Love is generally the source of good in our lives: it motivates us, it comforts us, and it heals us, among many other things. But, in the instances where abuse is present in a relationship, love can keep us trapped.
“But I love him so much” is a common response from a woman when asked why she is not leaving the relationship. For many years I convinced myself that my purpose in life was to just give love to a broken soul who was abusing me while receiving no love in return. And while I cannot speak for other women I can say that my love finally ran out. And in retrospect, the feeling I had wasn’t really love. It was fear – mistaken as love.
The abuse, in the disguise of love, kept me in the loop of always having to try harder, do better, and love more… because if I didn’t the abuse would follow. And I am sure that it is the reality of many relationships.
When I was in the abusive relationship I kept looking for ways to love better, and I learned about the theory of the 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. I truly believe these languages are true for most people and can be used in every relationship from work colleagues to soul mates. But for an abuser it doesn’t matter because what was right yesterday isn’t right today.
The five languages of love are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. As much as they are a tool to show love and appreciation to someone you genuinely care about, an abuser can turn your own love language into a very painful trap instead.
Words of Affirmation – “I appreciate you because…”
This language uses words to confirm a loved one’s value and importance. Specific statements of why you feel a certain way about another person will be remembered. Verbal abuse with specific personal statements is what hurts the most to this person. And abusers are very good at telling others how bad and horrible they are all the time.
Acts of Service – “Let me do that for you”
For these people, actions speak louder than words. They thrive when helped with tasks, even if it is just taking out the garbage or cooking dinner. Instead of helping out, however, an abuser will never lift a finger to help with even the smallest everyday tasks. At the same time, they also have an excuse of why they can’t help or – more important – why they shouldn’t.
Receiving Gifts – “I have been planning this gift for you for weeks”
For some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a thoughtful gift that shows you care and thought about them. For an abuser it is very easy to neglect someone’s birthday, special occasions or holidays. And what’s worse is that they will use your day to do or get something they want instead, then tell you that it was for you so you should be grateful.
Quality Time – “I am yours for the rest of the evening, my phone is off”
This language is all about giving the other person your undivided attention. Being there is all that matters… spending the time talking uninterrupted or doing something together as a couple. The opposite of this is the dreaded silent-treatment. The abuser will be a silent member of the household or they will leave the home for however long they feel is appropriate based on how much they feel you should be punished. Or if you want to spend time with them, you have to do it on their terms.
Physical Touch – “Let me hold you until you fall asleep”
To this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch. Hugging, high fives, gentle touch, massage, holding hands, cuddling… With an abuser this can get ugly. A victim may submit to having sex just to feel somewhat loved, or maybe even accept violent physical treatment rather than endure no physical touch at all.
While all these types of abuse are horrible, and I have been feeling the pains of all of them, some just dig deeper into my soul and leave a scar. I would assume the same is true for other women? The cycle of abuse and the love trap gets even crazier when you put the two together. The abuser will use your love language to hurt you AND to get you back.
For me – a combination Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch person – I was abused verbally and mentally. He told me how horrible I was at most tasks that I did. Then after a blow out where I would cry profoundly he would comfort me with a long hug which made me think things were okay again.
For someone else the opening could be physical violence and a nice gift to get you back, or the silent treatment for weeks to you coming home to a three course meal with candles…
… And that is what I mean when I say that love can keep us trapped. Not because it is love, but because we hope and think it is.