relationships – reason & irrationality

In the immediate aftermath of the Ray Rice imbroglio, one of the predominant questions popping up on social media, in newspaper op-ed commentaries, in casual conversations among friends and co-workers, in the offices of mental health professionals, social workers, and other caregivers, stated in so many words and depending on the speaker, with tones (whether accented or muted) of incredulity, is this: How could Janay Rice (née Palmer) rise so swiftly to the defense of her abusive husband, even to the point of offering an apology for her part in their altercation in which she was knocked unconscious?

In August, the shooting and killing of Michael Brown sparked afresh public conflagrations about race. In that same month, the death of actor Robin Williams stirred anew communal conversations about mental illness. So, now, widespread renewed considerations about domestic violence. As with race and mental illness, domestic violence is a labyrinthine area of human existence, in its native complexity heedless of our desire, our need for facile answers or simple solutions.

That said, nearly 40 years of pastoral ministry, listening with care to the chapters and verses of the life stories of now countless folk, and over 20 years of personal labor with competent and compassionate therapists, I have discerned for myself a simply-stated answer to a simply-stated question (both confessedly laden with inherent complications beyond the telling and layered with density that makes no ready room for the elucidation of comprehension).

Question: Why do people remain together in relationship?

Answer: Their primary needs are being met.

Some of our human needs, our fundamental desires and drives, both healthy and life-giving and unhealthy and soul-stealing, are conscious. Most, I daresay, at least in my experience of and learning about myself, are unconscious. But whatever they are, I believe that we are beholden and bound to those who fulfill them, which, in the most general way, may begin to scratch the bare surface of explaining why Mrs. Rice can and will defend Mr. Rice to the nth degree.

4 thoughts on “relationships – reason & irrationality

  1. You’re right. On some level, either conscious or unconscious, basic needs are being met. Abraham Maslow posited that unless the most basic of human needs are met, an individual is incapable of meeting their higher needs. The trick of the abuser, indeed, the genius of the abuser, is the ability to continuously knock everything out from under the victim, physically and/or psychologically, so that the victim remains in a state of dependence upon the abuser who then becomes the only source by which needs can be met. Why does the victim stay? Because they are dependent (whether physically, financially, emotionally, psychologically) upon the abuser and do not believe survival is possible without them. My friend, I’ve been there. It is not easy to break free. For some, the leap of faith across the chasm is just too great. For some, it’s the only way of relating they know. For some, it can be a matter of selling oneself to the highest bidder because they see no other way to get from point A to point B. For most, it’s all of the above.


  2. Thank you, Sandy, for your poignant testimony both from the standpoint of reason in reference to Maslow and the human hierarchy of needs and your own experience. I confess that I winced internally when reading your words, “I’ve been there. It is not easy to break free.” To know that you’ve had, endured such an experience is difficult for me to read, though, no doubt, not as tumultuous as your reality in that sphere of anti-liberty, counter-independence/interdependence. I thank you for, indeed, I treasure your honesty.


  3. Thank you Paul and Sandy. This has been an incredible dialogue. I actually read the blog post last night but wanted to reflect before I wrote. I particularly loved how the blog started…. What a tumultuous summer this has been, so many things happening as you carefully replayed them for us…so much discussion and debate about each of them. By the time the Ray Rice video and new debate unfolded this week, my brain was almost tired of reflecting on such DEEP issues packed so closely together!! I’m exhausted from trying to discern the WHY of each of these events… (As a security / investigative person by trade, trying to determine the WHY is often critically important).

    I was at work when I first read Janay’s Twitter account posting. I have to confess that my initial reaction was harsh!!! I immediately thought, “Golddigger!!!” That she married him anyway after the elevator incident because of who he is and the reward that would be in it for her for years to come (lots of money). Then when Ray was suspended indefinitely and released from the Ravens, the realization that there would be no money, at least from that source, caused her to say basically that the NFL had caused them a nightmare taking away their livelihood for a mistake that they made, AND forcing them to “relive” it. Huh????????? I couldn’t believe it!! So I came to the only conclusion that made sense to me at that moment. That maybe the money over time would ease or erase the scars and pain of Ray’s brutality.

    As I read your blog… It became so much clearer to me…. Ray meets Janay’s needs, whether we like it or not. Never thought of it that way. I was taught that if a man hit you the relationship was over, period!! As you know my aunt Diane saved me from serious harm or death as she distracted her abusive husband while we were trying to pack her stuff to leave him, so I could jump out of a window to escape. She endured her second and final beating from him to save me before police arrived and arrested him. After moving to a safe location, she never had contact with him again. As much as she loved him, he clearly no longer met her needs.

    A few years later, my first boyfriend broke my jaw with one punch during an argument. That punch was the end of our relationship. He did everything he could to win me back, but eventually gave up when he realized his efforts were in vain. I forgave him and over time we became friends. The great thing was, he received professional help and later married a wonderful woman to whom he was married for thirty years until her death last year. He never put a hand on her. I was proud of him.

    I’m cautiously hopeful that Janay will get the help she needs and will be able to break away and find a healthier relationship where she can thrive, not just “survive”. And I’m sorry that she seems to somehow feel that Ray is “as good as it gets” because he clearly is not. Time will tell. As your blog and Facebook responses has shown Paul, most everyone we know has been touched by domestic violence. As tired as I am of these incredibly emotionally-charged events that continue to unfold in our world, I’m praying that we will find the strength to have honest and meaningful dialogue about them AND most importantly, to work together to find solutions.


  4. Amen to working through difficult issues/concerns and finding solutions, for, yes, it (life) can be wearying with the non-stop unfolding of tumultuous circumstance. As I continue to think and feel about domestic abuse/violence, I am confirmed in my conviction that I cannot know what goes on (or what constitutes) the bond between those in a relationship where abuse abides (even if it occurs in some pronounced way once). For there are moments I wonder, say in the case of the Rices, whether Mrs. Rice loves Mr. Rice with a love I would recognize as active benevolence or whether her love is of some – not lesser – but rather other sort, perhaps rooted in what she learned and was taught embodies life in relationship. It is all so very complicated. Of one thing I think I am clear – abuse takes many forms: physical, emotional and psychic, or both and more. Where or when one form doesn’t exist or manifest itself, another may and can and who is to say that the emotional scars rendered by constant belittling or criticism scar less deeply or hurt less than a physical blow that leaves an obvious, visible sign. Abuse is abuse is abuse. All of which brings me back to where I ended earlier, that is, looking very hard at myself, for I am the only person over which I can exercise some control and oversight. So, in the end, I point the finger at myself.


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