But a conversation that centers on how to maximize personal well-being can lack language with which to clearly articulate the reality of catastrophes that are not, in fact, simply failures of self-help or self-care. The desire to ease and repair the blows of life can become the stigmatization and suspicion of suffering itself. Women who stay in marriages from which they derive little to no benefit incur this suspicion, often in the form of pathologizing explanations. According to CNN: “Abedin’s behaviors are squarely in the realm of women’s high esteem for love, friendship and loyalty, and for tending and befriending the weak and the beleaguered, as described by UCLA psychologist and professor Shelley Taylor. This gives the impression of being a doormat, but the woman thinks of it as being stalwart and noble. Abedin may not be quite in this category — but she seems dangerously close to it.”
Unaddressed is why the impression a woman gives is more important than the content of her actions, or why a woman’s own assessment of her decisions is assumed to be unreliable. The reality is that a woman who stays married to a man who has hurt her in real, devastating, materially injurious ways is not necessarily a hysteric nor incapable of understanding her own interests. She is a moral agent in a complex world, in which there is no formula for determining what path to take, and in which some of our most important decisions are leaps of faith into a future we cannot fully understand. Many factors might shape the choice to stay even in detriment to one’s own life trajectory: concern for a child, an insistence on keeping the vows that another broke, or a desire for the other party to make amends, or simply an unwillingness to give up on a person you have loved.