In an abusive relationship the choice to stay or leave often appears to be simple. An inexperienced or uninformed onlooker may even go as far at to say it is a no-brainer.
However, if you are presently in an abusive relationship, have ever been in one, or have a ringside seat to someone else's experience, you understand all too well that it is far from simple. Escaping abuse is not as easy as making a snap decision, packing a bag, and heading out the door.
If however, you have no frame of reference for what it is like to survive day to day, living with a debilitating fear of someone else's every move or mood, then the choice to stay can appear to be dumb, weak, or attention seeking.
So let's take a look at 3 common reasons why women stay.....
1. ISOLATION: For many women who are living with abuse their life experience is filled with loneliness, secrecy, and denial.
In many cases, abusers use isolation as a tool to exert power and retain control over their target. Often, this sort of possessiveness starts off slowly and either goes unnoticed or is mistaken as just a normal phase of a new relationship. Abusers will over time, begin to monopolize their subjects time. They weaponize love by giving and receiving attention, sex, and affection as reward or punishment to stimulate cooperation. Even early on in the dating stages love is used to manipulate their prey by suggesting that if they really care they would want to spend time with them. Hinting that other people (even those who have been in their lives forever) don't really care about them or, that they are somehow attempting to use them.
Ironically, in many instances creating an environment of isolation is relatively easy because as women, we naturally desire affection and want to be with the person we love as much as possible. Women tend to place a higher value on togetherness than men do and view their partners desire to be with them all of the time as a symbol of deep love or affection. In reality, it is often the beginning of a grooming process that gradually separates victims and discourages them from contacting and interacting with people who would inject opposing views or opinions. As the relationship continues and the abuse progresses victims will naturally segregate themselves even further, not wanting to put themselves in a position to have to explain anything, or in some cases, to hide physical bruising and scarring.
By the time they are faced with the reality that they need to leave they feel as though they have no where to go and no one to turn to. Asking family or friends for help at that point would often require they be honest about what has been happening and the truth is typically a direct contradiction to what they have portrayed. So they stay rather than face potential judgment, criticism, and the barrage of "I told you So" that would ensue.
2. MONEY: In addition to the isolation from family and friends, another tactic of abusers is to limit their subjects access to financial resources, assets, and finance related information within the relationship. Many convince women to give up their jobs and stay home to take care of the house and the family. If they do allow them to work they frequently will require the pay to be direct deposited to an account with restricted access. Leaving the abused party with no cash or cards and with no access to information such as account balances, bank names, or how to get to it.
The mere thought of trying to leaving a relationship with very little money, if any at all can, by itself be intimidating enough to convince a woman to remain where they are. The mindset by this point is that at least there is food and shelter so maybe staying is the better option, at least in the short run. Not realizing that without a concrete plan to change the situation, the short run will invariably become the long run.
This need for security is compounded even further when there are children involved. which leads us to our third reason.
3. CHILDREN: For most mothers their primary responsibility is to the welfare of their children and commitment to their family. The idea of leaving a spouse or significant other is in direct conflict with what they sign up for as a wife, girlfriend, mother, etc. Furthermore, it is instinctive for a mother to want to ensure their children have a clean, safe environment, clothes on their backs, and food in their bellies. The desire to protect their children often trumps the desire to protect themselves.
Women with children in the home are confronted with an additional set of obstacles. They are faced with some extremely difficult questions when accepting the need to escape from an abusive partner. The first and most obvious being how do I escape with my kids? Most abusers are not going to let their victim remove the kids from the home. Even if they have never expressed any interest in actively parenting. The children are a link, and abusers know it and use it to their advantage. So the task of getting the kids out of the house/environment undetected can be a challenge. Then, depending on how many kids there are and their ages, it can prove difficult to find adequate housing that is equipped to accept women with children. Some shelters don't allow kids at all, some only under a certain age. On top of that, in some states, it is illegal to take children away and not inform the other parent. This means, removing the children could result in criminal charges.
The other option, leaving without the kids seems incomprehensible. Coupled with feelings of guilt and inadequacy there are still more questions like will the kids be safe? Will her abuser turn the abuse towards the children? At a minimum there can be an assumption made that even if the children remain safe, they will be used by the abuser as negotiation or manipulation pawns? From there, when will she get them back? Can she get them back? In some states, the decision to leave the home without the kids could be viewed as abandonment. In those cases she is faced with losing her parental and/or custodial rights. If she leaves them and something happens it could result in child endangerment charges and the kids being place into the foster care system.
For many women, without definitive answers to some of these questions, leaving is no longer an option.
Hopefully this has been an eye opener. We have only begun to scratch the surface on the layers of complexities that surround leaving an abusive partner. Any one of these 3 things by itself could be enough for a woman to feel as though staying with an abuser is the right or only possible choice.
Imagine if it is you and you are faced with these same scenarios or in some cases all three of them....
Would you still feel like the question to leave or stay was a simple no-brainer?
Drop your thoughts in the comments.