A Letter to the Man Trying to Understand a Broken Woman:
If there’s anything being in an abusive relationship will teach a woman, it’s how to protect her heart from anyone who attempts to break down the thick brick and mortar walls around it. Her defense mechanisms come as naturally as breathing. For four years, berating and incessant questioning defined her character. For four years, his words and moods predicted the outcome of her days. Know that your kindness will be foreign to her as up until now, “love” has not been kind. Up until now, love has been earned. Up until now, love has gone hand in hand with fear, dangled above her head like a string over a cat, always just slightly out of reach. Up until now, love was countless sleepless nights; terrified she had finally done something horrible enough to make him stop “loving” her. She spent four anxious, petrified years trying to be good enough to earn a love that was always faintly out of reach.
The day she left him is a day she will always remember. She needed to make the berating, incessant questioning, rage and confusion stop for a few days and in that defeated moment, going home for the weekend seemed like a logical answer. When she told him that she was considering going home for Thanksgiving, his anger took over again. He took his rage out by beating the six-week-old kitten he gave to her four weeks prior. In that moment she knew she had to leave. She never cared if he hurt her, but she couldn’t stay with a man who hurt an innocent, small creature. She left in the middle of the night. She didn’t know it that night, but she would never see the quilt her great-grandmother made, her photo albums or any of her belongings again. She didn’t know it then, but she would spend the next year discovering secrets and decoding the lies that defined their relationship. When she tells you these stories, listen, because these are intimate pieces of her soul that she trusts you with.
She will say she is sorry incessantly. The slightest bit of anger on your part will send her into a panicked tailspin. She’ll clean, cook, and mold herself into the person she thinks you need her to be, sacrificing herself in order to make your anger cease. It’s alright to be angry, just reassure her that she won’t have to earn back your affection because of it. It’s alright to yell, just reassure her that you won’t hurt her in the process. She will make herself very small; carefully tip towing around until you’re “better.” It’s alright to be upset, just make sure that she knows that she doesn’t have to disappear because of it.
After being made to feel so small and insignificant for so long, it will be nearly impossible for her to feel like she deserves to take up any amount of space. You’ll take her to dinner and she will feel immediately guilty because she’s been so accustomed to only receiving a kind gesture as a means to apologize for how he hurt her the day before. When you make a plan with her, follow through. Don’t leave her scared and wondering what she did to drive you away. Be patient with her; she wants to trust you.
Know that she’s been in counseling and that this counselor has helped her to learn that abuse can wear many masks. The counselor was there to help her finally speak aloud, “I was the victim of an abusive relationship.” You may not realize it, but admitting these words was the turning point for her. Don’t ever negate her past; it has made her into the person that you are attracted to.
He spent years manipulating her with his words. He used Jesus and the bible to persuade her to conform to his wishes. Little by little, those words chipped away at her identity until her very being was so wrapped up in his impressions of her that she had no idea who she was without him. This was his goal after all, to render her completely dependent on her. Be patient with her, she’s rebuilding her identity and her relationship with God piece by piece.
Be aware of how fiercely she has worked to get to this place. Try not to get angry when she acts in way that you do not understand. Try to comprehend why she gets close to you and then pulls away. She wants to feel safe and at times actually does. When you wrap your strong arms around her, her world stops spinning and life begins to make sense again. But she’s afraid of the repercussions of this feeling of safety, and this uncertainty and lack of trust in herself is what causes her look away and draw inside of herself. Be patient and try to ride the roller coaster with her. Remind her that regardless if she is running away and holding on to you for dear life, you’re not going anywhere.
Know how much she treasures you and your kindness. Know that your actions are teaching her how men are supposed to treat a woman. Know that your words are teaching her what normal is. Although she may be broken, she has so much love to give. Be patient and walk beside her along the long and winding road. Take it one day at a time and remember how incredible you are for being the man that is helping to change the life of broken woman for the better.