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Should Rihanna Forgive Chris Brown? Wrong Question

What I did not get until my first husband died is how difficult relationships can be when you ask the wrong questions about them. Should Rihanna forgive Chris Brown is one of those questions. It takes you to all the wrong places, hides the truth you need to succeed.

Should she forgive him? It will probably make her life a lot happier to do so.

Should she be alone with him again? A very different question.

Here is what I would say to Rihanna and anyone dealing with abuse. When a man you love abuses you, there are only two possible explanations.

(1) He does not care about your wellbeing. If this is true, you are not safe being alone in a room with him. Even if you love him dearly, you must protect yourself from his harm, whether you forgive him or not.

Or...

(2) He cares about you, perhaps more than anyone else ever has. If so, the abuse proves he lacks the ability to control his behavior, to act the way he intends to act. If this is true, he may show great remorse. Or he may instead claim you caused the abuse, because it's pretty scary to accept that he is unable to control what he does to you.

He may think his ability to control himself when he's not drinking or doing drugs or overstressed means everything is OK, but if he does not control whether he drinks, does drugs, or gets overstressed, there is nothing OK about it.

Even if you love him dearly, perhaps especially if you love him dearly, you must protect yourself from his harm. You must do it because he cannot. Hurting someone he loves will lead to great shame or magnificent excuses, but neither fixes the problem and both erode the relationship.

You are the least likely person to help him regain control. You must protect both of you from his problem until he finds help with it. If it's treatable, like addiction, alcoholism, growing up in an environment where he could not learn self-management skills, or an operable brain tumor, your best bet is to physically separate until he recovers.

It's not difficult to forgive someone once you decide their abuse was not intended. I hope Rihanna has forgiven Chris. But you do a man no favor at all if you forgive without also protecting the woman and the relationship he values. He cannot do this for himself until he treats the underlying cause. There is no hint that Chris Brown is yet in control of his behavior when annoyed by anyone. I hope Rihanna keeps her bodyguard with her at all times while he's around, especially if she actually cares about Chris.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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