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A Man Has to Stand for Something
May 7, 2003 - 10:29 p.m.
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Since I have nothing non-suicidal to write about all the stress I've suffered today between class and paper deadlines and cases, I will instead share this memory that was sparked upon sorting through some of my notebooks.
I remember one continuing legal education program I went to on the topic of domestic violence. One of the speakers, a shelter worker, wanted to convey to the audience of mostly lawyers the psychology that compels women to stay in abusive relationships.
This speaker had an exercise in which she wanted us to participate. She asked us to all stand up. She told us that she would read to us a story about a couple with a domestic violence problem. We were to imagine ourselves as the spouse receiving violence in this story. Our instructions were to sit down at the point in the story at which we thought we would leave the relationship.
The story starts with you and your spouse getting into an argument. Your spouse did not like the way you looked at someone at a party. You and your spouse argue, and your spouse pushes you during the argument. Immediately after the push, your spouse apologizes.
About half of the people in the room sat down at that point. And I think that most of them were liars, because in real relationships, people are very likely to forgive mistakes. I still stood, because I think I would have forgiven my spouse.
The story continues, and you and your spouse argue about something else, like finances. Your spouse is mad that you spend five hundred dollars on clothes that the family really can't afford. Just blinded by anger and without really thinking, your spouse slaps you in the face. Later your spouse comes back to you and says, I think we have a problem. I promise to never hit you again, and we should work out a way of having discussions so that I don't get so tense.
At this point, about half of the people still standing sat down. I was still standing up. This person is, after all, my spouse, and my spouse has made a promise to me, and a suggestion of making our relationship better. This is optimistic, I'm not leaving my spouse yet.
Some time later, you're having a bad day, and you accidently say something insulting to your spouse. This really ticks your spouse off, and your spouse gives you a good, hard smack across the jaw that leaves a nice little bruise. Your spouse is not immediately apologetic, but later admits to having an anger problem, and suggests working things out through family counseling.
Most of the room had sat down at this point. I remained standing. Because this is my spouse, and family counseling is definite progress toward working on the problem.
And the story goes on, with more incidents, each one more violent and followed by some sort of apology, each apology becoming more thin.
And after about three or four more incidents, the story was over. The speaker told us the exercise was finished. And the two of us still standing up could sit down now.
I was one of the ones still standing up. Having stood for so long in the story, I had now been beaten into a near coma by my spouse with a baseball bat, who was now blaming it entirely on me. But I still had hope for the relationship.
This could mean one of a few things:
I have low self-esteem.
Not everyone who had sat down earlier was being entirely honest, or realistic.
It's really not that hard for a caring person to get stuck in an abusive relationship.
The other person who stood the whole way through with me was a paralegal from my office. And she's no cream puff. She had been in the army. She was skilled in firing a gun to kill, and efficiently dropping a man in hand-to-hand combat.