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Escape the Victim/Villain Trap
by Lisa McCourt
Editor's Note from Lisa McCourt: This article will wrap-up my 3-part mini-rant on the harm our societal viewpoints can cause in the lives of families affected by divorce. The Victim/Villain Trap happens not only in spousal relationships, but in sibling, parental, friend, and romantic relationships as well.
I’m a Joy Trainer. I teach people specific techniques for living a more genuine, consistently joyful existence. And one of the most common joy-robbing dynamics I find myself endlessly pulling my clients out of is the Victim/Villain Trap. It’s especially rampant with my divorcing and rocky-marriage clients.
When a marriage takes a nosedive, there is always one spouse who feels it ahead of the other. If this spouse makes his/her wishes for a divorce known, then that spouse becomes the Villain—the unethical, irresponsible person who made a promise and now wants to break it. People love sinking their teeth into this Villain, making him or her the scapegoat for every secret fear they have about their own relationships. Fear of taking on this seemingly unavoidable Villain-role keeps lots of unhappy marriages in place.
And here’s what almost always happens: To avoid the pain and persecution of being the Villain, the spouse who wants the marriage to end—let’s say it’s Spouse A—will sometimes (often subconsciously) start building a case against Spouse B. If Spouse A can gather up enough evidence that Spouse B is a treacherous person to be married to, then maybe Spouse A can convince the world that he/she is really a Victim, not a Villain after all. Since society demands a Victim and Villain when a marriage is ending, Spouse B can then become the Villain, at least to the people in Spouse A’s world.
This is such a common pattern, and so devastatingly damaging, especially to the children of these couples. We, as a society, are fostering and forcing this dynamic with our antiquated, fear-based views about marriage and divorce. Children aren’t traumatized by divorce; children are traumatized by having parents at war with one another. If we, as a society, could stop demonizing divorce, we could release the need for the Villain/Victim role assignments, and divorcing couples would have permission to continue loving one another, even as the nature of that love changes and evolves.
It’s been my observation with my Joy-Training students that spousal anger is usually just a cover for the anger a person feels at being forever romantically bound to someone he or she no longer feels romantic feelings toward. Once they realize the true root of their suffering, they’re freed to authentically express themselves. (And ironically, the bliss of finally opening up the valve of authentic communication often leads them to fall in love again.)
When you’re pressured into villain-izing your spouse, and you start expressly looking for his/her very worst qualities, it’s not hard to find them. We’re all human and we all have faults. Fettering out your spouse’s most egregious traits and focusing on them is the surest way to magnify them and cause them to grow. If your subconscious (or conscious) goal is to gather up a bucketful of your spouse’s shortcomings to justify your desire to leave a marriage, you’ll easily be able to do it. And you’ll hurt your spouse in the process, and you’ll hurt your kids.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were another way to leave a marriage—a way that allowed you to honor and celebrate this being you once heralded as the most important person in your world? A way that allowed you to focus on all the wonderful attributes you still see in that person so that those could be the ones you magnify and experience moving forward?
The Victim/Villain Trap forces many disintegrating marriages into utterly unnecessary acrimony. Love comes in myriad forms. Sometimes the romantic love of marriage shifts over time into a brother-sister kind of love. For some couples, that’s okay. It’s what they expect and it works for them and they remain happily married. But for other people, simply because of how they’re wired, and how they view the world, that kind of shift causes the marriage to feel inauthentic to them. Unless they can honestly express that and communicate it to their partner so that together they can explore new ways of connecting, the marriage is bound to slowly wither and die. With no paradigm for gracefully accepting this possible trajectory, partners who might have been able to amicably consider their options are forced into combat instead.
Only when the Victim and Villain roles are firmly put to rest can a couple learn the kind of communication skills that will lead them to either fall in love in a fresh, new, more meaningful and evolved way . . . or decide to part through a fully conscious and mutually-respectful sequence of win-win events.
None of us is ever 100% a Villain, and none of us is ever 100% a Victim. We’re all beautiful mosaics with a mixed-bag of traits, both glorious and hideous, and that’s what makes us human and fantastic. Deeply integrating this understanding is a foundational step toward living a truly joyful and blissfully authentic life.
Read Lisa’s prior articles about conscious divorce here and here.
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About the Author
Unconditional love expert Lisa McCourt is a dynamic speaker, seminar leader and author whose 34 books have sold more than 5.5 million copies worldwide. Her new book, Juicy Joy – 7 Simple Steps to Your Glorious, Gutsy Self, teaches people to embrace "radical authenticity" to fully experience unbridled joy in life. Lisa lives in South Florida with her two children. For more information, visit www.LisaMcCourt.com.