by Rev. Tony Marciano
Each Christmas season, my wife watches every Christmas special that is aired, beginning on Thanksgiving. To be with her, I have to watch them two or three times.
One touched me in a profound way. It was called “The National Tree.” The plot involved a tree at the White House that needed to be replaced because it was killed when struck by lightening. A woman working for the company transporting the new White House tree from Oregon to Washington, D.C., goes along for the ride to cover the trip and, in the process, has to skip Thanksgiving with her new fiancé, who is furious over her decision.
The story continued with the drama of a Hallmark Channel movie about the adventures of the tree. Periodically, you would see the woman making calls to her fiancé. Finally, there is a pivotal scene where she calls him and says, “I have called you 10 times and left you 10 voice mails. You have not returned any of my calls. I understand you’re upset that I could not be there for Thanksgiving. I deserve to be treated better than this. I’m breaking off this engagement.”
That scene spoke volumes to me. At times in my life, I have stayed in hurtful relationships long after most people would have left. It’s as if I believed that if I tried harder, worked harder and sacrificed more, the other person would see how wonderful a person I am and begin to treat me with respect. It never happened.
As an adult, I had an aunt who insulted me each time she saw me. She would greet me with a degrading comment about my weight. The second sentence was “Hi, Anthony.” The last time I saw her, she did the same. My reply was, “I hear there is going to be a famine. I am packing on the weight so that when the food runs out, my fat will sustain me long after you have died.”
She went silent. My strategy today would be different. I would call her and offer to visit with her. I also would state that if she found it necessary to make a critical comment about my weight, I would cancel the visit right then and there.
Outside of my ministry at the Charlotte Rescue Mission, I run into people who are scared of the toxic person in their lives. Whether it is a spouse, child, in-law, boss, or someone else, they believe if they are passive and nice, the other person will treat them with dignity and respect. Instead, the abuse, whether verbal or emotional, gets worse.
Let me ask you to consider this: The person who wants the relationship the least owns it. When you are in an “abusive” relationship, often the abuser wants it the least. The “victim” desperately wants the relationship and clings to the abuser. The abuser pulls back with much disdain, and the victim, panicking over the possibility of losing the relationship, digs his or her claws in deeper into the abuser.
This continues until the relationship disintegrates. My counsel to you, if you are a victim, is to reverse the relationship. If you are going to own it, you are going to have to want it the least.
The woman in “The National Tree” movie originally wanted the relationship the most. She called her fiancé 10 times. She left voice mails, pleading for him to understand the reason for her absence on Thanksgiving.
Each time her call went unreturned. Each time she tried harder, sacrificed some of her “dignity” to win his approval. Finally, she flipped the relationship around and said, “I deserve to be treated better than this.”
I’m not asking you to walk out of that unhealthy relationship. I’m asking you to establish healthy boundaries that say, “You will no longer speak to me that way. When you are prepared to treat me with dignity and respect, we can continue this conversation. Otherwise, I’m ending this conversation now.” As the Scripture says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
The Rev. Tony Marciano is the executive director of the Charlotte Rescue Mission and a regular South Charlotte Weekly columnist. He is available to speak to your group. Call 704-334-4635, ext. 213, to schedule him.