Review of "But I Love Him"

By Jill Murray
Regan Books, 2000
Review by Patricia Ferguson, Ph.D. on Apr 7th 2003
But I Love Him

This 184-page book is written for parents of teenage girls, as the title implies. Many parents, both men and women, do not know what is abuse and what is not, especially with emotional abuse and date rape. Therefore, the book is listed as a parenting book, and it is written to parents. Murray explains in her introduction that she wrote the book after working in a battered women’s shelter, where she found that virtually all of the battered women had been in abusive dating relationships in high school.

Murray went into schools and tried to educate teens about abusive relationships. As she explains, it was Murray who got the education. She was surprised at how blind the girls and the boys were about what is abusive and what isn’t. After her lectures teenagers would stay and talk with her about their own new awareness that they had indeed been engaging in behaviors that they did not realize were abusive.

Another thing Murray states in the book is that teens stay in abusive relationships for different reasons than adults. For instance, adults stay because of economic dependence, religious and cultural mores, and because of the children. According to her, teens who stay in abusive relationships are doing so often because they are receiving implicit messages from their families and society that it is not okay to explore and develop their own identity. They become active participants in the cycle of the problem.

Murray appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was overwhelmed with the parents who wrote to her about their daughters, whom they realized were in abusive relationships. She says that it was because of her experiences, including the aftermath of the show, that she wrote this book.

The specific topics covered include defining: teen dating abuse; the different levels of abuse (she defines them in “levels,” starting with verbal and emotional, moving to sexual and ending with physical); and warning signs. I have at least as much experience as she does with victims of domestic violence, and I would not describe them as levels, but instead as a circle of violence with any or all of the types of abuse taking place.

She spends a chapter talking about why a girl would “choose” an abusive relationship. Again, I disagree that a girl or a woman “chooses” either the relationship, or to “stay” in the relationship. There are men who are boys first, who are abusive. Some women and girls have the bad luck to date or marry one of them. In fact, most abusive relationships do not start until marriage and even later, when the first pregnancy occurs. Also, staying is not seen as an option for many girls and women, in part because they do not see the behavior as abuse. Denial is a big part of abusive relationships on the part of both partners. Furthermore, the boys/men will act completely contrite, promise never to do it again, and become even more loving, and the girls/women believe them.

Murray devotes another chapter to the role of alcohol. Much of it is statistics about the number of teens who drink. The part I found disturbing in this chapter, though, is that while it is true that abusers become more violent when drinking, she does not point out that studies have shown that even without alcohol abusive men will remain abusive unless they receive treatment. Unfortunately, many women believe this, too, and this leads to focusing on the cessation of alcohol use rather than the abuse. She even labels the victims as “codependents.” I know many experts in the field who would strongly disagree with this label. The blame goes with the abuser not the abused. But Murray states outright: “If she refuses your help (with alcohol or drugs) you will be able to see very clearly that your daughter has made a conscious decision ((italics mine) to stay in her relationship and be an active participant in the abuse ... “

I couldn’t disagree more. If a girl uses drugs or alcohol, it could be to numb herself to the abuse, to avoid dealing with it, or because she is a typical teenager experimenting. Murray herself started out the book with all the numbers of teens who drink but then concludes that doing so is abnormal and essentially is “asking for it.” (Quotation marks mine).

The book does have a considerable amount of information in the back about where to get help, questionnaires to help define abuse, and that kind of thing, but overall, I do not agree with the basic premises of the book. The final straw for me was the chapter where she talks about girls who abuse boys. Statistics have shown that this is very rare. More importantly, when it does happen, it is usually in reaction to being abused over and over by the boy/man, and it is the larger, stronger boy/man who can leave the situation. This statement is supported in most of the literature on domestic violence.

In conclusion, while I feel that a book such as this has potential to help teens avoid abuse, it may do more harm than good in the long run. Because of the factors I pointed out, many parents will use it against their daughters rather than as a way to help them. It has some merit, but in my opinion, this is not the book I would give my daughter if I were concerned about her being in an abusive relationship.

© 2003 Patricia Ferguson

Dr. Patricia Ferguson is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of California, a freelance writer and editor, and an artist. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from San Diego State University and received her doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Her publications include research on rape in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, several articles on nuclear medicine for nuclear medicine technologists, and an article on group therapy in The Reader's Guide to Social Sciences. She currently writes book reviews for several venues, has a chapter in "Girl Wars: Twelve Tried and True Strategies for Overcoming Female Bullying," (Fireside, 2003), and is an Editor-in-Chief for Apollo's Lyre, an online magazine for writers. She is also working on a book of memoirs.


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