Statistically, women in abusive relationships leave 6 times before being able to stay out of the abuse.
Why is it not only hard to leave, but also hard to stay out?
What makes someone return to a relationship that hurts, especially after they have gotten out once?
There are a number of answers…
- Hope. Hope that he is the person we fell in love with. Hope that the abuse will end and we can enjoy the relationship we thought we would have when we started getting to know them. Hope keeps us trapped, waiting for love.
- Advice. Too many people believe he needs a second chance. Too many people advise a woman to return, to try again. After all, marriage is binding. For Christians, this is even more impactful, because “God hates divorce”. (See this excellent blog Mistakes a Church Makes on how this is wrong.)
- Lack of Support System. An abuser isolates their victim. This leaves them without friends, without family, without anyone to turn to. If they leave, they will feel completely and totally alone. Too often the victims family supports the abuser. The abuser will also engage in a campaign to destroy the victims reputation, to spread lies about them, to deny any and all accusations of abuse. This campaign usually starts before the relationship ends and the abuser is believed. Often the victim does not reveal the abuse until after she has left, so people are not aware of her struggles. She hid it well and no one wants to believe he abused her, because he is so nice….
- Finances. Many women have been left without a source of income. In addition, they are snubbed if they need and access financial assistance (welfare). Too many abusers fight paying appropriate child or spousal support and the woman is drawn back into the relationship simply to provide for their family. One of my good friends fought with her abusive ex for years for him to provide child support. His philosophy was he was providing a home for them so he shouldn’t have to pay support for them too, they just needed to come home.
- Children. When a couple has children together, it makes it very hard to leave and stay gone. The children miss their dad, the mother misses the help a dad provides (if he provides any). The courts, despite evidence of domestic abuse, favor shared parenting. For a mom who is afraid of her children’s safety may feel it is better to stay in the relationship where she can provide protection than to allow them to be left alone where they may not be safe.
- Stalking and continued abuse. If the abuse isn’t going to stop, why live separately? When living with an abuser, it becomes possible to predict their actions, when they will abuse, how they will abuse. If there are children from the relationship, you cannot go “no contact”. There is constant contact regarding the children’s needs, wants, parenting time, activities, etc. There are many opportunities for the abuser to have access to his victim and they will take advantage of that. It becomes less predictable. It makes her wonder why she left and if she might as well return to him since the abuse hasn’t stopped anyway.
There are more reasons. This just touches the tip of the iceberg. Suffice it to say … it takes a lot for a woman to find the courage and resources to walk away. It takes an inner strength because she too often has to do it alone.
Leaving any relationship is hard. Leaving an abusive relationship is even harder. Let’s stand beside the victim, let’s let them know they are not alone.