Staying in destructive relationships: Who's to blame?

(Note: #2 of this post contains my views on Catholicism. You have the right not to read it if you find such posts offensive. Also, I reserve the right to delete comments that do not contribute to the discussion.)

The younger generation might not even have heard of Whitney Houston. She was a very successful singer, listed by Rolling Stone magazine as one of The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. She married another singer, Bobby Brown, who influenced her to use drugs. She had been unable to quit the addiction and has since faded from the music scene into oblivion.

Rihanna was badly beaten up by her boyfriend, Chris Brown. (I had since removed all his songs from my playlist). Despite that, she still wanted to get back with him.

The most sensible thing for women in such situations to do would be to leave. Examples of women who left bad relationships and thrived are Mariah Carey and Halle Barry. (I don't mean to target African American women in this post but they're the first to came to my mind.)

Why would highly successful women like Whitney Housten and Rihanna choose to remain in destructive relationships? Is there something wrong with them or something wrong with the way we are conditioned to think? It's easy to say they've got low self-esteem despite their success, but I think there's more to it than just that.

1. Societal and Cultural: Gender Roles
I do not accept that there are different "roles" of men and women in society. We live in a male-defined world. Many rules, including societal, cultural, religious and even unspoken ones, are dictated by men for the benefit of men.

Women are taught to "close one eye" if their husbands have affairs and that it's normal and expected. Women are supposed to be gentle and patient at all times. Women have to submit to the will of their husbands. The man is the head of the family. In most cultures, the woman and children take the surname of the man.

I am not starting some kind of feminist movement. On the contrary, I believe that men and women are not made the same. Furthermore, no human being is the same as another! So why do we even need to fit ourselves into roles? Every relationship is different. It's not uncommon for people to advise their friends to be "more of a man" and wear the pants in a relationship, to have affairs and mistresses to show others that they are so virile that their wives can't satisfy them and earn enough to support another woman. Some men prefer not to do live up to this twisted role so while others may try to live up to it but find it difficult to achieve.

Men who they are unable to fulfill the gender role that society teaches them may end up taking it out on their partners, e.g. beating their partners, saying degrading things to their partners to make themselves feel better.

I think "roles" need to be defined and constantly re-defined by the couples themselves because every relationship is different and circumstances change all the time.

2. Religious: Love & Forgiveness
In Catholicism, people are taught to love one another regardless of what misdeeds others have done, to forgive, to give people chances to change their ways. People are advised to seeing the good side of people, to "turn the other cheek" to be slapped again after the first cheek gets slapped.

No, I do not believe that we should love all human beings including murderers, cheats and thieves. The love of such human beings is better left to God, if he exists. Some men will never change because they are simply psycho.

Unfortunately not all men show their true colours instantly; it may take some time for the true colours to show. Many women even marry psychos! What should women do when they realise their partners are psychos, gamblers, womanisers, etc? They are supposed to be loving and forgiving, right? "Till death do us part".

"Lift your sorrows and your hardship up to the Lord," religious people would advise. They would try to counsel the couple and hope that they remain together because divorce is not permitted. The woman is advised that "in His time" the man will change. If he apologises, she must forgive him [Do/say first, apologise later]. If she leaves him, she's weak. If she finds herself another man, she's an adulteress.

So the religious woman waits patiently for her husband to change while she withers away emotionally and physically. Her husband, on the other hand, has no incentive to change because his wife is still going to be with him regardless. He may one day even kill her and the children. It happens. But she did her duty as a wife and her reward is in heaven, isn't it?

People are taught that their bodies are the temples of God. But this has been taught more in relation to virginity, adultery and prostitution. I think there should be emphasis placed on loving oneself and protecting oneself from people who can hurt us physically and emotionally. We should not make excuses for people by saying we are all sinners, let the person without sin throw the first stone, everyone deserves a chance to repent, we must try to be God-like, or we must sacrifice ourselves. Let God give the men the chance to repent, if he exists. What kind of God would give the men another chance to change but not give the women another chance at happiness (on her own or with another man)?

(I think it's possible that Catholics may have presented a distorted view of God and the rules and guidelines may be what they think is best but not necessarily what God thinks is right).

3. Mass media
Very often the actors and actresses in movies and tv shows throw things around and bang their fists on the table when they are angry. Though this may be done for dramatic effect, it might make people think that it's normal to vent one's anger this way. It is NOT normal.

In music videos, it's fashionable for women to hang out with "bad boys" and such "bad boys" with their gun, booze and drugs, get the babes.

It's no wonder people are confused and think that it's normal to be in relationships with such men.

4. Personal: The "complicated" exception
As onlookers, it is clear to us what the women mentioned above should do or should have done. However, many women who are in such relationships do not or refuse to see that the relationships are destroying them. Why?

当局者迷,旁观者清 – or in hanyu pinying - Dang Ju Zhe Mi, Pang Guan Zhe Qing
This Chinese idiom means that a person involved in a certain thing may be messed up, while the lookers-on can see the situation clearly. This idiom originates from a Chinese chess game, weiqi. The player usually focuses on the imminent outcome of the game, so that he may be bewildered by the change of the whole situation; however, the lookers-on would not be affected by the temporary victory or failure, thus they can survey the overall condition and take the whole game into consideration.

Most people would choose to believe that everyone else is wrong and they are the exception to the rule. Despite being told by their family and friends that their abusive partners would never change, they choose to say on because they believe that their partners are the exception and would change unlike other men.

Besides, the relationship is "complicated" and nobody would understand, right? Wrong.
If he's beating you, he's beating you.
If he's having an affair, he's having an affair.
Don't say it's complicated - it's not. It's only a matter of whether you want to see it for what it really is. [Sex clouds your judgment]

Although I think society and culture, religion, the mass media are to blame, women must take personal responsibility for their choices. Whitney Houston finally divorced her husband of 14 years will be releasing her latest album, I Look To You, on 31 Aug 2009. Here's her song "One moment in time" from 1984 Olympics and "I look to you" in 2009. Her voice sounds different now - like a totally different person. Her voice was still ok when she sang with Mariah Carey "There can be miracles" (also embedded) for the Prince of Egypt 1998 soundtrack. It's sad to see what years of drug and emotional abuse has done to her. She can't go back to that one moment in time but at least now she is free.

----Added on 31 Aug----
A Singaporean example of a destructive relationship (SCU 148 L):
A woman was seen hitting her boyfriend in the groin repeatedly with her shoe and then pinching him there, and he just stood there taking the hits without retaliating. Watch the videos here.

Related post:
[Happiness vs drama]


David said...


Please forgive me saying that you are the person distorting the Catholic view of God. (indeed you misrepresent basic Christian beliefs).

Several comments are worth a response:
1- "No, I do not believe that we should love all human beings including murderers, cheats and thieves. The love of such human beings is better left to God, if he exists. Some men will never change because they are simply psycho."

We also are told; "Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
- 1 Corinthians 13:6-7
We are told to love the person, and also to recognize evil actions. A wife who is abused by her husband can love the man, and still be right in knowing his abuse of her is wrong/evil.

When recognizes evil & wrong doing, an obligation to stand against such follows.

While you mention the influence of media and popular culture, you greatly understate the influence this source of endless secular pandering and glamorizing all sort of questionable behaviors. Why do some celebrities recieve accolades despite multiple failed releationships, frequent substance abuse problems and run ins with legal authorities? Such people are not heroes.

When was the last time you heard somenone who leads a truly good life used as a role model?

The role of parents (your parents) is not mentioned!

You give tribute to an artist whose own life has been a series of ups and downs.

The Catholic Church, and most branches of Christianity also teach the God will reward good works.

Giving to the Lord is, in fact, a God-backed, guaranteed investment, not an uncertain gamble. Jesus uses the promise of reward to teach his followers. He teaches people to give without a public display because the glory should go to God, not man: "Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:4). God promises to reward the person who gives.

Jesus also teaches that "if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, . . . he will certainly not lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42). Again, the Lord reinforces a cause-and-effect relationship between giving and receiving.

Life my young friend is not easy. One has to be careful cherry picking a belief and/or moral system.

I know I make mistakes, most everyday. I am far from being perfect, and in fact know that perfection is not something any human can achieve.

I learn from past actions, try to build for a better future. I see all people as my brothers and sisters in Christ.

That means I do love all, but will recognize and approve those who choose and incorrect path.

I do not speak of you here. While you might be straying, you are growing and learning each day. I have no doubt that many life lessong you have learned have been painful.

Many lessons pleasant.

Please choose your path carefully!


May the peace of our Lore always be with you!

Yu-Kym said...

David, You didn't mention what exactly I distorted. I said "No, I do not believe that we should love all human beings including murderers, cheats and thieves." This is my belief, not a distortion of the teachings of the Catholic church. Many Christians quote scripture. It is futile; non-Christians do not believe or follow scripture. It does not help people like me understand anything more.
You say "We are told to love the person, and also to recognize evil actions." What does "love" for the husband encompass? If his wife leaves him completely, that's not love. If his wife attempts to help him recover/change, she will only find herself drained. Is that what God wants for her? That she must sacrifice herself for the man?

I don't think it is necessary to have role models. Some mothers teach their daughters to be gentle, tolerant, submissive and even trusting. Some women think it's normal to get beatings from their husbands because their mothers endured it. What a mother thinks is good for her daughter may not be good for the latter at all! The real question that every woman should ask herself is what kind of person SHE herself wants to be. Everybody is different; every case is unique. I don't see the point in copying or following anybody's example.

I did not "give tribute" to Whitney. Whitney is an example of a woman whom I think should have ended her marriage a long time ago to save herself (and perhaps her daughter).

I agree with you, that we should choose our paths carefully.

David said...


If a mother or some other family member is not a role model for a daughter, how is a young girl, or teen age women to learn about how to act, to respond and yes how to live and love?

You did not grow into young adulthood in a vacuum. For better or worse, your parents, siblings, family, society, peers, and Religion all played a role in you being the Yu-Kym I read today.

Role models are a must be for parents. Humans do not possess the instincts wired into animals. We must be nutured for many years before we can survive on our own.

In the United States few if any teach daughters that a husband can beat them.

Most men who attempt this often end up in trouble with the law.

How long must a women, (or man for matter), attempt to make a marriage last? There is no definite word on this. One path available for most women in bad marriages is divorce, and for Catholic's divorce followed by annulment proceedings.

I am not aware of any Catholic women asked to remain in a harmful marriage. The sad news in this country is some non-Christian women from the middle-east do suffer from beatings, and are not discourged from reporting such beatings.

I can understand your reluctance, indeed refusal, to have love for murderers, cheats and thieves.

Again loving someone who has commited such terrible actions should not be equated with approving the action.

As a practicing Christian, (maybe someday I get everything right and I will be no longer have to practice), I take the Lords command to love one another as He Loves me seriously.

This is hard to achieve. It is much easier to express hatred and dislike towards a Saddam Hussien or Pol Pot, or Hitler,a child rapist, or child murderer. I could never support such a person. I would do everything I could to bring such a person to justice.

Hatred leads one in a dangerous direction. Saying one is indifferent is saying that morality is in the mind of the individual. If each of us set our own moral system the result would be chaos.

Humankind has climbed a long way since ancestors lived in small groups, in jungles, savanahs, or cave.

Like Him or not Christ teachings has lead and saved more people, and been a source of good influence for many, (not all) non-Christians.

Believe when I tell you that Christ is hard at work in you life.

You have chosen to not listen or let Him reach you. Despite this, He loves you and will not give up on you.


When a person's faith seems to collapse without warning, one can be sure it has been the result of inner conflicts--the termites
of disobedience.

-- Quinton J. Everest

Banshee said...

Well, let me see.
Firstly... I just think that your approach of placing the women as always the victim is very... feminist, in some sense. Nowadays society has several examples of man as weaker part of relationship, submissive (or feeling a duty to help) a problematic women.
You could have as well made the whole post doing just a “problematic one” against “´nice´ one” conflict…

1. I think that situation of “being taught to "close one eye" if their husbands have affairs and being gentle and submissive” has already fall in most of western societies. Possibly, at least, is most of the Hispanic ones.

Of course, there are still people like this… but it´s mostly and exception.
But I agree with you completely that "roles" need to be defined and constantly re-defined by the couples

2. I must somewhat agree with David’s comment. I guess you have a somewhat distorted vision to what Catholicism tries to teach (rather than the Catholics providing a distorted view).

Catholicism, as a whole, teaches, indeed, the God will reward good works. On that sense… they try to incentive people to help each other.

However, at least in Brazilian branches of Catholicism, it is widely spread the idea of “pursuing happiness under the laws of god”. Which, on some sense, allows divorce when your husband really seems to have no other way (although you must have tried your best to help, instead of running away on the first problem).

I am not a Catholic myself, but most of my friends are and I talk to them a lot. Then, at least here, things are not as rigid as you expose.

3. Mass media shows a lot of things that are far away form reality/good moral.
For all terms… on the examples you exposed on the beginning, mostly like none of them was influenced by mass media.
Mostly, it doesn’t seem to me that someone would feel that it’s normal by seeing movies/promotional videos.

4. It’s funny… you connected this argument to your “Sex clouds your judgment” while it seems to me that the “Nobody gives something for nothing” would be the best match.

Come on, we just know that she has been beaten. We don’t know the reasons, we don’t know the background, we don’t know has was it done.
Also, we don’t know how is their relationship.
On that sense… the relationship might as well have several really good things that compensate far more than this single incident (as far as we know so far).
Do we know it? No… then I am no one to present a good argument about such kind of thing.

Of course, don’t take me wrong… I think beating your partner is a hideous thing that should never be done.
However, above all things… I believe in the “freedom of will”, as long as you are not harming 3rd parties that has no connection to your present action.

Lastly, as a personal opinion, in nowadays society… anyone that has access to worldwide web and all its idea exposition… cant blame society and culture, religion or the mass media. Anyone has access to anything, if one wishes to pursue it.

Banshee said...

As for a more Latin perspective, I would like to reinforce David´s (always wise) comment: "few if any teach daughters that a husband can beat them."

In Brasil we have, in all major cities, Poliec Stations specialized in home violence. At least here, the same "society/culture/religion/mass media" encourages population to inform against the violator.

Even priests, as far as I´ve heard, do preach "forgiveness", but never "impunity". Someone that violated the rules of society shall do it´s time.

Further, I quote Davids comment that, on some sense, fits with my "will" thesis: "How long must a women, (or man for matter), attempt to make a marriage last? There is no definite word on this."

Anonymous said...

One moment in time was released for the 1988 Olympics and not 1984.

David said...


Banshee has provided good comments regarding relationships. The premise of this post is very good. No one should remain in a destructive relationship.

Most men and women will reveal thier true personalities and traits during the course of dating and through the courting period.

One has to observe how a partner treats other family memeber, little children, how they deal with rude people in public. In such encounters is the partner even more rude to the initial offense, or does the partner find a way to avoid a bigger offense and nastier scene?

How does a partner treat the waiter when dining out? Observing such behaviours can be enlightening. When and if a partern physically, verbally or emotionally begins to abuse a women, (or man), that is time, as painful as it most often becomes, to end the relationship. Sure the partner will most oftne promise to never be abusive again, or that they will change.

The best action, the hardest and most difficult action is to walk away, in tears if one must, but to leave any relationship after all the little signs in public point the way.

I am sure you speak of this from either, ( I hope not from personal experience) but from that of your female friends or famliy. Almost everyone knows of someone who has lived in, or is living in an abusive relationship.

True friends, true loving family, will do everything to influence an individual heading into an abusive marriage relationship.

Some will ignore advice, foolishely thinking they can change the partern. This sadly does happen.

Media will often blur the distinction between victim and abuser, but in real life the line is most oten clearly seen.

Yu-Kym, thank you for initiating this discussion!


Yu-Kym said...

David, in the ideal world, parents will be good role models for their children, parents will love and care for their children, etc. But we do not live in the ideal world. There are parents who abuse their children or sell their children to prostitution for money. In the same way, not all husbands love their wives and vice versa.

"In the United States few if any teach daughters that a husband can beat them."
Unfortunately, wife battering in certain culture is widely accepted and the wife usually wants to remain married to her husband! Btw, marital rape is legal in Singapore and very few people support changing this law.

David and Banshee,
"How long must a women, (or man for matter), attempt to make a marriage last?"
"I am not aware of any Catholic women asked to remain in a harmful marriage."
What other people perceive as harmful and how long the person should remain in the marriage influences the person in his/her decision to stay in the relationship.

Banshee, I do write articles that show my disagreement with women's actions too. E.g.
As with everything, what happens to a woman can also happen to a man. I've updated my post with a link to a video of a woman physically abusing a man in public. It just happened last week - how timely to satisfy your anti-feminist movement (joking hehe).
I linked “Sex clouds your judgment” because many a time, women know what they're getting themselves into but they refuse to acknowledge the truth about the relationship, e.g. Singaporean women with foreign conmen.

I think neither the man nor woman are the victims in destructive relationships - they both have the right to choose to stay or to leave. The victims are the children and family members.

David said...


Your last statement is correct. The victims of destructive relationships are children and family memebers.

You are also correct in noting that some societies accept wife beating. Marital rape is legal in some nations, (few.)

Look however at the majority of married couples. In freedom loving nations most if not all frown upon a family member who beats their spouse. In the U.S.A. all women can report a husband who beats them, and will be provided safe shelter.

This discussion raises the importance of using great care in choosing ones partner.
Using sex a means of testing compatibility with a partner is not going to prove the reliability of that partner. I detailed the care any women must take in learning about potential mates. Giving into sexual desires, and abandoning rational thinking has lead many women into poor relationships.

Be careful, be discriminating in choosing who to live with, who to have marital relations with, and better yet, learn to love ones self truly and spiritually, take care and time in sharing love with any man.

There is truly no best time to choose get married, the best time, and the only time is when one truly finds that one marriage partner.

I know the wait, as long and painful as that can be at times, is worthwhile.

I waited more than 30 years to find my wife.
Not always easy, nor pain free.

But in the end time well spent.


Anonymous said...

Who is to blame for remaining in a destructive relationship?

Blame yourself.

silli cat