12/27/2011 04:15 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2012

Seeing Red

There is always a next time. It always happens again. And no, they are really not sorry.

Red flags should be easy to see, but apparently, in spite of their crimson color and their ability to wave in the breeze, they cleverly escape the notice of those most in need of their warnings, often with tragic results.

It is incomprehensible to me that there are people who truly believe its better to be in a relationship with someone inherently cruel than to be in no relationship at all. Somehow, these people emit a magnetic force, a tractor beam of sorts, that draws cruel and emotionally unavailable people to them like a beacon in the darkness.

The abusers are a crafty sort, often charming and engaging to the point of distraction, and their transgressions can go unnoticed or be perceived as almost insignificant. They make their victims feel grateful for their presence, lucky to have their affections, and obligated to forgive them for what outsiders would perceive as outrageous and unacceptable behavior. It is as if the victims are hypnotized into a sort of color blindness that makes it impossible for them to see the color red.

I knew a woman once who was married to a very old-fashioned (read "chauvinistic") man, and she did everything she was taught that a good wife should do. A stay-at-home mom, she kept the house spotless and did all the yard work as well, leaving her husband with nothing to do but bring home the bacon. But the man drank like a fish, consuming about 12 beers every night, and he was always picking on her about something. He literally did a "white glove" test on various surfaces to check the quality of her dusting, obsessive about wanting everything perfect. He took great pleasure in terrorizing his children and their little dog. On the rare occasions when he went out with his wife, he would wait for her to appear in her beautiful evening attire and ask her selfishly, "How do I look?"

One afternoon, the woman visited the neighbor across the street for coffee and conversation, and when her husband came home and saw she was not there waiting for him with dinner on the table, he was furious. She arrived home just a few minutes after him, having seen him drive up from across the street, and he proceeded to start screaming. The father of two little girls, both under the age of five, grabbed his doting wife and began throwing her around the kitchen, bending her backwards over the railing bordering the basement stairs and choking her. The little girls stood at the end of the hallway and watched, motionless and screaming. He then dragged his young wife down the hallway, past his horrified daughters, and took her into the bedroom, where he threw her into the shower and turned on the hot water, holding the glass doors closed so that she couldn't escape.

After a few minutes, he calmly walked into the kitchen and opened a beer. And not long after, his lovely bride, with bruises on her neck and soaking wet hair, came into the kitchen and apologized to him.

Its amazing, isn't it? And when you were reading that story, did you find yourself asking why she would have stayed with someone like that? Does it seem rational to assume she would have chosen to stay with a violent and cruel man for the benefit of the children? It doesn't make any sense, really. And yet her story is shockingly common.

You really do have to love yourself enough to be alone, at least until you find someone worthy of you. Love is something we should already have inside of us, for it is designed to be shared. It is not a weapon, a trap, or a gift, and I think there are too many people in this world who don't really understand that. If the person you are sharing your life with makes you feel stupid, insignificant, or worthless, then what you have is the opposite of love, and believe me, you deserve better.

Traffic lights use the color red to signify the importance of stopping. Learn to see the color red, stop whatever you're doing and make yourself safe. There's a reason why nobody ever warns you about yellow flags.