I’ve read Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks and I decided to write something about relationships (again). It’s literally my job to talk about healthy relationships, so I had to!
Let me paint a picture for you: A man seems like he has the American Dream. He’s got a beautiful wife and daughter. They are middle class, comfortable enough to have savings to last them at least a year while providing that overactive lifestyle to their daughter who is only 5. Even though he quits his job to start his own business, his wife can stay in designer. This is the kind of life people strive for, feel comfortable in.
When we think about relationship abuse, we think about a husband and a wife. Maybe the husband has just lost his job and indulges in a case of Budweiser each night. He wears a signature “wifebeater” (when masculinity is so fragile, you have to make a tank top more manly by promoting violence against women) and beats his wife. We imagine the wife going out in public wearing sunglasses to hide her black eyes and long sleeves to hide her bruises. Maybe she says something like “I’m so stupid and fell on accident.”
We don’t imagine a man, Russ, who has often been told he is too nice for his own good and dances with his daughter (I love how a common sentiment among men is that it took them getting a daughter for them to respect women. What about the woman who gave you that daughter? I never heard a woman say that it took them raising a son to respect men. But I digress). We don’t imagine a posh, petite woman, Vivian, as an abuser.
Relationship violence is not just physical violence. psychological abuse can be just as violent and dangerous. Gaslighting is the act of making someone question their own reality (this definition is brought to you by one of the few random episodes of Criminal Minds I was able to watch). Vivian employs gaslighting tactics throughout the book. She blames Russ for all of their arguments that she actually starts and she tries to convince Russ is someone different than who he really is.
Russ is constantly questioning his reality. He never knows what will set off the volatile Vivian. He always tries to do everything in his power to make her happy and not invoke her wrath , including stifling his opinions and feelings. And on top of that, Vivian controls his life by belittling him (especially around his weight and food choices) and uses their daughter as a pawn against him.
I wish these were spoilers, but most of this happens at the beginning of the book.
What upsets me the most about the book is how the other characters refer to the abuse. They give Russ further cause to blame himself and question his reality. They tell him that his problem is that he’s too nice and won’t stand up to Vivian. They engage the myth that men shouldn’t be sensitive, or even nice. They blame the tension of his marriage on him not being able to fulfill his role as a provider.
Nicholas did such a disservice of men who are victims/survivors of relationship abuse (even though men aren’t necessarily reading these books). He had the platform and responsibility to not only give men the vocabulary for their experiences, but also fight the myth that men can’t be victims/survivors. And in not doing so, he just reinforces this in women’s minds.
This is why I don’t like the label gender-based violence. I understand that this phenomenon has roots of gender inequality and women (cis and trans) experience the brunt of this violence, but this term is limiting that this is ultimately rooted in power that is not necessarily gain from societal status. This label ignores the experiences of men, people in same-gender relationships, and other pressure from other forms of oppressions (racism, classism, ableism, etc.).
What happened between Vivian and Russ in Two by Two was abuse. I will call it that since Nicholas Sparks couldn’t.