Unacceptable Social Behavior: Why Do People Stay In Abusive Relationships?

Posted: September 25, 2012

We hear a lot about violence against women and have taken up cudgels against the perpetrators of such violence in whatever small way it was possible. True, in a patriarchal society such as ours, women need all the support they can get. More so because a certain section of society views women as liabilities rather than assets and wrongly believes that terminating their lives while in their mother’s womb or when they are infants would solve a good number of problems that are likely to arise when they grow up.

However, this post is not about violence against women. This is an attempt to look into issues that make men and women behave the way they do. I am no psychologist but even as a child I have seen women being ill treated not only by men folk but by other women. I have noticed a good deal of emotional insecurity in the minds of those who oppress their wives, daughters, daughters in law and mothers in law too.

It is a given that mothers feel insecure when a daughter in law arrives on the scene and rare is the case of the two bonding for the sake of the son/husband who happens to be the common factor in their lives. They have to be coerced to submission or threatened of dire consequences for peace to prevail. There are also a good many daughters in law who can be outright mean to their mothers in law. I’ve heard people say that it is the son who is responsible and no woman would dare to do such a thing unless she had the open or tacit support of her husband. This may be true to a certain extent and the man in question often supports the dominating person to be on the safe side.

Take the case of Mrs. N. Married to an unemployed but propertied person she bore him 16 children. Ten of them survived. The story goes that Mrs. N’s uterus came off when the last child – a daughter – was delivered. The mid wife was about to throw away the uterus not realizing what it was but on of the ladies present noticed an arm protruding and there was a live baby within. The girl thus born is now in her late forties! This should give one the picture of a cozy, compatible and comfortable relationship between the couple. Unfortunately I don’t see it that way.

Mr. N was a short tempered landlord who simply lived off the 100 acres of land that he had inherited from his father. His wife, to him, was like any other laborer who worked in his farmland. But was she unhappy? Those who knew her swear that she wasn’t. She loved her husband and accepted his beatings with a smile. He would chase her with a broomstick and beat her black and blue for any and everything. He had married sisters and daughters visiting him and they had to be pampered with gifts and what not. It was the question of family prestige. His sons had to be educated. His farmland depended on monsoon for cultivation and crops often failed. He was under tremendous strain all the time to maintain a life style that he could not afford. It was the wife who had to bear the brunt of his frustration. And she gladly obliged.

He pawned her jewelry and sold his land to make ends meet. She did not complain. He was not uneducated. In fact he was the topper in his batch when his B.A. (Philosophy) was announced. But his philosophical knowledge was put to good use in the discussions he held in the front portico of his house where friends were treated to steaming coffee and snacks that would melt in one’s mouth. She could not bring herself to ask him to find some employment. He was too great a person to work for a salary. If she did not understand his frustration who would? Well that was the story of a couple who lived a ‘happily’ married life in mid twentieth century. This does not hold true now.

Having interacted with them on a few occasions when the couples were in their twilight years I must admit that there was a bond that held them together till their death. I could not find any logical explanation for this and their behavior did not match the earlier accounts that I was treated to.

My husband talks of women in his native place who’d feel insecure if the husband does not scream at them or beat them up regularly. They would suspect that he had found another woman to take her place! However, these were women who belonged to the lower rungs of society. I’ve often asked him why stories of husbands being nagged and tortured by their uncompromising wives/mothers are not made spicy and circulated. Men are not expected to admit that they are victims – that they are not able to deal with (read control) their women.

“…are women and to a lesser extent men attuned to society’s expectation that a marriage ought to be made to work – no matter what price one has to pay?

I have seen several women who take insults heaped upon them as part of life even today. I often wonder if this is the Stockholm syndrome that is expressed as loyalty and affection for one’s tormentor combined with a false sense of security that these women experience? Or are women and to a lesser extent men attuned to society’s expectation that a marriage ought to be made to work – no matter what price one has to pay?

Abusive relationships have always been there. Their analysis and open discussion is no longer a taboo. People have come to realize that a relationship may simply not work. No one needs to be blamed. Two very good human beings may not be compatible for one another.

As the first step we need to teach our children to draw a line and decide what acceptable behavior is and what is not. Tolerance levels differ but there have to be a few general rules. Like sons or daughters who expect to be given a part or all of their father’s settlement money on retirement have to be told that he needs the money for his own expenses and since he would not take his money and/or property along after death, he ought to be allowed to use it in this life. The list is long but I will end here. It is only an individual who can take a stand on such matters and if one wishes to do something about unacceptable social behavior; it has to begin from within him or her self.

The Hip Grandma lives in a small industrial town called Jamshedpur and despite all its

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