (friends, therapists, relatives, support groups, unions), the vulnerable has no chance of gaining the true perspective.
This is critical.
If you are a victim, and your abuser is the only source of perspective in your life, then there is no hope for change. The nature of power is such that the powerful writes the history. If we were to believe Israel, the real terrorists are Palestinians. If we are to listen to a cheating husband caught in the act, he will say that it was his right to step out because his wife had done the greater crime of questioning him. How dare she!
To keep the focus on 'healthy change' you need people around you who want your well-being. The cheating, the aggression, the abuse is an effect of an underlying cause. There has to be willingness to accept and change. But that does not mean, the cause becomes the weapon in the hands of aggressor. There has to be a sense of proportion. Is it justified for a partner to cheat if the other has been busy with work? Is it justified for Israel to illegally colonise land that is not theirs?
Instead of engaging with you honestly, the other party committed a crime. So the focus while engaging has to be in regards to their recent criminal act and how they plan to correct their behavior now. Do not let the focus waver with talks about past and future. "What is happening today and now?"
The onus is on the trust-breaker to change and show commitment through remedial acts, not mere words. If there are no acts forthcoming, that means there is no real willingness to change.
And this is where you need support groups - people who have your well-being in mind and can help you and your partner change.
4. Keep the focus on the act and the need to changeThe aggressor will shout and yell repeatedly until their fictions become truth for their victims.This is also the reason why the aggressor tries to cut out connections from the lives of his victim. Israel's humiliating embargo on Palestine or a typical partner's efforts to demonise everyone from the family of the other.
This is how even some Palestinians might feel that the rockets fired by some makes them terrorists. Ofcourse subjugation will attract reaction. And reactions to subjugation is understandable. These reactions must be seen from a compassionate perspective. People who are more powerful and yet resort to structural and actual violence, should be questioned for their actions. Not the weak and cornered ones who have nowhere to go. They are bound to react. And you won't even give space for their legitimate anger?
5. ReactReactions of the vulnerable are justified. So don't be afraid to react. They are also very helpful. How the aggressor reacts to you after his deeds are found out, says a lot about what kind of person that is and what are his/her intentions. If there is actual guilt and an intent to change, its a good sign. But even then, trust has to be earned with actual actions in direction of healthy change.
You do not have to justify yourself until the the aggressor justifies his/her acts. It is essential that you do not let the aggressor reframe the dialogue in his favour. So Israel turns the question of independence into one about Palestine's 'terrorism'. The cheating husband turns the question of his infidelity into one about his wife's shortcomings. Do not let them do that. Bring back the focus on their acts. Actions matter, nothing else does. Question the action, don't let them question your words, your reactions.
You will need people around you to help you do this - holding onto the perspective and focus on the criminal act of the aggressor. Find friends and family members who can help you in that. Do not lose focus.
6. Don't fall for 'Listen to both sides''Listening to both sides' is useful when there is an actual intent from the side of the criminal to do justice, to correct his mistakes. But what do you do when the criminal is a manipulator - who can change from convincingly remorseful in front of others to abusively aggressive in private? Manipulators can use the 'listen to both sides' tactic very well.
So the abused wife called the husband liar and husband makes it an issue of 'due respect and civility' instead of 'his infidelity'. Or Palestine registered protest at UN and Israel calls it 'internal matter'. In both instances, people around them should give support for the weaker one's voice. Don't let Israel or the abusive husband hijack the agenda when they posture as victim themselves.
Again, the only way out is to not lose focus on the act and its remedy. Not to lose focus - ask the criminal, "Are you willing to change? What are you doing to correct your mistakes?" Nothing else needs to be discussed.
7. ActSooner or later you will have to confront the reality with decisions and actions. Is the relationship improving? Do you have any leverage? Is there some amount of love or concern? Does the other party consider your well-being in its priorities?
What can you do to change the other person's behavior? How can you earn power in the relationship, if love/ trust is still not cultivated? Act accordingly.