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.