First Thanksgiving. 1621. Artstor, library.artstor.org/asset/ARTSTOR_103_41822001757739
It may seem that in the midst of living with a partner who acts abusively or violently, there is little for which to be thankful. However, situations of intimate partner violence (IPV) are not completely and absolutely awful. The complexity of IPV means that love and goodness are intertwined with acts of abuse and violence. The difficulty for a religious survivor of IPV is that practicing gratitude in the midst of IPV can lead her to believe she must be grateful for the good that her partners does and overlook the bad. Yes, there are good things about men who act abusively, however that does not mean that they should not be held accountable for their abusive actions.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday. Many churches and religious organizations acknowledge that the civic holiday is an extra opportunity for Christians to focus on giving thanks. The Thanksgiving holiday is strongly associated with families gathering for a shared meal together. Meals can be an opportunity to deepen connections and celebrate the goodness in our lives. However, the preparation for a holiday meal can also be a source of stress and tension in families. Some family members can have unreasonably high expectations for a clean house and an elaborate Thanksgiving feast. When are these expectations a source of abuse?
Abuse is rooted in power and control and is usually part of a pattern of abusive behaviours in a relationship. When the expectations of one partner for Thanksgiving (or any holiday) must absolutely be met by any means necessary by the other partner, including the depravation of sleep and unreasonable financial expense, abuse may be operating.
A healthy relationship involves mutuality and respect: if one partner is stressed trying to prepare for a holiday gathering, the other is trying to help rather than becoming more demanding. When the meal doesn’t turn out perfectly or the guests conversations are uninteresting, partners in a healthy relationship console one another or laugh it off. In an unhealthy relationship there may be criticism, blame, derision, slaps, shoves, and silence. Alcohol helps to dull the pain.
There is no perfect Thanksgiving dinner, despite the photos we see on Facebook or Instagram. Respect, mutuality, and care for each other should be the characteristics of any family celebration. Emotional, financial, spiritual, and physical abuse do not belong and are the responsibility of the abuser. Victim blaming is part of the pattern of abuse.
In the midst of giving thanks for their children, homes, jobs, and friends, women of faith can also learn to name abuse and violence. They can seek help so that the safety of their children is ensured and the abuse ends. This doesn’t mean that women are ungrateful – it means that they want the fullness of life. Being truly appreciative of goodness also means becoming aware of and naming the bad and working towards its end.
Catherine Holtmann, 16 October 2018