When I left my abusive marriage, it was strongly recommended I give him a second chance. Of course, over the course of our marriage, there were many second chances. Those chances, those attempts to save the marriage, the desperate pleas were unseen by others outside the relationship. I didn’t share with people how things truly were. I didn’t feel important enough to discuss with my pastor my problems when others needed her so much more, when her life was already over-filled. Subsequently, no one knew of my struggles.
When he first hit me, I left. I stayed away for 3 months, and then it took another 3 months for him to settle in a job and be able to provide a home for us. I felt as if, by returning to the marriage, I made the choice and deserved what came. I thought I had to give him time to change, to be who he said he was. I thought I had “made my bed and needed to lie in it”. I stayed silent when he was threatening. I stayed silent when he twisted every word and argument against me. I stayed silent when he bad-mouthed me at church. I withdrew from people to protect the perception that our marriage was good. I stayed silent and let people believe my marriage was a happy, successful renewal after separation.
Keeping in mind that statistically victims attempt to leave 7 times before they are successful, many things happen when you give an abuser a “Second Chance” (or third, fourth, etc.):
Like me, an abuse victim may feel more trapped in the relationship. The abuser will hold against them that they left once. How dare you stand up for yourself? How dare you try to break free? and, since you came back, you owe them for leaving in the first place. My ex would often grab me, then say “I guess you’re going to leave me now”… using reverse psychology to get me to promise I wouldn’t, because when you’re afraid, you’ll say anything to stay safe.
For most, the abuse worsens. In addition, the abuser will often increase surveillance and make it more difficult for the victim to escape. They will also reduce access to finances.
Lily left her husband at the end of October. A couple weeks later, they reunited. Things did not improve, they worsened. Of course, there was a honeymoon period where he was sweet, considerate and showered her with gifts. Less than two months later, she was dead.
Leaving is dangerous.
This is never more true than when a victim gives their abuser a second chance.
When my pastor sat down and told me to give him a second chance, she said it was because she felt he had changed (this was less than 6 months after we separated). Because I was only communicating with him in writing, I was able to show her his recent, abusive emails. She was surprised, what he wrote me was very different from what he showed her. She left that day, but she never returned. She never reached out to me again, even though I kept attending that church for a number of years afterwards.
One of the most dangerous pieces of advice given to someone who has escaped abuse is to give the abuser a second chance. Even if you don’t believe abuse has happened, take it seriously. Treat it seriously. Recommend separate therapy. If you are clergy, a counselor, police officer, lawyer, judge, teacher, or other professional educate yourself in domestic violence! Be a listening ear. Refer to professionals. Be willing to find out the resources for those who have experienced domestic violence in your community.
As I mentioned in my last post, the abuser will often counter accuse the victim of abusing them. For someone not trained in therapy for domestic violence this is very hard to decipher. Don’t try. Support the person you need to support (remember you can’t support both). Be a listening ear, the abuser will reveal themselves if you are willing to see it.
The second chance we should pursue is our second chance to live free of abuse.