So Baltimore Ravens football star Ray Rice knocks his wife, Janay, unconscious in an elevator. When the door opens, he drags her limp body out of it. While the released video does not include audio, the Associated Press claims that a higher quality version shows the couple screaming obscenities at each other and Janay spitting on Ray before he punches her. The NFL suspended Ray indefinitely. End of a football career? Could be.
And where is Janay in all of this? She’s defending her husband. On Instagram, she wrote: “To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is a horrific (sic).” And “no one knows the pain that the media & unwanted opinions from the public has caused my family. [We will] continue to grow & show the world what real love is.”
In March, a grand jury indicted Ray on a third-degree aggravated assault charge. A simple assault charge against Janay for attacking Ray was dropped. The two were married the day after the incident occurred (that’s no typo!). A few months later, they spoke to reporters at a press conference.
“I do deeply regret the role that I played in the incident that night,” Janay said. “I love Ray, and I know that he will continue to prove himself to not only you all, but the community, and I know he will gain your respect back in due time.”
As I watch and read about this story and talk about it with friends, their comments have ranged from, “Why the hell is she staying?” to “Well she did spit on him…” to “I don’t feel sorry for her. He’s hit her before and she stays so she deserves it.” Having lived and escaped an abusive marriage myself, my feelings are different. I feel deep sorrow. Because no one ever aspires to finding a husband or boyfriend that will beat her. No, it happens on accident and all too often, when it does, the victim feels defensive of anyone who criticizes her mate and powerless to leave him. It’s a very strange position to find yourself in, trust me. And it makes no sense to the onlooker, either.
One thing that is not debatable is that abusive relationships are one big mind fuck. Being in one screws with your head in ways that are unimaginable. For me, I started to doubt everything I knew as “real,” good or healthy. During those horrific explosive drunken fights, I knew that one of us was nuts. Perhaps it was me? Was it all my fault? Maybe I deserved it.
Truly, the sheer exhaustion of getting through each day in an abusive relationship is simply too much, or at least t was for me. Actually plotting a divorce and move-out and all the things one must do to get a divorce? I simply didn’t have the time or energy for it. I felt emotionally battered, confused and alone. I had a hard time confiding in anyone because I didn’t understand any of it myself.
So how do those fights begin and why do women stick around? It’s a very unhealthy cycle that includes…
The Explosive Fight
It is amazing how quickly a simple argument can lead to a screaming match to then something bigger. Hot tempers, especially when drugs or alcohol are added to the mix, can flare and progress in a second. It is in that moment that snap decisions are made, often with terrible consequences. I’ve written about my own experience with wanting to run over my husband in my car (I didn’t do it!). And, really, all the anger management classes and promises to not let it happen again vanish in the heat of anger.
It is amazing how quickly victims will rise up to protect their abusers. While none of us will ever know what the catalyst was for Ray and Janay’s argument in that elevator (and it doesn’t matter), the fact that Janay stands by and defends a man who beats the shit out of her is tragic. Why do victims do it? For me, for better or worse, it was the image of my family that I was trying to protect. It was about privacy and saving face. And because I knew if I went public, it would be harder for me to justify staying in my marriage. Strange as it sounds, I didn’t want people thinking me stupid for staying or talking me into leaving. I wanted to suffer in solitude. Make sense to an outsider looking in? Of course not.
Why do victims stick around? Money. Inertia. Fear. Religious beliefs. Commitment. Because they feel there is nowhere to go. Because they are so emotionally battered that they feel worthless, that no one else would ever want them. (And abusers are fantastic at capitalizing on this last one. My husband loved to tell me that without him, my life would suck.)
How sick the entire cycle of abuse really is, especially the aftermath of a fight. Typically after a big fight, there’s a period of calm, reconciliation, and apologies. And that time can be an almost heady experience. With the tension gone, there is a bizarre tenderness that can be incredibly bonding. For me, my husband was more affectionate and loving than ever after a big fight and I saw a part of his personality that I liked. I thought “there it is! A great man lurks underneath the addiction and explosive behavior. Maybe I can change so that this part of his personality emerges.” And then there’s hope that the peace will be a new trend, that this time things will be different. It never is, though.
So the bigger question, can an abusive relationship be fixed? Fat chance. I’m sure they are exceptions, but they certainly aren’t the rule. Abusive relationships don’t become healthy ones, I don’t care how much therapy and anger management classes one attends.
One thing that is certain: the Ray/Janay incident has brought much needed attention to domestic abuse. Janay’s response to her husband’s suspension has also highlighted that, yes, victims stay in their relationships, defend their abusers, and go on the offensive to those that may criticize them. It really is classic victim mentality—defend the abuser.
No one ever aspires to a high conflict, abusive relationship. And if you find yourself in one, your only option is to run.