Ray and Janay Rice and the Spotlight on Domestic Abuse
Kitty J. Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT
Certified Life Strategies & Stress Management Coach
This week in the news, we have been confronted as a society with the issue of domestic violence. The precipitating event was, of course, the new video footage that was released to the public by TMZ.
The punch that Ray Rice threw at his fiancé’s head, resulting in her being knocked out, along with the sight of his dragging her limp body out of the elevator as though she were a sack of potatoes should turn the stomach of anyone who has watched it.
There has been much discussion as a result of that video around the topic of domestic violence. Television commentators and pundits have considered aloud why Janay Rice would decide to apologize for “her part” in what happened in that elevator. They have debated why she married Ray Rice in spite of that incident. They wonder why she is now defending him as their lives crumble around them. He has lost his job, his reputation, his endorsements, and perhaps all hope of a professional future. The fact that he hasn’t been arrested and isn’t facing criminal charges has been lost in the din
I feel badly for Janay. I can relate to her because I was also once the victim of domestic abuse. When you are caught up in a situation with someone who has fits of rage and is big enough to hurt you physically—not to mention the emotional and psychological abuse—you lose your ability to think straight. Thankfully, I eventually got my thinking straight, and I wound up leaving, but I didn’t leave overnight. My leaving started a full year before I physically left the situation.
Why do women stay? Fear of their partner is certainly one reason. I was afraid of what my husband might do if I left. He would lose his temper and lose his ability to filter what he said or what he did. He would always apologize later, and he would always promise that it wouldn’t happen again. And I wanted to believe him because here was the first reason I stayed: I had made a commitment, and I thought that meant I needed to stay and try to figure out how to make it work. I had “made my bed,” so to speak, and now I needed to “lie in it.” That was what being responsible was, I thought.
There was also the fact that after we had been married a year, he was diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder. Once he started taking medication, things got better for a while. But then he would sometimes forget to take his meds…and the rage would be even worse. So, yeah, I was afraid of what he might do if I decided to leave.
I also had financial considerations. When we married, like most couples do, we merged our finances. Trouble was, after we were married, I discovered that he had not kept his promise to pay off his credit card debts. I came into the marriage with no debt, and we bought our house using my good credit because his was, unbeknownst to me at the time, in the tank.
He also owed back taxes, which I wound up helping him pay off. My finances were so intertwined with his by the time I recognized that I was going to need to leave that I needed some time to build a financial reserve so I could go when I was ready.
I also loved him. In spite of his temper tantrums and rage-filled rants. When he wasn’t carrying on like a 5-year-old child, he was sweet, thoughtful, and even loving. We had a lot in common intellectually, politically, and even spiritually, and when things were good, they were, well, pretty good.
I was also led to believe—by him—that if I were just more flexible, more understanding, more generous, more responsive, more pliable…things would be wonderful. The problem wasn’t him, he seemed to insist all the time…it was me…and for a while, I admit, I believed it.
One of his favorite ways to chastise me when I was upset with him over something was, “Would you rather be right or be in relationship?” Well, of course, I wanted to be in relationship…I just didn’t realize that that desire to be in relationship somehow put all of the burden for carrying our relationship on me. While I was beating myself up for being upset over something he did, he went merrily on his way feeling no guilt and no remorse.
The trouble was, of course that I knew in my heart of hearts that the trouble wasn’t me. I sought out couples counseling for us, and the first time we went, he was such an ass to the counselor that she suggested I come alone the next time.
The second counselor we went to was no help at all. He listened to my husband rage about how if I were just more accommodating, everything would be fine.
The third time we did couples’ counseling, we went to a guy that he picked, and they got along great. That counselor suggested at one point that if I would just go on some medication to dull my anxieties about my husband’s behavior that everything would be okay. I never went back, although my husband continued to see that guy for a long time. They became pals.
One counselor—one I saw before the second couples’ counselor—listened to me describe my situation, and at that time, I think I was hoping that she WOULD recommend a pill I might take to make things better.
Instead, she said to me, “What I know for sure is that you are not depressed.” I was surprised to hear that because I thought I might be.
Then, she asked, “If you had a friend who described her situation with her significant other the way you have just described your situation with your husband, what would you say to her?”
I looked at her for a moment, and then I said rather sheepishly, “I would ask her why she is still there?”
“Just checking,” the counselor said knowingly.
But I did stay for at least another 2 years after that conversation. I needed time to plan. I needed time to make sure I had done everything I could do to salvage the marriage. I needed time to build a reserve fund. And I needed time to build my courage and my personal resolve.
Relationships are complicated. That’s why I feel so sorry for Janay Rice and her whole family. I am sure she loves Ray in spite of what happened in that elevator. Maybe, if he gets some help, that will never happen again. But it is complicated, and until more women decide once and for all that they will not accept the type of abuse their partners perpetrate, the violence will continue.
Women put up with verbal abuse long before the physical abuse starts. It isn’t okay to let yourself be abused verbally or emotionally any more than it is okay to let yourself be abused physically. But you are the only one who can set your limits as to what you will and what you will not allow. You must believe that you deserve better, and those cannot just be empty words.
I feel sorry for the Rice family and their troubles. Having said that, I am glad that there has been a new spotlight on domestic abuse and family violence. We as a society need to come to terms with this issue. It has been swept under the rug far too many times.
It doesn’t just happen in the NFL, by the way. It is systemic throughout society, and it occurs at all economic levels, all educational levels, and in all neighborhoods. It has too long been overlooked because of the sexism that is as rampant in our society as racism even though no one really wants to confront that issue either.. And rest assured, sexism IS a problem. Men AND women need to own that and come to terms with it if we are going to have any shot at fixing it.
It is time to talk about it. It is time to bring it out from the dark and into the light. It is time for women like myself to own our own actions and our own past lives and to be willing to share our own experiences. It might help other women who are going through what we have already experienced. I got out. If you are going through this, or if you know someone who is going through it, it is time to get help. You, and they, are not alone.
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