I rent out most of the rooms in my home, and I am pleased to announce that I have discovered the secret to happiness as a landlord.
Never rent to couples.
In the last five years, on eight (yes, eight) separate occasions, the police have come to my house to deal with domestic violence. And just in case you don’t know, when the police show up on a domestic violence call, they SHOW UP. Often a dozen cars. It feels like an invasion.
And if I include emotional abuse along with domestic violence, by my count, I’ve now lived with seven different abusive couples in the last six years.
Here’s where things get interesting. All but one of these abusive relationships eventually ended. Then what happened? Did the “abuser” find a new victim? Did the “victim” just keep bouncing from abusive relationship to abusive relationship? Usually, no. There was one serial abuser. But other than that single case, once the relationship ended, each individual person seemed to not be a problem.
And, in case you were wondering, throughout each relationship, both partners seemed to almost take turns playing the role of “victim” and “abuser”. Then the relationship ended, and usually both people stopped playing either of those roles.
As a pastor I have dealt with tons of domestic violence. Dealing with abuse is just a normal part of my job. And you know what? There are certainly people who just keep getting into abusive relationship after abusive relationship. They exist. But they seem quite rare.
On the other hand, I’ve met lots of people who dedicate themselves to trying to “help” couples stay together. Or to “keep the family intact” when the family is clearly unhealthy. If you are one of those people, I wonder: Why are you so afraid that a family will fall apart? Why are you so afraid that a relationship will end?
Why are you more afraid of a relationship ending than you are of the very real possibility that you will contribute to someone getting traumatized or even killed in an abusive situation?
And am I really so unusual in noticing how common it is for relationships to end, and suddenly both people are better off?
Let’s move for a moment from the serious to the trivial.
Ever since I was a teenager I’ve had gut problems. When the COVID-19 lock-down hit, I decided I was going to get something out of all this nonsense. I was going to figure out what was up with my digestion once and for all.
And I did it. I discovered the diet that works for me.
Then one day, right before eating, I was playing my Star Wars game on my phone. I’m in a small guild of people who don’t take the game too seriously. Suddenly, a player named “Dauntless” rejoined the guild.
Now this “Dauntless” guy is someone who does take the game seriously. Too seriously. WAY too seriously. He had joined the guild a few times in the past, and always quit in anger when he didn’t get his way. Of course, not only did he quit, but he spent so much time spreading gossip, anxiety and resentment over whatever argument he was having that other people quit too.
The moment “Dauntless” joined the guild, he demanded to be made an officer. Fortunately, the guild leader kicked him out instead. I didn’t say so, but if he hadn’t gotten kicked out, I’d have left that guild.
Now here’s why I brought up that stuff about my gut.
I literally got sick because this guy returned to a guild in a phone game that I don’t even care about. My indigestion was worse than when I spend an entire day eating nothing but pizza and ice cream.
This is a trivial online video game. It’s no big deal. But that’s how much a brief encounter with an emotionally abusive person affected my health.
A lot of you who read this suffer from anxiety and gut issues. I know because you say so. I’m going to make a suggestion.
I suggest you consider the possibility that your attempts to “keep families together”, your gossip, your scapegoating, your willingness to blame, criticize and complain (or your willingness to let others do those things in your presence), your attempts to mollify or cater to resentful, angry people, your avoidance of direct confrontation, your unwillingness to leave relationships or let families die–these things may be killing you. Physically.
One of my two closest friends in life rents the mother-in-law that makes up the downstairs part of my house. We have been friends for about three decades now.
We first met growing up in Tacoma, but we only became close friends after we ran into each other after moving separately to Seattle. When our friendship started, we were both a mess. No need for details.
We both grew emotionally. But one day I noticed something disturbing. We had grown as individuals, but our friendship itself had not. Our friendship was still stuck twenty years in the past.
So I ended it. That hurt.
But a year later we started our friendship all over. I’m glad we did. Our old friendship had to die for the new one to live.
Right now, I no longer suffer. That isn’t a joke and it isn’t an exaggeration. Why? Well, the single biggest key is that I am part of many healthy, totally separate, non-overlapping families. But it’s like evolution. (Or, as a pastor, I might say it’s like death and resurrection.) The unhealthy families needed to die off, or at the very least, I needed to leave them. There was simply no way for me to end up in healthy families while still clinging to toxic ones.
Relationships and families just tend to stay together no matter what, because our poor little 10,000 year-old brains still think they live in a world where if the family fell apart no one would be able to survive. Since families have such a tendency to stay intact and revert to their previous forms, it means that if someone wants to leave, they probably should leave. The mere wanting proves it.
So here is my plea and my prayer to you. Remember that there are far more abusive relationships than there are abusive people. Remember that a toxic family is more likely than a toxic person. Stop trying to “help” people with their relationships. Stop trying to hold families together. Stop trying to “save” the relationship. Let unhealthy families die, and be amazed at what rises from the dust and ashes.