Statistics say that, on average, it takes a woman seven times to leave her abusive partner. We live in a society that constantly questions women on why they stay in abusive relationships and puts little, if any, spotlight on the abuser himself. As a domestic violence therapist, my clients constantly share their feelings of guilt with me – guilt as to why they stayed and guilt as to the length of time it took them to leave.
Yet, if we truly dive a little deeper, then we, as a society, could understand that there are a myriad of reasons as to why women stay in abusive relationships. Here are a few of the biggest reasons why women stay.
Women in abusive relationships are constantly living in fear. Being in an abusive relationship is like constantly riding a roller coaster. When things are good, things are good. And when things are bad, they are bad. Not only is the woman in constant survival mode, but the most dangerous time for a woman is when she leaves her abusive partner. The abusive partner may have told her time and time again, “if you leave, I will kill you,” “I will take away the children” or other very real threats. Once an abusive man loses control over his partner, he will go to extreme lengths to get that control back. This can take various forms — constant harassment via text messages or social media, showing up unannounced at home or work, stalking and worse, leading up to death.
In many abusive relationships, the woman is financially dependent on her partner. A lot of the time, the abusive partner does not allow the woman to work. Being financially dependent on an abusive partner is one of the biggest reasons women stay. An abusive partner will often not allow his partner to work. Or, he makes his partner ask for money (a form of control). With no access to money, the woman is left with very little options. Then to make things even messier, the car and the house are often under his name, along with credit cards and other financial gains. This level of control results in the woman not having any access to any assets and is left with little to nothing.
Imagine not having access to money and having little ones who depend on you. Like any parent, the woman puts her children’s needs first and hers aside. Staying in the abusive relationship means that the children have a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Another important factor to consider when parties have children in common is the Department of Social Services (DSS). Many times, the abuser will threaten to have the children taken away or claim that he will get custody of the children. In other situations, when the woman finally leaves, the abuser will make false reports to DSS causing disruption, fear and anxiety.
The love a woman feels for her partner doesn't just go away when the abuse begins. Most often, she still loves her partner deeply and it is easy to believe that the abuse will not happen again.
Abusive men are extremely manipulating and charming. They apologize after hurting their partner and then try to make amends with flowers, jewelry, etc. They swear they “didn’t mean it” and that it will “never happen again.” Due to their remarkable charm, the woman believes it. And let’s face it — it’s so much easier to believe him than to admit that you’re in an abusive relationship. But we know that domestic violence is a cycle; it’s like riding a roller coaster.
Domestic violence is not a problem that just happens behind closed doors, but it is a societal problem. The more information we shed on this topic, the more it’s talked about, recognized and hopefully one day eliminated. Victim-blaming only further moves us away from solving the problem of intimate partner violence and hinders women from speaking up and asking for help.
It is not illegal for a woman to stay with her abuser. However, it is illegal to abuse your partner. We should not be questioning victims but rather we should be holding abusers accountable for the abuse.
If you need help, please call Hopeful Horizons at 800-868-2632. Our services are free and confidential. Our therapists are trained in working with individuals who have been abused and/or are currently in abusive relationships.
*For the purpose of this article, I reference men being abusers, although women can be the abuser as well as men can be abused.
Maryana Kleyn is a Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Therapist at Hopeful Horizons’ Bluffton office.