“Just Put Your Foot Down” Is Terrible Advice For People In An Abusive Relationship

November 4, 2017

I feel a little weird making a strong statement like that, that to some degree, is based on my opinion and personal experience.

But also, “just put your foot down” is terrible advice for people in an abusive relationship.

It’s just not that simple.

For instance, with me and sexual assault guy, I “put my foot down.” When he talked to me like no one should ever talk to another human being during a fight about basically nothing, I let him know I was very upset, and was not happy to spend time with him, etc.

And he laaaaaid on the charm. He took me to a sort of nice restaurant. He apologized so hard. He just kept saying, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He was a perfect gentleman. And do you know what happened later that week? He sexually assaulted me.

Of every abusive relationship I’ve ever known pretty intimately, very few times over the course of a pretty long time has the abused person ever felt comfortable “putting their foot down.” And each time they did, things got amazingly better for a little bit – and then they got 10x worse.

And abusive person, sure, will get a little “better” to keep you. And then they get worse to re-establish dominance.

You don’t get to have power. That’s not how abusive relationships work. So, if they feel they give some power up to you, they will take it back (usually even harder than they did before). “Putting your foot down” to an abusive person is terrible advice because in most cases, it will ultimately make you less safe, more in trouble, more scared, and get you deeper in your situation.

And I am reeeeeeeally tired of hearing this narrative that like, “Oh, men are just selfish,” or “men just don’t listen” and it’s up to women to “shape them up.” As long as women ‘put their foot down/do things right,’ men will shape up!” Like, please stop.

I used to think it must be my fault that people would say things like that to me. I must not be using the correct words – trying to minimize to much and such. But after I tried to get ahold of the language and really explain that this guy was abusive and threatening and scary and a serial sexual assaulter, etc… I still got it sometimes. “Oh, it’s just gonna take the right woman, and he’ll shape up.”

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

It’s not my job to “fix” an abusive man. It’s not any of our jobs. We are not responsible for our own mistreatment because we don’t know the secret to making someone not abusive.

And if there’s a way to stop that weird narrative sometime in my lifetime, it would be really pretty dope.

So… okay, if you can’t tell the person to put their foot down, what do you do? You obviously care about your friend. You don’t want them to be in an abusive relationship. So you’re like, “change it! Get out! Do this! Do that!” …Because you want to help. It’s not coming from a place of maliciousness.

Well. I think you have a lot of patience. I’ve read a few books now about abusive relationships. And some of the advice that I’ve seen is that if you’re sort of almost commanding her, “leave that man,” then it’s easy for you to almost sound like him… You’re not being abusive or anything. You’re not him. But, as far as how it makes the abused woman feel – it’s another person trying to order her around. So, maybe don’t do that.

I don’t really know the answers for how to get your friend out of an abusive relationship. But I do know that having friends get angry with you for “not being the strong smart woman they know you are,” and “allowing this to happen to you” when you got in over your head and don’t know what to do – it doesn’t feel exceptionally helpful. I know it comes from a place of love. And I try to accept it as such. But I was doing enough yelling at myself. And he was definitely doing enough yelling at me. So, I didn’t need another chorus of yellers.

There’s a chapter toward the end of Lundy Bancroft’s, “Why Does He Do That?” that helps explain this better than I can – how to be a good support person if you have a friend in an abusive relationship. So, I guess go read that?

In conclusion, whatever tactics you take… shifting the blame to telling the woman that she’s responsible for her treatment because she hasn’t “tamed him” or “put her foot down” or whatever enough is really the wrong way to go. It’s the wrong take. (And it’s one I hear a lot.) So, as I’m finishing out these posts, I thought it was important to have one focus on that. (And please, don’t only avoid doing it yourself – correct the people you hear doing it. We can’t change this myth/stigma without forward purposeful movement.)

I'd love to hear from you! So whaddya say?