by Dr. Deborah Simmons, PhD, LMFT
I have been a Beatles fan since the day my grandparents brought me my first Beatles record at age 6. Many of their songs glorify love but there is one that is anything but that:
Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl
than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
or I won’t know where I am
You better run for your life if you can’t, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end, little girl
“Run for Your Life” has been running through my mind a lot in the context of three women here in the Twin Cities who have been murdered by their partners over the last few months. With Spring and the terrible discovery of each woman’s body, I wonder what might have happened if each of these women had just run for their lives instead of trying to find the best in their harmful partners. An article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune called “Missing women cases highlight problem of domestic homicide” expresses concern about how difficult it is to predict when domestic abuse will become lethal.
Stories about abusive partners and their narcissistic behavior are coming into my office with more frequency. It is not uncommon that my clients think that they can change a narcissistic, damaging, controlling, violent, unstable partner’s behavior by compassionately teaching and explaining why the behavior is “not okay.” It takes so long for victimized and abused people to realize that they are being abused. It is common that the ones being harmed do their darnedest to protect the harmful person. I know that my clients are grieving what might have been or the partner they wish they had. When I see my clients disintegrating physically and emotionally in damaging relationships, I let them know that protecting abusive people gets somebody hurt, and maybe dead. When they ask me “Can my partner change?” I answer with some questions of my own:
- What makes you think that your love is going to change a disturbed person’s behavior, when that person has no interest in changing?
- Why do you continue to have hope for someone who is harming your mind, body, and spirit?
- Why do you keep teaching your partner when he (or she) has no interest in learning?
- Why haven’t you told others about the abuse? (Here’s a tip: Narcissistic people hate being exposed for their behavior but it might protect you better.)
- What leads you to call a harmful or violent partner a good parent when they are harmful or violent to you and your children?
- Would you put up with this behavior from a stranger on the street?
- What are your fears about leaving?
- What are your fears about staying?
- Have you had enough?
- Why haven’t you run yet?
- Are you thinking that I will help you stay to continue to be abused? Let me answer that one for you: I have compassion for you and, no, I will not help you or your children be abused some more.
Things don’t just get better. Praying won’t change an abusive person’s behavior. For a long time, my motto has been “Safety First” with clients who are being abused. Here’s the bottom line: you don’t reason with a coiled rattlesnake. Get your ducks in a row as fast as you can and run for your life.