Love [Shouldn’t Be] A Battlefield: Eminem & Domestic Violence

I apologize for the lack of posts as of late!

Here is a modified excerpt from a paper I wrote recently, and I felt it to be appropriate considering that October is Sexual Assault Awareness Month at Tufts, not to mention Domestic Violence Awareness Month nationally. [More info on SAAM at Tufts can be found here]. This post is talking about domestic violence in popular culture, inspired by a truly thought-provoking discussion on Feministing.

The song “Love the Way You Lie” is Eminem’s most popular song from his album so far, likely due to the controversial undertones associated with it. With Rihanna’s public involvement as a member of an abusive relationship, her decision to be included in the song “Love the Way You Lie” has taken the song to a powerful new element. The song evolves from a cliché “love is hard” anthem, to an intense foray into the dynamics of domestic assault.

He compares their relationship to a drug, but not in the generic romantic sense. His comparison emphasizes both pain and addition:

“Drunk from the hate / It’s like I’m huffing paint / And I love it the more that I suffer”.

The chorus has Rihanna singing a similar story, saying, “I like the way it hurts”. This verse comments on two disheartening realities of domestic abuse: victims can be manipulated in a way to somehow justify their abuse, and not everyone leaves their abuser. It makes it clear that despite her being the victim in the physical sense, she has also been emotionally victimized, as she does not see a problem in his treatment of her.

Eminem begins the song by explaining the cyclical nature of this sort of relationship, admitting that “Cause when it’s going good, it’s going great … But when it’s bad, it’s awful”. He then admits to hitting her, saying he just “snap[ped]”. Within the same breath, however, Eminem immediately admits that this is wrong to do so and claims it to be out of character:

“Who’s that dude? I don’t even know this name […] I’ll never stoop so low again / I guess I don’t know my own strength.”

This section describes the inner stresses and thought process of many of the individuals that are involved in domestic assault, according to the An Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection (AARDVARC): Participants continually making excuses while continuing on the theme of feeling both trapped and addicted to the situation.

Eminem further explores this by rapping, “So they say it’s better to go your separate ways,” but then argues to stay together despite having a relationship of violence: “[the incident] was yesterday / yesterday is over”, adding that “next time [he’ll] show restraint.” Yet the cycle continues, as several times he claims that he will control his anger the next time there is an argument, yet he fails to not harm her each time. He resorts to being violent both verbally and physically because he “love[s her] too much”. Eminem defines their relationship as one of dangerously powerful love and admiration, yet one can argue that this is another method of manipulation. One can see a bit of the manipulation unfold when he begins to partially blame her for their fighting:

“But your temper is just as bad as mine is / You’re the same as me […] When it comes to love / You’re just as blinded”.

The most chilling aspect of this song is the last rap verse. After one listens to the pain of this relationship and the heartache that seems to be coming from Eminem’s involvement in the relationship, within one line he completely shatters all potential hope for the situation. Despite him rapping about self-hatred and claiming an interest to better himself throughout the song, he ends the song with a painful:

“I just want her back / I know I’m a liar / If she ever tries to f$cking leave again / I’mma tie her to the bed / And set the house on fire”.

This all ties together and gives a deeper dimension to the song’s title, “Love the Way You Lie”. By Rihanna singing this line in the chorus, it provides another glimpse into the role of a victim involved in this type of relationship. She is aware that the idea for a healthier relationship is not realistic, all while convincing herself that this situation is deserved and inescapable.

I think the overarching question for readers here is this: what is the purpose of the song (if any)? What is the message here that Eminem is sending, especially considering the last verse? Was Rihanna’s involvement intentional?

PS: Did you know 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime? Learn more information and related resources here for DVAM.

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