No relationship is perfect. Every couple argues and bickers and might hurt their partner either physically or emotionally, on purpose or on accident, to some extent.
We covered the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship, but let's face it. We're authors, and we thrive with conflict, and that means throwing hurdles and conflicts into our characters' relationships. We likely won't write 100% healthy relationships. It's unrealistic and no fun for us.
So how do you have your characters hurt their lovers without sounding like you, the author, are promoting abuse and/or unhealthy relationships? How do you still give the couple their happy ending if they yelled at each other and degraded them or really hurt them?
You want to have your readers be able to forgive the abuser for their actions. The way to get readers to forgive (or at least move on from) any abuse done in a relationship is to have the abuser show genuine regret for what they have done and then work tooth and nail to repent and mend the damage they've done. You need to show they understand what they did was wrong, a mistake, and they have to genuinely want to fix it and make up for it.
THAT, in my opinion, is a true healthy relationship. The two people grow and evolve to becoming better for each other. We're all human and we screw up all the time. Give the message to your readers that messing up is okay if you learn from your mistakes and take action to set things straight.
Someone was bouncing ideas off me for her story where the male lead is abusive and manipulative starting out, but he starts to become a better person and eventually him and the female lead fall in love, so how could she portray this in the most "politically correct" way, so to speak?
As long as she shows that what he's doing is BAD and UNACCEPTABLE, while his good behavior is ENCOURAGED, it should work without legions of critics squealing abuse. And once he starts being a better person, when he does slips and does something bad, he should feel guilty about his actions and do whatever he can to fix it and/or repent for it.
One point to note: Abuse isn't just a single instance of bad or disrespectful behavior. Abuse is when it's been going on for months, years, and even after you talk to the person about it and explain how they're making you feel, they don't change and they continue to abuse you.
Someone gets angry once and slaps their husband, it's not right, but it's not domestic abuse. If the wife continues to hit him every time she's angry or drunk or whatever, and she makes no effort to stop despite his pleas, that's a type of domestic abuse. As authors, I would hope you don't promote this type of behavior in your stories and let it go unchecked. Show that it's wrong.
The slapping thing is something I've seen a lot (and before I realized it was wrong, I had an entire story kind of based on the girl hitting the guy when he did something creepy... No worries, I've since learned and rewritten it!). Many stories have the characters hurt the other, either physically, emotionally, or both, and never have them go back and take responsibility.
Edward disables Bella's truck so she can't visit her friends = not cool.
But he never once thinks "Oh, maybe I shouldn't have done that..." and it was never portrayed in a negative light. Bella whined a little about it, but otherwise she instantly forgave him without him making any show of regret at his actions. That's the kind of thing you guys should hopefully want to avoid when writing your relationships.
In the Twilight case, Edward could've done a lot of things to repent, starting with an apology at the very least. I would've liked to see a step further, where Edward might invite her friends over and try to make peace with them himself so they can all hang out later. Or just anything where Edward is making an effort to show he's sorry for falsely imprisoning Bella.
And all this doesn't just apply to romantic relationships. Any time there's disrespect or abuse with two characters and you want your readers to sympathize with the abuser and eventually forgive them, make sure they feel guilty and work to fix their mistakes. It could be bewteen two friends, a mother and daughter, son-in-law and father-in-law, a cat and its human, etc.
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