Admit it. You have these thoughts yourself. When you hear that your friend is going back for the 10th time to her boyfriend who treats her like last week's leftovers, you think, "She must like abuse."
Well, she doesn't like abuse, says Theresa Martinez. Martinez, who teaches in the sociology department at the University of Utah, spoke last week at a Women's Resource Center sack lunch seminar.The university's Women's Resource Center sponsors a noon-time speaker every Tuesday in its Union Building office. This topic drew an unusually large crowd.
As Martinez spoke, women kept coming in. They were black, white, old, young - well not too young actually. Most of the women in the circle looked like they'd lived long enough to know physical or emotional abuse firsthand.
"No one likes abuse," Martinez explains. "If you come from a dysfunctional family - and most people in the U.S. do - then you are used to seeing women humiliated and you'll seek out a relationship that feels familiar to you.
"You fall in need first. Then you fall in love with the person you need."
This is not good news.
Not very many of us came from wonderful homes so not very many of us will make wonderful choices of marriage partners?
There is hope, Martinez says. We can learn to hold back a little bit before we jump into marriage. We can ask ourselves some questions.
And although she was speaking to women about the men in their lives, it seems prudent for men to ask themselves these questions, too, about the women they are thinking of marrying:
- Is the man you are attracted to jealous? Jealous of other men? Jealous of your family? Of your friends?
- Is he controlling? Does he try to tell you how to spend your time? What to wear?
- Did he get involved with you quickly? Tell you he loves you within two weeks of your first date?
- Does he have unrealistic expectations? Does he say, "I'm all you need," or "You are all I need to be happy?"
- Does he try to isolate you?
- Does he blame others for his problems?
- Is he aggressive? (When he drives, in sports, etc., does he pick fights?)
- Is he cruel to animals or children? "This can't be overemphasized," says Martinez. "Anyone who would humiliate or degrade a child . . . ."
"If you are involved with a man like this," she says, "get out."
On the other hand, she says, if you have a friend who is involved with a man like this, get patient.
"Don't turn your sister or your brother away."
A woman involved in such a situation doesn't know how to love herself, says Martinez. Affirm her. Tell her you like her. Tell her she is smart. Tell her she is great. Tell her she is pretty.
"That's what workers in spouse abuse shelters do," says Martinez. "They uplift you. Shelter workers are the neatest people in the whole world.
"Do you know how many times the average woman goes back to a shelter before she finally leaves her partner? Five times."
And, Martinez says, the people who work in shelters still believe in a woman and tell her she's great even if she's walking in the door for the 10th time.