Real Housewives highlight real issues around domestic abuse

Dec. 9, 2011 _ The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills television show has been knocked and mocked repeatedly for its unrealistic portrayal of women in California and supposed fake or scripted behavior of its characters and even an alleged victim of domestic abuse hasn’t been spared the jeers.

I would agree that the lifestyles portrayed in this show and most reality programs are laughable most of the time.

However, Housewife Taylor Armstrong’s behavior and subsequent disclosure of abuse hardly seems out of the ordinary and the confusion of her co-stars also seems to fit reality.

In fact, there are many typical issues exposed during the recent shows that fit the patterns of abuse within a family and within a circle of friends.

For starters, Taylor’s behavior is confusing, erratic and hard to understand. Bloggers and critics have made fun of the woman for her emotional break-downs and dramatic behavior captured by the rolling cameras. But, as a victim of domestic abuse, her behavior can be explained in one way: She is afraid.

She is afraid of her husband’s reactions, her daughter’s future, her own financial dependency, what her family, friends and fans will think of her, she is afraid of what the truth will cause and the cameras capture the struggle that victims face as they sit between a rock and hard place.

To victims in the thick of their daily struggle, there is simply no good choice and they often hope that something will happen that will change their situation for the better. You can see that this housewife tries marriage counseling as she desperately tries to preserve her fantasy of a healthy family.

Taylor’s friends also act typically in their attempts to help Taylor and their doubts about the abuse. One of her co-stars even says, “Well I have never seen any abuse, so I don’t know.” A very common sentiment, but no abuser is going to abuser his victims before the eyes of others. In fact, abusers are terrific at acting the part of a caring husband in front of other people so that they can reap the compliments from others about how “good” they are.

Her friends also struggle with loyalty between the married couple and don’t know how to act toward Taylor’s husband. They are friendly toward him and even talk to him about the struggle with respect and reserve, but they don’t approach the abuse with him.

But, it is understandable why her friends, and in this case, millions of viewers, are unsure if the allegations are true.

Another issue surrounding domestic abuse so subtlety ¬†exposed in these episodes is that the victim doesn’t want to leave their abuser. Taylor is surrounded by many friends offering their homes _ no mansions _ as a sanctuary, yet Taylor doesn’t take them up on the offers. Taylor so clings to the hope that her husband can change and she can stay with him, that she is not looking for a place to go.

Her friends also take a common position of believing that they would never stay in such a relationship and they can’t relate to Taylor’s decision to stay despite her claims of abuse. So often people feel this way and can’t understand why someone who not run out of the house the first time they got hit and never look back.

You see it too when you look at politician wives who swear they won’t stand by their man if he ever does her wrong, only to see them on the podium right next to the apologetic official.

What people tend to forget is that when families are formed, they are bonded and vested together and breaking those bonds, hopes and maybe fantasies are difficult. How many people excuse questionable behavior of their loved ones?

I can related to every issue exposed in these shows. I know what it is like to judge another woman’s choice to stay in a marriage full of behaviors that I would not tolerate. I can related to the woman who has hope that their mate will change and get better. I can related to the denial. I can understand the doubt. I can understand the confusion.

In my case, I could have called on many people to put me and my children up for a few days or maybe a few weeks so that I could get out of the house of my abusing and violent ex-husband. But, then what? What would I do after I’d worn out my welcome injected into someone’s life? Besides, while I lived with my abuser, I was giving all of my efforts to trying to “fix” the relationship, end the violence so that we could keep our family in tact. Denial is a powerful perspective.

It took me years and years to accept that my ex wasn’t going to be “fixed” and that I was throwing my efforts into a foolish pursuit and in fact, was wasting my time and the lives of my children. It is sad that it took me 10 years after the first attack, to finally have the courage to face facts, but I was stubborn in my hope that I could have my happily-ever-after.

I believe that there are many, many women spending time in abusive relationships doing the same thing. They aren’t staying because they don’t have a place to go to escape immediate abuse, they are staying because they aren’t ready to give up on the dream of a perfect, peaceful life with their husband.

I know there are many women who don’t leave because they are afraid of their abusers’ reaction to divorce. In my case, I worried about how my ex would treat my children and I knew that in marriage, I would be able to protect them. I knew it would be much harder to protect them after divorce. I was very motivated to find a way to stop the abuse within the marriage rather than outside it.

I always knew that I could stop the abuse if I left. I am a smart person and I didn’t need anyone to tell me that. But, for so many years, I didn’t want to leave. I was too afraid to face what my life would look like, what my children’s lives would look like, if we left.

I am sad that it took me so long to find that path out and to finally say to myself that I would not settle for someone who is willing to hit me when he didn’t get what he wants. But, thankfully, I finally did tell myself that I would not continue living life with so little.

I am not married now, nor am I in a relationship. I have been in love since my divorce 6 years ago, but that relationship didn’t last. My children are teen-agers now and have settled into the routine of divorced parents. It is not perfect. I am tired most days. I juggle work, single motherhood, and financial insecurity. But, I am so much happier than I ever was when I was with my ex.

Unfortunately, my ex can still abuse me, emotionally, and he still tries. We will always be connected by our children. But, I can go to my house, lock my door and rest assured that I have peace and safety within.

His continued abuse does cause me stress and there are times that I feel sorry for myself because no one should have to deal with the abuse of another. But, I can talk myself into the reality that we all have problems to handle, this is just mine.

Counseling, this blog, and good friends help me today to face the abuse my ex inflicts today. I have learned that silence is the worse approach. Abusers tend to be insecure. My silence only give my abuser power.

Today, the best approach seems to be to disengage in every way that I can. The least amount of contact, the best. Even then, I never know when he will strike again.

I hope that Taylor can learn to cope with the scars of abuse and violence and move forward to a better life. I hope now that she knows she has a better change for it.