Mary is a quiet young woman in her mid-thirties with three children. She has been married for ten years. Mary came to my office because she was arrested for domestic violence. Her story is not an uncommon one.

       Mary had gone out after work to celebrate the birthday of a female co-worker and had two glasses of wine. She had told her husband she would be a little later than usual. She was home by 7:30 PM. Her husband flew into a jealous rage, demanding that she tell him who she was “really with.”

     “I tried to calm him down and then he pinned me against the wall. He had his forearm across my throat and I couldn’t breathe. The children were hysterical at this point. To break free, I pushed him away and in doing so, I scratched his face with my nail. I fled to the bedroom and called my mother. I was terrified and sobbing. The kids were screaming. It was a nightmare.”

      Meanwhile, her husband called the police. When they arrived they saw a hysterical woman who smelled of alcohol. She was so frightened that she could barely tell her story. Because he had a scratch and she had no signs of being hurt, she was arrested. Later, she tried to reason with him and begged his forgiveness. His response was to force her to have sex.

       This has been the pattern for almost the entire marriage. She cries, pleads, and reasons. He smashes doors, goes through her personal things, and follows her where ever she goes. She stays, she says, because she “loves him.”

       She really stays because she is lovesick. She is in a relationship where he is her whole focus. She admits the children are suffering. She is losing weight and has dark circles under her eyes. Her hands shake. She suffers from chronic insomnia and migraines. Yet, she continues to believe that if she could be a  “better person” he would treat her better. In other words, she blames herself for his intolerable behavior.

             When you “love” someone so much that you risk being hurt, then you are lovesick. This is not love, except in the way that addicts love their drugs. When we are drawn so strongly to someone or something that is not good for us, it is a destructive obsession not love. This is called addiction. We put the object of our addiction before anything else-our health and well-being and even our children’s safety. Do not confuse love for illness. It could be fatal.

            Now you may be reading this and thinking, “Oh, that is not me. My relationship is not that bad. I would never get hit or forced to have sex.” Yet, he may occasionally threaten to “take your kids” or control you by not letting you have access to money. Maybe he throws things or keeps you from seeing your friends and family. In the light of this unacceptable behavior, you might find yourself rationalizing by saying, “But he really loves me” or “he doesn’t really mean it.” I am often amazed when women make excuses for unacceptable or abusive behavior by using the notion that this is in some way, a manifestation of LOVE. When I ask them, “How do you know he loves you?” they respond with, “He told me so.”

       We are taught the skills to nurture, to compromise, to be compassionate, and to forgive. These are positive attributes, but not when they lead to an inability to advocate for ourselves. Love is a verb. It is a behavior that needs to be expressed in action throughout the day, even when we are upset or angry. Treating a woman cruelly by calling her names or hitting her and then saying “I love you” does not make the behavior acceptable. Men who treat women abusively are NOT being loving.        

       In this month of Valentine cards, flowers and gifts, do something really loving for yourself. Sick love doesn’t get better without help from a professional, any more than a sick body will heal when left on its own. All the Valentine’s Day do-dads in the world cannot make up for a life of pain. You deserve the right to be treated with respect, dignity, honesty, and integrity. The “I love you’s” and “I’m sorry’s” will not stop the destructive behavior from continuing. If you want it to stop then you must make a change. Seeking professional advice is imperative. Do this today because you care enough about yourself to admit that this hurting you. Sometimes the best gift you can ever get is the gift you give yourself.


Adapted from Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce © Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC 2005, 2009, 2011.

Next week- Insuring your Love



  1. Wendy on the 06. Feb, 2011 remarked #

    Donna, the best advice I ever got from a friend was a simple one-liner.

    “Listen to what he does, not what he says.”

    • admin on the 06. Feb, 2011 remarked #

      Great advice. The words mean nothing if the behavior isn’t loving.

  2. CJ Golden on the 06. Feb, 2011 remarked #

    I’m concerned for Mary’s children, as well. What does this teach them about love and respect within a marriage? What does this teach them about love and respect for oneself?

    • admin on the 06. Feb, 2011 remarked #

      Exactly. While she may think she is protecting her children from divorce, the lessons they are learning about how people behave in a marriage can be very damaging.

  3. Chip Mues on the 06. Feb, 2011 remarked #

    Excellent article and advice. Very powerful and spot-on! As a divorce lawyer, I have for years talked with many people living Mary’s life…It seems that many just refuse to believe that they have a right to respect and happiness. Very tragic for them and their children!

  4. barry on the 06. Feb, 2011 remarked #

    Donna, it is amazing how many women I have met in the past half dozen years who have been exactly where Mary is today. Your advice is right on the mark. The women I speak of have been able to move on with their lives, but only after they took stock of the “abuse” and sought help. And kudos to your other respondents for their awareness that it is the actions that spell “love” not the letters in the word.

    • admin on the 06. Feb, 2011 remarked #

      I am grateful to both Barry and Chip for their comments. ALL men do NOT treat women this way! Do not believe it if your abuser tells you this is “normal” behavior. It isn’t!

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