If you are in a healthy marriage or have never experienced any kind of abuse firsthand, first of all, thank God for that gift. But secondly, it can leave you scratching your head and wondering why someone would stay with her abusive partner.
Why does a woman take being called names over and over for years?
Why does a woman call the police but not file charges?
Why does a woman allow herself to be controlled, manipulated and lied to by her partner of all people?
Why does a woman go back to her physically abusive husband?
I’m going to give you several reasons why an abused woman does not leave her abuser.
She doesn’t know she’s being abused. I remember sitting in my car after being told by my new counselor that my marriage was abusive. This was fifteen years into the marriage. I was a fairly intelligent woman with a psychology degree. And I was in shock. I had known for a while at that point that my marriage was in trouble and rife with conflict and not the average bear, but abusive had never entered my mind. That was the stuff of Lifetime movies, not of good Christian girls’ marriages. I had stayed so long, in part, because I hadn’t known.
Her faith culture makes her think she has to stay. In those moments after that counseling session, before I started my car and drove away, I just sat there. And I said, out loud, to no one, to myself, to God, I don’t know, “Great…I’m abused. Now what?? Christians can’t get divorced for abuse. So now I just get to walk around knowing this for the rest of my life?!” I was furious. With my perceived constricting faith, with the people who had kept pushing me back into that marriage all those years with lists of things for me to do to be a better freaking wife, and maybe even a little bit with God as seemingly unmoved by the depth of my pain. I had stayed so long, in part, because I thought I had to.
She believes she deserves what she’s getting. I just heard of a physically abused wife recently saying, “I had it coming. I needed to be put in line.” Yes, real women actually believe these things. Abuse is so nefarious because it changes the victim’s perception of reality, because it changes the victim’s perception of what is whole and healthy and normal, and because it changes the victim’s perception of her innate worth.
She wants to stay. She may very much love her abuser. I know it’s hard to understand. But abuse tends to go in cycles, so there can be long stretches of what they call the honeymoon phase, and things can start to feel not just steady, but romantic and loving for a while. This too tricks the mind and heart into believing things that aren’t true. (This can also trick the hearts and minds of those on the outside looking in watching for changes in the abuser. Beware: the changes that take place during the honeymoon phase of the abuse cycle are temporary, surfacey and calculated. They are not, for the most part, heart changes or real changes or lasting changes. Time will show this to be true.)
She doesn’t know anything else. You must understand that there is a very good chance she was either abused as a child, saw abuse in her parents’ relationship, or has a huge relational need, and that is why she has come – even if unintentionally – looking for this same kind of thing for herself. The devil you know is always easier to contend with. This precious woman just does not believe she deserves any different or any better.
She’s scared to leave. If the abuse has escalated to violence (which, by the way, though all abuse will not escalate to violence, all abuse – if left unchecked – will just get worse and worse as the years go by; abuse does not just stop permanently on its own), there’s a good chance she has been threatened that if she tries to leave, she will be found. Fear could be the driving force behind her staying.
Her abuser is her children’s father. You might think, even more reason for her to leave! But most mothers want their children to have fathers, especially if they grew up without one, even if the father is a mean man. A bad father is better than no father, they might argue.
She feels she has no other choice but to stay. If she left, she might not have the support she and her children would need, either emotionally or financially or even a place to stay. Living with the belief that you have no options is one of the most difficult mindsets to change. (But we always, always have options.)
I’m sure there are even more reasons that I haven’t covered. Abuse is tricky. And mind-changing. And heart-crushing. And soul-stealing. And just plain evil. I believe that just like an alcoholic’s brain chemistry is changed – distorted, even – by years of alcohol abuse, the mind and heart of an abuse victim are shaped by years of harsh words and faces being slapped and lies that seem like the truth and living under constant threats and children being placed in the crossfire.
Please, dear one who has not been abused, don’t judge. You have no idea what her life is really like. Instead, please, please show her grace. And please, please show her love. (And here’s how you can help her.)
If this post resonated with you, please consider supporting my ministry as I reach out to help hurting women by bringing them hope.
Thanks for doing this, Elisabeth! I wrote about the same topic here: http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2014/04/bonding-and-bondage-in-abusive.html
Another great writing!! Thank you for sharing. Really needed to read this.
This resonates with me. I stayed for so long because I believed I deserved the abuse. In addition, my faith culture reinforced the idea that marriage is permanent – no matter what. A couple people told me “At least he isn’t hitting you.” Money or fear of financial insecurity is a BIG reason women stay, especially in Christian culture. If a woman has been a stay at home mom for a number of years (even with a college degree) it can be quite a daunting prospect to leave financial security for the unknown. The church holds fast to a “It takes two to tango” mindset which tells the victim that she is mutually culpable for whatever took place in her marriage and for whatever consequences are a result. Most pastors don’t want to get their hands dirty and confront an abusive spouse or fully support a victim. So, faced with a lack of financial, or spiritual support sometimes it’s easier to stay.
Beth – you are doing such a great job of ministry!!! Thank you. Great words of wisdom here and so important for them to be said and understood. I had many reasons and all of the ones you discussed were definitely part of them!! What a good feeling reading the words that someone else truly does know and understand. There was not one word written that I didn’t relate with and was all real truth for me. Fantastic job. Another big one for me that I would add to this list is that I understood the background of the abuser and the whys which only added to me staying with love, compassion, forgiveness, thinking was called to show and give Gods unconditional love but it all takes a toll and causes all the things you mentioned and more until shutdown unable to give those things. It’s all very sad. Sad for the one being abused and for the abuser. Long lasting effects on both and the hard task of unlearning-relearning healthly. I see and know my part in it all in a healthy way but still fighting the effects of being told all those years it was all my fault, it was because of me…I caused him to do ______. I’m fighting hard to be who God wants me to be and look forward to when I find the balance. Not feeling it was all my fault, because I did or didn’t do and the feeling that I have value. Lead to believe and feel never enough, good enough. Thank you again for your ministry
Money, I am financially unable to support myself.
I just gotta say, I love you!!! You make me feel like I’m okay and that my decision to leave is not in vain. Thank you!!!