Cupid is airborne on this Valentine’s weekend with his quiver  stocked with arrows. From my vantage point, his aim is still precise. Hallmark cards are flying off the shelves, red roses are being delivered and restaurants are decked out in red hearts. And why not? Being in love is grand. 

Like most of you, I have felt intoxicated from a jab of Cupid’s arrow.  When we are love-struck, the mere thought of our beloved can cause us to feel euphoric. In this limerence stage, we metaphorically wear love goggles. We can only see certain parts of our beloved—and those parts are all roses. And that’s the rub: Roses come with thorns. Love is grand — until it’s not.

Domestic violence is on the rise, more so amid the COVID crisis. Sometimes these violent acts make headlines, but most times not. Many couples soldier on, ensnared in unsafe relationships 

The most harmful abuse sometimes does not look like abuse at all. These abuses will hit a person in their soul where it hurts the most. Some folks excuse or justify their partners behavior with: “That’s the way she is”  or “He was having a bad day.” Really? Physical, verbal, sexual, and emotional abuse should never be tolerated. We owe no loyalty to abusive people. 

People ignore the danger signs in a relationship by thinking the injurious behavior is an anomaly and will magically pass. Sometimes we trip over the red flags, trying to convince ourselves that our partner will change—and all the while our knees are metaphorically bleeding. Sometimes we don’t realize we were in an abusive or toxic relationship until the relationship comes to a catastrophic end. 

The signs of a toxic or abusive relationship can be subtle. Communication is paramount. However, if every discussion turns into an argument—about the same thing —  look closer. These failed discussions are red flags, partially buried. If repeated requests to be heard are ignored, this can be a form of emotional abuse. 

Most folks assume they can identify verbal abuse. This type of abuse can be insidious. An innocuous statement from the abuser about one’s weight, family or cooking style can, over time, erode the victim’s confidence. 

Constantly correcting, making demeaning comments, put-downs and a prolonged silent treatment can cause the victim to question their abilities. The victim slides into complacency while the abuser eases into control. 

Does one stand by their partner or kick them to the curb when unfaithfulness is discovered? Oftentimes, cheating is tolerated or ignored. Studies show that the   cuckolded party sometimes feels they are not good enough and shoulders the blame. 

That so many wronged partners manage to turn the other cheek is admirable. I wonder why they don’t show their wandering mates out the door. How many chances can you give another person before one is victimized themselves? 

Historically, sexual relations within a marriage were recognized as the right of a spouse. No. Your partner is not your property and non-consensual relations is considered rape. Yet only 34.8 percent of victims report the crime for fear of retaliation.

Financial abuse is domestic abuse. It hurts victims by stripping away their control over their own finances. Cases where the abuser takes charge of the finances and leaves the victim in the dark are well-documented. In extreme cases, the abuser forbids the victim to work or sabotages their current employment. 

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that often occurs in an abusive relationship. The abuser tries to take control of their victim’s sense of reality. The abuser sedulously denies they ever said something or twists or retells events to shift the blame on the victim. People who are subject to gaslighting, often feel confused, anxious, and are unable to trust themselves. 

 I worked in a women’s center before moving to the North Fork. We sought to alter the sequence of abuse and violence and forestall homelessness. Yet, many smart intelligent women couldn’t let go of their partners. These victims were locked into a “repeat performance” cycle.

It is a natural and healthy to want to share one’s life with a partner. Unfortunately, some folks settle for “good enough.”  We know what we have and the prospect of putting ourselves out there is daunting. 

The fear of being alone keeps couples in destructive situations. Insecurity can be enough of a glue to stick with a relationship. Some folks never attain financial independence and trade security for abusive behavior. Some women feel they need a man to take care of them; likewise, a man needs a cook and bedwarmer. 

Speaking from personal experience I know how hard it is to leave an unhealthy relationship. Sometimes we give so much of ourselves away that we erroneously feel we have no self to rely on. Finding the courage to dig deep enables one to  uncover their authentic  selves. There’s no doubt about it:  Our  authentic self  is buried alive beneath the debris of an unhealthy relationship. 

Author Autumn Kohler writes: “A bad relationship is like standing on broken glass; if you stay you will keep hurting, if you walk away, you will hurt but eventually heal.”  

When we have the courage to walk away from an unsafe relationship, we will eventually realize that our value is non-negotiable. 

Dear readers, on this Valentine’s weekend, may you find a wonderful love in yourself for yourself.

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