Why Women Stay
The fact that
women stay in abusive relationships is frequently cited as grounds
to question whether any abuse actually occurred. People who do not
understand the "emotional dance of violence" often act
insensitively. Far too often they judge domestic violence
situations. They may ask, "If it's that bad, why doesn't she
leave?" They may say, "She must stay because she enjoys it." Or
ask, "Why can't she see what we all see?" And say, "This can never
happen to me. I wouldn't allow it."
In reality, the reasons women stay in abusive relationships are
complicated and vary with each individual. Often they are a
combination of the following:
Children" - Some women
who remain in abusive relationships for the sake of the children
feel even an abusive father is better than none at all. The
episodes of abuse they endure have eroded their judgment, leaving
them in a heightened state of anxiety and fear. They question
whether they have the strength to live alone and care for their
children. Further, the threat of a custody battle, fear of losing
their children and concern about the financial strains of raising
children during separation and after divorce immobilize them.
Fear - Abused women are usually threatened by their abusers if they try to
leave. (Refer to "The Many Faces of Domestic Violence.") In fact,
statistically, abused women and their children are in the most
danger when they try to escape. This is call "separation
in Leaving - As noted
above, often the violence escalates when women leave or are in the
process of ending the relationship. It is at this time that they
and their children are in the most danger of being severely beaten
Economic Resources -
Many abused women feel there is nowhere to turn. Frequently, they
do not have the financial resources to leave, and fear they will
not be able to be self-sufficient and to provide or afford
adequate child care. Most women suffer dramatic financial loss
following divorce. Because of the emotional abuse they have
endured, they may believe that they are incapable of surviving or
succeeding on their own, having no awareness or recognition of
their abilities or potential.
- Abusers often attempt to isolate their partners from family and
friends. Abusers are jealous and use intimidation and humiliation
to keep their partners away from others. Without a support system
and outside validation, partners become more and more vulnerable.
In time, abusers are able to control their victims' perceptions of
the abuse and victims may begin to doubt their sanity.
Commitment to the Partner and Hope for Change
- Often, abused women feel committed to their partners "for better
or worse." Generally (and unrealistically), they want the abuse to
stop but the relationship to continue. They are attracted to their
partners' good side and the pattern of interaction when there is
no abuse, hoping that with "enough love" the violence will stop.
It will not. Research has shown that the abuse does not stop
without the help of others.
Counseling for the Abuser
- Women often stay because they believe counseling will change
their partners. Women must carefully evaluate whether counseling
or therapy is likely to bring about the changes needed for the
abuser to end the violence. Attending counseling or therapy
sessions will not help unless the abuser becomes deeply and
authentically involved in the therapeutic process. Change will not
happen unless he faces his problems, stops blaming others for them
and works hard to change all abusive and bullying tactics in
intimate relationships. However, since many abusers are
manipulators, it is very important that their partners carefully
evaluate the investment their abusers are willing to make in
necessary self-examination, as well as the presence of reliable
and consistent change.
Process of Leaving Issues
- Most abused women leave and return several times before
permanently separating from their abusers. Because of strong
emotional involvement and investment in a relationship as well as
a fierce desire that there be change, separation from abusive
partners takes time. Every time women leave they gain more
information about the available resources and more confidence in
themselves and their abilities. Because of the possible danger
involved in separation, it is essential that they leave in the
safest way possible, with knowledge of the available resources and
a plan for their use.
Denial - Women often
feel that no one will believe that their partners are capable of
abuse. Abusers are often outwardly friendly, popular, charming,
professionally competent and successful. They frequently treat
those in their community and work lives very differently from
those with whom they live. They are skilled at keeping their
controlling and abusive behavior behind closed doors.
and Culture Pressures -
Many women believe their religious beliefs commit them to a "until
death us do part" relationship even in the face of torment and
abuse. They fear that separation will cause their family to be
ostracized by a community that has deep meaning and significance
to them and their children.
Perpetual Cycle of Violence
- Women may stay in abusive relationships because their partners
promise "it will never happen again." Partners may check violent
tendencies for a time. This period, known as "the honeymoon
phase", is usually an affectionate time of apologies, tenderness
and even gift giving and lasts a few hours or a few weeks. But
without professional intervention and help, these "honeymoons"
invariably end abruptly and violently.1
Immobilizing Impact of Shame and Humiliation. Domestic abuse and
violence shame and humiliate women. Abused women will go to great
lengths to keep others from knowing the reality of their family
life. "When one lives in a state of constant humiliation, one
loses the power to assert one's self and frequently one loses the
ability to understand and assess accurately what goes on in one's
life." As a result, women who endure emotional and physical abuse
live in a state of perpetual or intermittent denial in order to
exist from day to day.2
Lenore. (1979). The Battered Woman. New York: Harper &
SaraKay. (1980). Whoever Said Life is Fair?: Growing Through
Life's Injustices. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp61-63
The Emotional Dance of Domestic Abuse
partners are often described as having as excessive need to
control, but this, although accurate, is only part of their story.
The important omission is why they have this need. Their early
childhood developmental needs have not been met. They have not
learned how to care for themselves or their families in an adult
way, and attempt to avoid facing their feelings of inadequacy or
having others discover their secret.
frustrated, they react with rage. Because of their feelings of
inadequacy and inferiority, they expect their partners to parent,
nurture and protect them, and react abusively when their partners
do not. Abusive partners usually do not realize that they
experience these frustrations or that they vent their feelings of
inadequacy and helplessness through violence toward others.
Women who remain in abusive relationships may not
have achieved the self-esteem necessary to feel safe and secure
within themselves. To compensate, they develop a strong need to be
needed and remain in situations in which their abusive partners
depend upon them. Their blind spots may keep them from realizing
the "honeymoon phase" following an abusive episode is but a phase
preceding the next episode of violence. The predictable violence
they endure again and again continues to erode their self-esteem.