Global superpowers have weapons of such indescribable destructive power they are referred to as weapons of mass destruction, or ‘WMD’. Very few people approve of the use of such weapons. WMDs are indiscriminate killers, laying waste to large populations at the point of impact, and involving sometimes a tremendously large area – and a lot of people. These are weapons so deadly that there are numerous treaties and rules by which people have agreed to play nicely, in order not to use WMDs. Very scary.

"Oil Fires" oil on stretched silk, 24" x 65" 1992

“Oil Fires” oil on stretched silk, 24″ x 65″ 1992

I find that in relationships there are also WMDs…but they’re different. They’re ‘weapons of mass distraction’ – behaviors, and language that undermine relationships with no positive outcome, not used for any constructive purpose, that hurt the person they are launched at without any other likely outcome being possible – and highly likely to hurt anyone in the immediate vicinity, too, through the sudden escalation of ‘OPD’ (Other People’s Drama), resulting symptoms ranging from discomfort, to emotional trauma. Make no mistake; weapons of mass distraction serve no obvious positive purpose, and in my own experience appear to be chosen for maximum damage (whether people who practice such damaging behaviors are doing so willfully, or with any real understanding of the damage they do, is a very different question, and I have no answers there). Human beings are capable of causing each other real harm – we’re very fancy primates, and we’re by far the most violent of the primate species.

I’ve been in relationships that would be easy to call ‘abusive’, one of which was quite dangerously physically violent, and I’m lucky to have gotten out alive. One was peculiarly emotionally painful, and did me lasting and nuanced damage over years of manipulation, gas-lighting, and financial abuse. I can’t honestly say at this point that one was truly worse than the other, in some respects; they both left scars, and they both affected the way I understand my fellow-man. Being treated badly by someone who says they ‘love’ you is one of the most horrifically sucking unpleasant experiences, ever. Along the way I discovered that I could choose to be changed, becoming what hurt me so badly, lashing out at the world with similar behavior, and hostility – or I could allow myself the greater challenge of learning, growing, and continuing to become the woman I most want to be, taking care to heal my heart over time, and making better choices, myself. It hasn’t always been easy.

I find that it can be tough to be certain that an emotionally abusive relationship is actually what it is – I never want to recognize that I have chosen so poorly for myself. I have learned to accept that some behavior just isn’t part of the set of Behaviors Common to Love, and I now accept them as clear warning signs of potential abuse. You likely have a few of your own, learned over time. I find that there are 3 behaviors that come up frequently in abusive relationships I’ve been in, that rarely show themselves in good relationships at all: contempt, a practice of continuous criticism, and controlling behavior.

Contempt hasn’t got anything whatever to do with love. There’s not a moment of contempt that ever whispered ‘I love you’ to someone being treated that way, and the damage of being treated with contempt lingers. It’s hard to find more to say about this one; relationships with a lot of it definitely aren’t loving. It’s a nasty way to treat someone under the guise of love, and the damage done lingers.

Controlling behaviors are commonplace in dysfunctional relationships of all kinds. Feeling controlled is definitely a hallmark of abuse in my own experience, and the resulting frustration and feeling of helplessness, and diminishment in personal worth can easily result in reactive acting-out, in a spirally see-saw of love-killing behaviors in which ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ becomes very unclear. Vulnerability, genuineness, and intimacy are critical to love – and not possible in a controlling relationship. Controlling relationships often outlast love, long before they are finally over. I wonder what point there really is for very controlling people to be in romantic relationships at all; from my perspective it often appears they’d be happiest without the complications of the free will of others, or the requirement to treat them well, and respect and consider their humanity.

Criticism is another thing I find common to abusive relationships. I don’t mean constructive feedback about best practices, or supportive dialogue about personal growth. I am talking about the constant negativity, constant complaining, and chronic assumptions of errors in action or judgment that only a person well-practiced in the hostile art of criticism truly understands. I am specifically pointing to ‘blame statements’ based on unvalidated assumptions, and commonly any attempt to refute the underlying assumption is met with further criticism – generally that I am being ‘defensive’. Personally, I find that in principle it’s acceptable to defend myself when attacked – and there’s the thing; in a loving conversation why would we attack each other in the first place? “ABBAB” (Always Be Belittling and Berating) has no place in love. It can be a balancing act; taking care of me certainly requires that I speak up when something unpleasant becomes a household practice I don’t care for… right? Well, but here’s the thing – can’t it be communicated without an attack? Without tearing someone down or hurting their feelings? Without resulting in disrespect, hostility, or questioning the worth of the other person as a human being? Yes, it sure can. (I highly recommend it, however it requires considerable practice for some of us, and a lifetime commitment to being kind.)

Love doesn’t thrive in relationships built on a foundation of contempt, control, and criticism, and it won’t be particularly relevant how long it ‘lasts’ – that shit’s not love.

"You Always Have My Heart" 8" x 10" acrylic on canvas with glow.

“You Always Have My Heart” 8″ x 10″ acrylic on canvas with glow.

It seems unkind to point all this out and then not say something positive… so, here’s something amazing, and simple, and lovely that I recently read, that seems the simplest possible rulebook for building love.  Maybe you think there’s more to it? Well, okay, I recently read this, too, and it is very practical worthy advice. Considering the wealth of information on how to build love, how to make love last, how to invest well in love and loving… what excuse does any person have to continue to treat people poorly, especially those they claim to love? Hell, two strangers can meet, talk, and fall in love in hours – tell me how it is acceptable for a moment to treat someone you love with contempt, or to criticize or control them? None of us need that. It sure isn’t love.

Try love sometime; it’s quite wonderful.

Are you finding yourself in disagreement with what I’m saying about love? Are you defending yourself in the moment? Already setting up the argument in your head, and not really hearing what I’m saying? Could be a nice place to start for some handy self-exploration; a character quality of ‘being disagreeable’ is another way to kill love, and generally unproductive and unpleasant to live or work around…although not really a ‘WMD’.  “Agreeableness” is an extraordinary character quality in a human being – and one of my most favorites to cultivate, myself, and to seek out in others. “The nicest person in the room” is nearly always someone who has a character quality of being very agreeable, and it isn’t at all about whether or not they agree with some one opinion, or whether they do or don’t dispute factual errors. It’s more about being cooperative, sympathetic, kind, considerate – being ‘a good sort’, basically. Agreeable people are marvelous to be around, warm and supportive in times of difficulty, and agreeable people know intimacy on a whole different level. Seriously. Try it out sometime.

Your results may vary. There are verbs involved.

Today is a good day for love, and a good day to be the nicest person in the room. Today is a good day to build someone up, instead of tearing them down. Today is a good day to respect boundaries, and be compassionate about limitations. Today is a good day to recognize that saying ‘I love you’ doesn’t say I love you half as well as loving will. Today is a good day to change the world.