What’s Love Got to Do With It?

I thought Tina Turner’s role in the film What’s Love Got to Do with It? accurately and movingly portrayed the victim of spousal abuse. Tina was born as Anna Mae Bullock and was abandoned at age six by her mother who escaped her own abusive relationship. Anna Mae was a plucky teenager with an indomitable spirit that kept her singing, smiling, and full of life. Soon after moving to St. Louis, Anna Mae fell under the spell of Ike Turner, a suave R & B record producer, band leader, and talent scout. From the first glimpse of Ike, it was easy to see that he knew what he wanted and would get it, no matter what or who got in his way. Anna Mae became Ike’s favorite new star and lover. She was now Tina Turner and was in over her head. As I watched, I held my breath and waited to see how long it would be before Tina’s charmed life turned sour.

Ike was rapidly rising in his career, spinning as tight as a top, and often under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He was obsessed and driven with desire to control and be at the top, both in his music career and in his home. It was not clear at what point he started to physically abuse Tina, but I would suspect that emotional abuse and control were present in their relationship right from the beginning. His oft repeated comments of “Now I suppose you will leave me” or “They [women] always leave me” were manipulative. Tina came from a background where her mother left her father and she was emphatic about not doing the same. She was charmed by Ike and loved him. She also knew he loved her and really did not mean to hurt her. Did he not give her gifts and was (somewhat) contrite after the abusive incidents? Why should she leave?

Tina tried to please Ike, but his overarching attitude was one of domination. “Why don’t you sing like I tell you to!?” He was demeaning and had no regard for Tina as an individual, the contribution she made to his success, or for her efforts in raising their boys. He also was physically abusive and seemed to be a textbook batterer, using “behaviors such as slapping, pushing, kicking, throwing objects, beating, or threatening with a weapon, and may include the use of force to obtain sexual gratification” (Rathus, J & Feindler, E., 2004, p. 64).

Initially Tina had the typical characteristics of an abused woman. She had no desire to leave the relationship and seemed to conceptualize her experience by:

(a) denial of the seriousness of the injury she has experienced, (b) attribution of the blame for the violence to forces outside the control of both partners, (c) blaming herself for the violence, (d) denial of her emotional or practical options, (e) wanting to save her partner by helping him overcome his problem while continuing to tolerate the abuse, and (f) her commitment to enduring the violence for the sake of some higher commitment such as religion or tradition (Ferraro & Johnson, 1983, quoted in M. Harway and M. Hansen, 2004, p. 38).

Tina was still in the crisis phase and not yet in the reality phase of the abuse. She had shifted from the love and protective care of the relationship to the danger phase. Tina was looking for a way to survive and a way to make order of her reality. She was in denial and her “reality light” was off—the narrative of what was really happening in her life had become blurred in her mind.  She had been hypnotized and robbed of her life and reality.

The cycles of violence continued in Ike and Tina’s lives. And, most likely, the attacks escalated in intensity and frequency, especially, I assume, as the pressures of their successful, competitive life increased. At some point, Tina began to realize that she was in danger and could not go on as she had. She sought out help, but ultimately returned to the abusive environment. However, she persisted in becoming empowered and not being totally dependent on Ike. She began to take charge of her life and became more independent. She was rediscovering herself. Harway and Hansen, in Spouse Abuse: Assessing & Treating Battered Women, Batterers, & Their Children, said:

Empowerment is a major goal in working with women who have been battered. Battering is currently conceptualized as a batterer’s method of controlling his partner. The client, therefore, has been functioning in a relationship with little personal power or control over her circumstances. Therapy, then, focuses on helping her to regain her sense of personal independence and on helping her shift from focusing on her partner to focusing on her own needs. You can also help the client explore personal resources she may not recognize or may have abandoned at the demand of her partner. Battered women often become increasingly isolated from peers and sources of emotional support. Therefore, you can encourage the client to gradually explore reconnecting with the people she perceives as supportive to her (2004, p. 65).

Ultimately, through support of her friend, Jackie, and her own strength and determination, Tina finally was able to break the cycle of violence and leave Ike. She had reached the bottom after the violent beating in the back of the limousine, could take no more, and left—permanently this time. She, as other abuse survivors, had to learn to “function beyond the battering and discover themselves, their strengths, and their limitations” (M. Harway & M. Hansen, 2004, p. 80). When she left Ike, Tina had only 36 cents, a gas charge card, and her name. She needed “to be careful not to become discouraged, not to expect rapid change, and to be pleased with small steps toward growth” (Harway & Hansen, 2004, p. 83). Fortunately, with time and much hard, determined work, Tina did this. She not only reached a new pinnacle in her singing career, but, more importantly, she was able to coolly and safely walk away from Ike and his loaded gun. She was free.


Harway, M. & Hansen, M (2004). Spouse abuse: assessing & treating battered women, batters, & their children (second edition). Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press.

Rathus, J. & Feindler, E (2004). Assessment of Partner Violence: A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners. Washington, D.C.: A.P.A.

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