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Abusive Relationships – Why do victims stay?

I think there are three broad reasons why people remain in abusive relationships:

  1. The victim doesn’t realize they’re being abused.
  2. The victim knows they’re being abused, but doesn’t want to leave the relationship.
  3. The victim knows they’re being abused, but isn’t ready to leave due to finances, values, fears, or any other reason.

I certainly honor each group’s position. After all, I’ve been in each of the three groups at one time or another. This story occurred when I was unsure about leaving and making plans on how to stay married to my abusive husband.

Victims Want to Do the Right Thing

As soon as I realized I was being abused, I felt pressured to run away from my (mostly verbally) abusive marriage as fast and hard as I could. I thought that I “should” leave immediately – all the literature I’d read said so, and society doesn’t understand why anyone would stay in an abusive relationship. I wanted to prove to someone that I wasn’t making up the abuse, and I thought that if I stayed, then I was saying “the abuse isn’t real.”

warningThe pressure was high to “do the right thing”. For most onlookers, doing the right thing means leaving. For me, doing the right thing meant staying. At least temporarily.

Why I Stayed in My Abusive Marriage

I’d been married 17 years when I figured out that my husband abused me verbally and mentally. I knew that the three times he’d laid his hands on me constituted physical abuse, but I didn’t understand that the verbal and mental manipulation he used was also abuse, and I didn’t recognize the fact that the physical abuse was his last resort when the other types of control and abuse didn’t work to his satisfaction.

I’d blamed his alcoholism and temper – two negative traits that can be controlled if the person “suffering” from them wants to change their behavior. When I told him that he was verbally abusive, he said that was only the newest label I wanted to lay on him. He didn’t take it seriously at all. He didn’t care what I thought.

He told me he liked who he was and wouldn’t change. In my naivete, I did not believe him.

Tough-Love Plan to End Abuse

I decided that it was time for some tough love. I wasn’t going to put up with the abuse anymore, and I thought I owed him the opportunity to see the problem as I did and change his behavior.

Over the next year, I changed my responses to the abuse. I devised exit strategies and a safety plan. I had the sinking feeling he was giving lip-service to my concerns and fears. Nevertheless, I promised him I would stay and he promised that he would put our marriage first.

My Long-Term Plan for Abuse

I devised a shadowy long-term plan. I told my husband that I had opened a bank account in my name only. I planned to transfer a set amount of money into the account each month, just in case I ever needed to leave the house for an extended period of time due to the abuse. I told him that by our 25th anniversary, if there was no more abuse in our marriage, then we would use the money to go on a celebratory vacation.

During that time, I would go to school to complete my degree. I thought I needed to buy some time and begin a career so I could support myself and our children if the worst happened. However, I was hopeful that my income would contribute to the two of us, together.

He tolerated my plan. He said he didn’t agree with it, but he was willing to go along.

I believed that by being honest with him, he would see how serious I was. Having a plan for myself and our child had worked once before when I asked him to stop drinking (he was dry for 8 years). I thought it would work again. (In hindsight, I would have kept my long-term plan to myself!)

I went to work with my therapist devising new ways to deal with the abuse that I was sure would occur as he learned to control his behavior. My therapist supported my decision to stay; she didn’t judge. I was making decisions for myself, and that was a good thing.

All Plans to End Abuse Failed

Unfortunately, almost a year to the day he last physically abused me, he laid his hands on me again. During one of our discussions in marriage counseling, I had told him that if he did that again, I would leave and not look back. I decided to stick to my guns.

Looking back, living with the verbal and emotional abuse for that year was too much for me. Now that I could identify the verbal and mental abuse, I saw it all the time in almost every conversation. The marriage wasn’t the same; I wasn’t the same. He wasn’t trying to change, only trying to convince me that he didn’t need to change.

Physical violence ended my marriage, but I think it was over about the time I was making plans to stay.

Who else is planning to stay with their abusive mate in hope that they will change?

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59 Responses to Abusive Relationships – Why do victims stay?

  1. Brittany says:

    I am in need of advice. Me(age 22) and my boyfriend(age 23) have been together for 5 and 1/2 hrs, we have 2 kids together, ages 3 and 8 months old. We also have his 13 year old brother living with us bcuz his mom lost custody due to being a drug addict and his father had passed away. So far this relationship has not been easy. We fight more than we get along. We have no common interests or hobbies. When we fight usually its over sex. I work 40 hrs a week, cook and clean up after dinner, bathe the kids, put them to bed, i do everything while he only helps out once in a while. Usually hes next door smoking weed with our neighbor. Then once i get all my nightly chores done i shower and crawl in bed. He comes home late like 1030/11pm and is expecting sex. i dont usually mind but when he starts making demands that im going to do all the work or that he refuses to pull out. im exhausted from taking care of our household and i really dont feel like dealing with the mess afterwards. he gets mad at me and will keep me awake until sometimes 3am when i have work the next day at 815am. he pressures me into anal sex, he thinks im boring bcuz i dont like it and i disagree with it morally and if i dont give in he gets mad. ive tried leaving him several times before but hes the type that just wont leave. he refuses to leave the house, even though i own it. he doesnt mind punching holes in the wall or doors, slamming stuff and waking the house up in the middle of the night, or to really tick me off he will smoke cigarettes in the house when that is a huge house rule. he gets mad and keeps me up, will make noises, irritate mr and call me the C word. i have physically hit him several times, he knows how to bring out the crazy in me. i dont want to be that person and ive only ever been this angry with him. i even went to the doctor for depression issues over this but i think hes the problem. but he has always provided for us and got the bills paid with hard manual labor. he is really loving when he wants to be but our clocks are 100% the opposite emotional and sexual. i know he loves our kids but he is a lazy father, he doesnt spend kuch time w them. if i have to work on werkends and he has to watch them he throws it in my face like he did me a favor. i always have to,ask him to watch our kids but he always expects that he can run off whenever and that ive got it.he was previously diagnosed bipolor so its like should i make him go back to the doctor and make him get help or leave him for good. just need some advice.

  2. You can’t control him; you can request he gets help for his mental illness, but his mental illness is not to blame for his abuse. He is to blame for his abuse. You can only control yourself. If you leave for good, you won’t be raped/sexually assaulted, neglected, verbally or emotionally abused (or at least, not as often or as easily) and can be a single mother (which you already are) without constant interference. I recommend that you speak with local domestic violence organizations and begin researching how you can most safely leave him. There’s my two cents.

    And abuse can cause depression, anxiety, ptsd, physical illnesses and more. Not only for you, but for the children, too.

  3. N. Alan says:

    Thank you for saying that you were in your situation for 25 years. Ive been with my verbally abusive wife for around 25 years also. When I read many of these stories people say they’ve been with their partner for two years, or five years, or 15 years. It makes me feel like it’s been too long and I’m now too old to have any hope. Knowing the duration of your situation and that you are now on the other side gives me hope.

  4. We are never too old to create and enjoy a happy, love-filled life. Go for it.

  5. Peaches says:

    Looking for answers, trying to bring myself to a solid decision. I have been with my boyfriend now for 6 years. For the last year we have been living separate. I left after serious verbal abuse coupled with shoving. He also choked me once and I was told he could accidentally kill me that way. We don’t get along no matter how hard I try. Of course we have good times which is what makes me want to stay but I am scared to death to live with him again for fear that he will loose his mind again. Therefore I feel I may just be wishfully thinking and waiting both of our time. I do not want to break up but I feel like there is no other way. When I have broken up with him in the past, he doesn’t get violent but he does tend to call my phone constantly when I don’t answer and text awful things. I just really don’t know what the right thing is. Am I over reacting?

  6. Heavens NO, you’re NOT overreacting. His behavior is violent and scary. The violence will escalate and you could find yourself seriously injured or dead. Many abuse victims suffer Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) from repeated hits to the head, lack of oxygen from choking and the like. It can happen over time – doesn’t have to be one incident. If he’s pushed you, what’s to keep him from pushing you into a brick wall? Down to the floor? “Accidents” like that are risks you take with a physical abuser.

    The phone thing…it’s common. You can handle it a couple of ways. Tell him not to contact you when you break up with him, preferably in a text message. When he texts and calls incessantly, never – NEVER – answer. Not even to hang up on him. If he persists, you can get a restraining order against him.

    Block his number. Don’t wait to hear how he’s doing (he’ll lie), make sure he’s okay, or apologize for anything.

    No matter what you choose to do, do NOT answer his phone calls or texts. That only eggs him on. It isn’t your fault that he texts and calls like that, but responding to his BS is the worst thing you can do if you want it to stop.

  7. Tina says:

    In my 9 years of marriage my husband has out his hands on me about half a dozen times. Tonight is very sad. Christmas night. We argued and he body bumped me with his chest and followed me all over the house . He kept on bumping me.and cursing me out so I pushed him away and that’s when he slapped me so hard in the face . He still defends his actions and I am so mad actions myself for allowing it to come to this. I don’t know how to leave him with no work and with two young kids.

  8. Nicole says:

    I have been with my common in law Husband (we will call him D) for 8 years.
    The forst time he hit me, we were a few.months into our relationship. He apologized and said i just mad him so mad and kept provoking him. I spoke with his dad and his dad spoke with him and i stayed.
    We moved away, to a foreign country and had a child. Verbal abuse continued. He hit me quite a few times, tried to run me over once, the day before i was leaving him (going to leave the country without him) he tried to strangle me to death. I fought back, turns out i am alot stronger then i thought (im still here right). I had him arrested, then realized i couldn’t leave the country and come home.to canada with out his consent, at least not with our son. I dropped charges, paid the fines and we flew home the next day. At this point he was withdrawing from.meth addiction (i didnt know he had been using, and i dont do any drugs – looking back, i think i was trying to drink myself to death, but I’ve been sober 10 months now)
    When we got back to canada, we moved in with his mom and step dad. He began accusing me of cheating, with his step dad, the neighbours, anyone. He wouldn’t let me open the curtains, as he thought that was me trying to show off or signal someone. I just put up with it and hoped he would soon get over the meth withdrawals and paranoia.
    the night after Christmas we were drunk, he was mad at my daughter for being a snotty teenager, and i felt scared and sent her to my sisters house (she doesnt live with us as she dislikes D), he hit me. I had him arrested, he resisted arrest, and there was a no contact order put in place. My daighter when home to her dad, and my son and i went and stayed at the womens shelter (my family was too scared to have us there in case D came to there homes and hurt us) while at the woman’s shelter, i had a very difficult time, my son was on the waiting list for abilities testing (he has adhd, odd, fasd, l aunguage delay, and encopresis) the care givers at the shelter would not watch my son as he was too difficult. I couldn’t find a daycare to watch him. I wet on welfare and couldn’t afford it alone. I got a roommate, and she ripped me off. I went back to D. He went to therapy, had meds adjusted, went to courses for respectful relationships. We kept drinking, he continues using cocaine and marijuana. He would take off and spend hundreds of dollars in one night on drink and drug. I drank.more and more. I became horrible. All i wanted to do was be drunk, sleeping, or alone, and when i was around people i was mean, my friends and family stopped talking to me. My daughter was mad atnme and i lay on the couch on a beautiful sunny day while my son played lego, alone, eating chips and pop (cuz i was too hungover to cook) i quit drinking that day. I have got my drivers license, a job that supplies us with medical and dental benifits and have decided i dont want to live in fear anymore. I will not accept the names i am being called. I am not a who’re, a cheater, a stunned c__t, i am not the abuser, i dont provoke, this is not my fault! He wants me.to stay, and i am stillhopefull he will change. I am not optimistic tho. I am contacting resources and informing family and friends of the abuse and asking for support without pushing me to rush to anything i may not be ready for.
    I dont know why i am telling you all this. I just need to get it out. And i really do want someone to tell me to stay or leave. What do i do?

  9. You leave. <3 That’s what you do.

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