So many people beat themselves up over the question “Why can’t I just leave?” You want the easy answer? You aren’t ready to leave yet.
- haven’t been convinced that the abuse warrants you leaving, or
- you lack financial resources, or
- you’re in business with your abuser, or
- the kids are too small, or
- the kids are almost out of school, or
- the abuser needs you, or
- fill in your reason here.
Notice I said fill in your reason here. These are not excuses. The reasons you stay may sound like excuses to someone else, but don’t let anyone belittle your decision to stay. I really want to end that sentence with “to stay for now” but truth is that you may never leave. You could be 70 years old and wondering how your spouse is managing to exceed life expectancy, them being so miserable and nasty and all (lots of people are doing this right now).
I want you to be okay with choosing to stay, because making decisions is empowering. Staying is a choice you can make.
Leaving An Abusive Relationship Is Important
It would be very irresponsible of me if I don’t say a few things at this point.
- I want you to end your abusive relationship. Life is too short and precious to spend it with a person who hurts you.
- If your abuser physically assaults you, I hope you leave right now. Verbal abuse escalates to physical assault and assault escalates to death. Additionally, you may not be the only one to die -your abuser could murder you and then your children and anyone else on the scene.
Point is that choosing to stay with an abuser will have very serious emotional and/or physical consequences. It is only a matter of time.
Leaving An Abusive Relationship Is Not Your Only Option
Honoring a person’s choice to stay in an abusive relationship is a relatively new concept to domestic violence social workers and other domestic abuse helpers. You might find helpers who support you no matter what you decide to do. On the other hand, you might find helpers who decide there’s nothing they can do for you if you do not leave the abuser. That hurts, I know, but just because they’re the experts doesn’t mean they always know the right thing to do.
Additionally, many of your closest friends and family members may distance themselves from you if you choose to stay. Often we tell ourselves that they’re tired of listening to us complain when we won’t do anything to change it. Remember though, the ones who love you need to keep themselves sane, too. If they’re in the battle with you, they may not be strong enough to pull you out if you change your mind and leave the relationship.
Don’t take it personally if people don’t support your decision to stay, and please don’t beat yourself up because you feel you can’t leave. Let’s just roll with this for a while and see what we can do for our mental well-being when we choose to stay.
Key Concepts to Accept About Your Abusive Relationship
You cannot make your abuser happy, therefore you cannot make them mad, either. You do not have magic powers that control your abuser’s words or actions and no combination of your words or behaviors will result in an end to the abuse.
Most everything you do and say will be “wrong”, and if you are right today, you’ll probably be wrong tomorrow. So you may as well do exactly as YOU please at all times. Make your own decisions, act on your hunches. It doesn’t matter what you do, the abuse will continue.
You are in a relationship that thrives on your honest disclosures about yourself. However, unlike healthy intimate relationships, your significant other uses your deepest secrets against you. You cannot trust your abuser with your heart, so keep your mouth shut about it.
There will be moments of joy and pleasure in your abusive relationship. Go ahead and enjoy the sex, the compliment, the joke, etc. But leave the joy in the moment. Don’t assume that because s/he smiled a minute ago that the smile will be there when you look again. Humans need joy in their life, so grab all you can.
You need a safety plan. Period. Abusers are unpredictable and you never know when you’re going to have to get away from them. Thinking through a safety plan during moments of peace will help you to think more swiftly and clearly during moments of danger.
Keep people on the outside of your relationship close. Isolation is the abuser’s best friend. When you’re isolated from others, you lose the most valuable lifeline an abused person can have – ideas from people other than the abuser. You increase the effects of abuse by only hearing your abuser’s opinions, so stay connected to the world outside your home.
Educate yourself about domestic violence and abuse. Search words and phrases like verbal and emotional abuse, side effects of abuse, gaslighting, crazy-making and brainwashing. Learning a little bit each day about how your partner manipulates and controls you lessens their ability to do it.