Tag Archives: domestic violence

Why She Stays

Why She Stays
Why She Stays

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Rather than give statistics and a pep talk about “zero tolerance”, I thought I’d talk about the elephant in the room.  The victim who keeps going back.

If you know anyone who is impacted by domestic violence (and I hope you don’t, but it’s likely you do), you have undoubtedly experienced the sense of helplessness that smothers friends and family of the abused.  You may have helped intervene.  Maybe you’ve provided a safe place.  You may have been there during the humiliating physical exams, police reports, or court proceedings seeking protection.  You’ve likely wiped tears and listened to hours of sobbing, reinforcing that it wasn’t the victim’s fault.  You’ve put on soothing smiles while trying to distract children who have seen too much, heard too much, and can’t quite understand what they’re afraid of.

The one thing you can’t do, can’t comprehend, can’t accept, is why she goes back.  After multiple instances, it’s difficult to remain supportive.  Out of frustration and fear, the victim’s strongest supporters become her biggest critics.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time trying to educate myself on the dynamics that keep the cycle in motion.  When you’re outside looking in, the choice is so crystal clear.  When you’re in the maelstrom, it’s not so easy.  If you love someone who is in an abusive situation, you have experienced the massive relief, bordering on euphoria, when the victim reaches out for help because they are “done”.  You cheer them on as they stand their ground and take steps to move on with their life.  She finally sees herself as others see her:  smart, capable, and so deserving of a better life.  You commit to doing whatever she needs to get a clean start, and you mean it.

It may last a day, a week, a month, 3 months, but you can feel it when she starts to slip.  Her anger and fear is replaced with the anxiety of starting over.  She loses the fire that made her take those steps out the door.  She is tired. Then you sense the danger is returning:  the victim stops talking about the future, communication starts to wane, and pretty soon you realize it’s all back to square one.  She backs away from the people who have supported her initial decision to leave, and surrounds herself with the enablers who are congratulating her for her commitment to her relationship.

It’s hard to accept.  Most people just hold their breath and wait for the next time.  Some people sever the relationship with the victim because they don’t want to be part of it any longer.  Many deride the victim for the decision, creating an even bigger obstacle for them to seek help the next time.

It seems insane.  So, why does she do it?

She stays for the kids.  While it seems insane to people on the outside looking in, she thinks the downside of not having their father around is worse than the occasional outburst.  She doesn’t want him putting the kids in the middle, or, worse, making the kids feel sorry for him because Mommy got him in trouble.  She knows that no matter how poor of a father he may be, if she leaves him, he’ll be worse.  She doesn’t want them to be abandoned.  She doesn’t want them to have a series of new step-mommies, because she knows he won’t be alone for long.  Abusers need to have that relationship to get their fix.

She stays out of sympathy.  Most abusers have enablers around them.  Friends, family, people that have never held the abuser accountable for his actions.  These people work overtime trying to appeal to the victim.  They’ll give her updates about how sorry he is.  Convey messages, letters, gifts, even in the face of violating restraining orders.  Why?  Like her, they believe his lies.  They believe he’s learned his lesson, and is so sorry, and will never ever ever do this again.  He likely plies them with manipulative lies:  “Don’t tell her, but I haven’t slept in 4 days because I can’t stop thinking about her.” The victim, too, may have developed a co-dependent relationship with the abuser.  Codependent relationships may stink to high heaven, but they’re as comfortable as an old pair of slippers.

She stays out of fear. Whether the threats have been against her, the kids, her family, or himself, she believes he’s capable of following through.  The risk is just too great.

She stays because of ego.  This is a tough one to acknowledge, but it’s true.  When the cycle hits the part where he is begging, pleading, promising, saying all the right things, it’s pretty powerful.  He can’t go on without her.  Life without her is meaningless.  What woman doesn’t want to feel that adored?  Of course it’s bull hockey, because if it were true, the pain he caused her the very first time he abused her mentally, emotionally, or physically would have crushed him to the point that he would have immediately gotten the help he needed to never let it happen again.

She stays for security.  The abuser may hold all the cards financially.  He may threaten to take the children away if she leaves.  The truth is, after living in an abusive relationship, it is likely many of the positives in the victim’s life have faded away:  self esteem, friends, family, career.  The victim may not feel capable. She may not feel worthy.  She may be dealing with depression.  She may be afraid of being alone.

She stays out of shame and embarrassment.  The first time, there’s some hope that the abuser really means it when he says “I’m sorry.”  The second time, there’s usually a harsher ultimatum, and the apology is more profuse.  If the victim seems really serious, the abuser pulls out some deep dark secret that explains the abusive tendencies, and swears to get help. As the cycle repeats itself, the victim is humiliated that she ignored the advice from her supporters that was likely hurled at her endlessly every time she went back.  Now, she just feels stupid:  she fell for it again.

She stays because she’s invested. Forty percent of women  who leave an abusive situation will return.  On average, women leave seven times before leaving for good. Why? The investment theory  is a classical analysis that is often used to explain why people do what is so clearly not in their best interest. Simply put, what has already been invested into the relationship, be it emotional, social and/or financial, can be incredibly hard psychologically to give up.  It may seem infinitely easier to stay in a bad situation then to muster the energy and make a change. This explains why people stay: In jobs they hate, cities with no opportunities, with the wrong circle of friends or in an abusive relationship. Where we are may not be good, but it seems easier to coast along rather than put in the considerable effort needed to make a change.

She stays because she loves him.  There may have been happy times, and hope is a powerful thing.  However, this response is typically just a combination of all the other reasons listed.  Of course she loves him, or did at one point, but a genuine love would encourage the victim to stand firm so that the abuser could get healthy.  Statistics show that if she stays, the chances of the abuser actually learning how to stop the abusive behavior are abysmally low.

So what do you do?  There’s no right answer, but the decision should be based on what is healthiest for YOU rather than what the victim’s situation is.  You may cross your fingers and wait for the next time the dysfunction spills over into violence.  You may choose to maintain a relationship with the victim, but not the abuser.  You may decide you need a break from all of it, and step away for a time.  You may have to accept that if the victim goes back, it is with the agreement that she will stay away from you.  Abusers don’t like the people that try to help the victim leave the situation, and will try to convince the victim that their supporters are causing problems in the relationship.

Even if you have to keep your distance for awhile, it’s important that the victim knows that people love her, care about her well being, and that there are resources available to her if she needs them.  Unconditional love is the best thing you can offer.

**While I have used “he” for the abuser, and “she” for the victim, that is only for clarity of communication.  Victims and abusers come in all genders, colors, and religions.**

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE

But I Just Love You So Much!

But I Just Love You So Much!

I saw something on Facebook the other day, and it made me take a step back.  Not necessarily the ridiculousness of the pretty little photo quote, but the comments posted underneath it.



“I know that’s how it is with MY man!”

“Preach it, brother!”

“BAM!  This is me 100%”

“Straight up!  I love big, but I will $*(% shit up if I get pissed off!”

On and on and on.  Then, challenged by some brave soul who pointed out that you can have a big heart without being a hot head.  Then some of the Big Hearts showed their Tempers, and the whole thing got deleted.

Wait, what?  This is really a believable theory?


How about this:

Men with the BIGGEST HEARTS go out of their way for others

Men with the BIGGEST HEARTS treat others with kindness

Men with the BIGGEST HEARTS have self control

Men with the BIGGEST HEARTS realize that patience and tolerance are virtues

Men with the WORST TEMPERS show disregard for how their actions impact others

Men with the WORST TEMPERS should try to work on that aspect of their personality

Men with the WORST TEMPERS don’t set good examples for their sons, or boundaries for unacceptable behavior towards their daughters

Men with the WORST TEMPERS tend to be bullies

Men with the WORST TEMPERS use that as an excuse for unacceptable behavior, often abusive behavior

Abusive behavior.  That’s the button that this little photo quote pushed for me.  How classic for someone who is abusive to use the reasoning that if they just didn’t love you so much, they wouldn’t get so upset?  It makes me nauseated.

I’ve got a little secret for all of you “passionate” hot heads:  everyone has a temper.  Sure, some fuses are longer than others, but anger is a universal feeling.  The personal choices come about when we decide how, or if, to display or communicate anger. Grow up, and learn to control yourself.  You’re not “passionate”, you’re immature and self-indulgent.

Everyone else:  don’t let anyone ever tell you that a bad temper is some sort of side effect to a beautiful heart.  Your heart can be beautiful without that.  It’s a character flaw, nothing less.  Don’t be manipulated.


Casualties of War

Casualties of War

Hi, I’m going to rant a little bit today.  If you’re looking for cute dog anecdotes or funny kid stories or scrumptious recipes, you might want to come back later.

I lied.  It’s going to be more than a little rant.

I’ve not always made the *best* choices when it comes to relationships.  I didn’t really kiss a lot of frogs….I kissed a couple of sociopaths. (Disclaimer:  I am in no way referring to my ex-husband, the father of my children.  While he’s a doofus, and we were the most amazingly mismatched couple in history, he has never been in the category of spouses that I’m going to rant about here.)  It was a life altering experience, and one that left a trail of ugly consequences.  From loss of self esteem, to battling shame, to explaining black eyes, I looked around one day, fully ensconced in a world that hadn’t even been in my peripheral vision previously.  I had no idea how I’d gotten there, and even less idea how I was going to get out.

But get out I did.

I can’t tell you how, exactly, but I know at one point as I was swirling around that vortex of weirdness, I spotted an escape route from that ugly hole, and I sprinted through it.  It wasn’t due to super strength, or someone coming to my rescue, or any other Lifetime Channel Movie of the Week plot twist….it was a collaboration of circumstances that resulted in a moment of clarity.

Not everyone makes it.  Either mentally, emotionally, or physically, they lose the battle….or surrender to it.  I have seen it all:  the ones who come out victorious, the ones who accept the dysfunction as their new reality…and the ones who tried to escape, but didn’t make it out.

The abused are not the only victims in these wars.  There are so many soldiers…..friends, siblings, parents, co-workers, neighbors, aunts, uncles, cousins….they all fought the battle, too.

Then there are the children.

Whether the abused makes it out or not, the young lives that were thrust into that maelstrom are the walking wounded.  They didn’t choose this dysfunctional place.  More likely than not, they love the combatants equally.  They are assaulted with fear and guilt and desperation and confusion.


In many circumstances, that moment of realization, that burst of momentum and determination that ends the cycle….it’s from seeing the scars on the children.  For those that make it out, they will be eternally grateful to that child…and will never truly forgive themselves for putting that innocent life in the battle. The good news is that once you get it, you really get it; you look backwards and forwards with such clarity that you never miss the signs again. You vibrate at a different frequency and clarity moves back through your past and into your future. You recognize the signs you ignored and see the patterns you participated in.

Congratulations, you made it out!  Now what about those little casualties?

Every child is different, and each one needs to be responded to individually.  There will be no blanket approach to helping them heal and minimizing the scars.  The one thing that must be adhered to:  Don’t give in to the delusion that they didn’t know, or that it didn’t effect them, or that they understand.  Children are intuitive and intelligent…but are still children.  They noticed.  They heard.  They saw.  They felt.   But they didn’t understand.  They don’t have the filters, maturity, or distance to understand.  I know how tempting it might be to soothe yourself with the fantasy that they are unscathed, but it’s like letting a cut get infected….cleaning that up later on is going to be uglier than it needs to be, and the scar may never go away.

So while you’re figuring out what to do to help the little munchkins, keep in mind that there are new mine fields to maneuver now that you’ve made it out.  Your progeny may have been removed from the abusive environment, but there are still traps that can hurl them right back into the mental torture.

Just remember:

  1.  It’s not ok to bad mouth the other parent.  Maybe she’s a slut, or a drunk, or a gold digger, but she’s his mother and he loves her with his whole heart.  He may be a violent, manipulative, drug dealing thug, but you chose him to be the father of your child(ren).  Now he’s your daughter’s Daddy, and she thinks the sun rises out of his left ear.  SHUT YOUR MOUTH ABOUT THE OTHER PARTY.  This also goes towards extended family and friends.  Don’t be hatin’.
  2. It’s not ok to undermine the other parent.  “Well, that consequence is ridiculous.  Your Dad is too strict.”  “If you lived with me, I would let you (enter bait item here).” Don’t criticize the other party’s parenting.
  3. It’s not ok for the kids to be your messenger or carrier pigeon.  There should be no “Tell your Dad that he better get that bill paid” or giving your kids a packet of documents from the lawyer to hand over when they visit.  Grow up.  This is your situation, not theirs.  If it’s a volatile situation and the two of you have no contact, then enlist the assistance of a level headed adult to be a go-between.
  4. It’s not ok to use your kids for reconnaissance.  “Who else was there when Mommy took you to the park?”  “Where was Daddy last night?”  “Whose car was that I saw in the driveway when I dropped you off?”  If you can’t or won’t ask the other party directly, then you don’t need to know.
  5. It’s not ok to make your kids choose.  “Well, if your Dad is going to your ball game, I’m not going to be there.”  “I’ll throw you a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, but your Mom can’t come.”  I’m not saying you have to pretend to be one big happy group, and those initial birthdays or special occasions may require separate celebrations….but if you’re not able to sit on the other side of the bleachers and concentrate on your child’s performance in the school play just because your ex is somewhere in the vicinity, you need a kick in the ass.
  6. Non-custodial parents:  It’s not ok to see your visitation schedule as an option for your weekends.  I am amazed at the number of parents who coordinate visitation around everything else in their life, and not vice versa.  You dug in your heels on demanding 1 night a week and every other weekend visitation because your kids mean the world to you.  Remember that?  Now suddenly, it’s your weekend, but you got a better offer so you’re going to skip it.  Way to make your kids feel like a priority, you jackass.
  7. Along those same lines, it’s not ok to ignore that your children have lives.  Just because it’s your visitation weekend doesn’t mean that little Lisa has to miss her best friend’s birthday party.  TAKE HER!  It doesn’t mean that Joey should miss his soccer game.  Visitation means you get to parent that weekend, not that you get to trot your kids around like trophies to your friends’ football gatherings.  Oh, and canceling your visit (see #6 above) because you want to go to a party instead of staying home with popcorn and the latest Disney movie is a jackass thing to do as well.
  8. It’s not ok to whine to your children about the financial burden of single parenthood / divorce / alimony / child support / day care.  Again, that’s an adult problem, your babies didn’t ask for any of this, and saddling them with that guilt is inexcusable.  Check yourself before you say “If your Mother didn’t take me for every dime I had….” or “I can’t buy you those shoes because your Father isn’t paying child support”.
  9. It’s not ok to ask your kids to lie for you.  “Don’t tell Mom”  or “Let’s not bring this up to Daddy” is wrong.  Yes, there needs to be discussion about privacy within families, and how not every detail of your lives should be shared, but don’t ask them to lie.  Having trust in parents is so important for every child, and it’s just not worth it…even if you started smoking cigarettes again, or are dating his former best friend.
  10. You’re not the only parents in the world that have split.  While it’s uncharted territory for you and your children, there are resources out there.  Join a support group or online forum, read a book or two, seek advice.  “I didn’t know how to handle it” is a poor excuse for bungling your responsibility to give your kids a solid foundation again.  If you’re wounded from the demise of your relationship (and you most likely are), you have an obligation to get yourself some help and coping mechanisms so that you can be supportive of your child’s readjustment.  “I didn’t know” or “I wasn’t thinking” isn’t an acceptable long term strategy.

What’s the most important thing you can do after getting yourself and your children out of an abusive relationship?

Make sure you reached that point of REALLY GETTING IT.

Make sure you don’t get into a new one.

That sounds like such a “well, DUH!” statement, but look around.  How many people do it?  Same relationship, different face & name.  Over and over and over again.  Why do they do it?  You could write a book on the myriad of reasons, and several people HAVE written books.  Often, though, it’s that they don’t recognize the warning signs until they’re already wrapped in the cocoon of crazy.


Please know that if you were in an abusive relationship, you were not just a victim, but a participant.  Ouch.  I know.  That sucks.  You already feel guilty enough, and it’s not my intention to make you feel worse.  You know those people who catch colds if they’re anywhere near someone who has one?  Yeah, you’re like that, but with bad relationships.  Just accept it, and take precautions.  The links below are ones that I’ve found to be a really good start.

5 Warning Signs of Manipulation

The Abusive Cycle

It’s My Life Now:  Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence ~ authors Meg Kennedy Dugan & Roger R. Hock

The Cardboard Box ~ author Stacy Killian


Good luck.  Congratulations on getting out.  You can do this.  You’re going to be ok, and so are the munchkins.  Not by magic, but by effort and time and faith.  You got this.