I am so glad to be at the end of my series on domestic violence – you have no idea. I have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and I hope that it reached someone, that it taught someone, that it helped someone.
Today is my last post and it’s a doozie. Ok, I have never actually used the word doozie before and probably never will again.
Here it is: Why did you stay?
Before I even answer that, I need to preface this by saying this is the worst question you can ask a woman and it’s crazy to me that the question is always pointed at the victim – “Why did you stay?” rather than at the abuser – “Why did you hurt them?”
By posing the question to the victim you create shame, doubt, and feelings of unworthiness. I feel like you should know that. I know you’re just curious. I know that you cannot imagine ever letting anyone treat you like that and that’s why you ask. You truly want to know.
Which is why I will answer the question for you. But please, don’t ask it. Just don’t ask this question of the victim. No matter where they are in the healing process, just keep this question to yourself, please. The answers are so many and so complicated, they probably wouldn’t be able to answer it anyway.
I’m not even sure I’ll be able to convey what I want to get across. But I’m going to try. For you. So you won’t have to ask anyone else.
Slow and Steady. This is a process, friends. The abuser knows what he is doing. He knows he can’t just come out with his true colors in the beginning. At first, he is charming and loving and he picks his victim with care. Someone who has low self esteem, someone who loves with all their heart, someone they can take advantage of. And then he builds them up. Says all the right things and does all the right things. Makes you feel loved and cherished. Everything feels good.
Eventually, there’s an argument. Just an argument – nothing unusual – every couple argues, right? Maybe he raises his voice just a little… maybe he makes one remark that’s just a bit crossing the line. It’s not much, it’s small, but he wants to see if he can get away with it. And he will… because it was such a minor thing. Nothing to break up over. He wins the first tiny battle in a war you don’t even know you’re in.
The next argument, he pushes it a little bit farther. A bit more yelling. A few harsher words. Still… not that bad. Nothing that makes your jaw drop, not yet. And he apologizes for it and you accept the apology because no one is perfect.
Then, maybe, there are few “normal” arguments that every couple has. No red flags, and you think the behavior before was out of character. But…
Eventually there comes a time where it’s a little worse. The thing is – you’ve already accepted it the first few times and this time wasn’t that much worse than last time. You’re starting to wonder if this is going to be a pattern. You may question it but he is so apologetic and goes out of his way to make things right. And at this point, you’re married. You don’t divorce over an argument, for goodness sake.
Each time, friend. Each time it gets a little bit worse. Just a little. But you are becoming immune to it. You are beginning to accept it, think it’s normal. It starts off so small and builds so very slowly. Now, add in the mind games… the blame of you, the pointing out of your faults, your shortcomings – we all have them – but somehow, some of the arguments, some of the fights become your fault – because you’re not perfect.
One time… one time he goes too far. He breaks furniture or threatens you or whatever it is. And you say, this is it. I’m done. I’m leaving… and he breaks down. He cries. He admits that he has problems. He promises to get help… but he needs you. He needs your help. And you agree. You agree to help because you love him… at least you think you do. It’s confusing. But you have a big heart and your husband is begging for help… so of course you are going to help.
It’s good for awhile. He’s really trying. He wants to change. You think. You wish. He’s so good to you now and when he starts to get upset, it looks like he is making an effort.
But then. Always the but then. Then there is another big fight and it’s worse than the last one. What are you going to do? He promised to change but now here he is, saying the worst things, he even kicked the dog! Who does that! You decide to leave again…
But… but now he’s saying he would rather die. He will kill himself if you leave. You’re not sure if you should believe him or not but he seems serious and you know he’s mentally ill. Would he really kill himself? He’s acting like it. He seems serious. He says again he wants help or he wants to die. You are so, so tired. So emotionally drained. You don’t know what’s right or not anymore. You agree to help.
At this point, you are in so deep, you may never get out. There comes a point where he realizes he can do whatever he wants, and you won’t go anywhere. He shames you more, knocks away more of your self worth. It’s been years now… 2, 3, 4 years… maybe more. It’s been such a slow, torturous process and you’ve been through so much but now, you just don’t know what to do, where to turn. You are lost inside yourself. You are walking on egg shells every day and just trying to survive. If you had left after the first fight… you wouldn’t be here… but now, you barely exist.
The help he agreed to get? Well he says you need help too. And you do, although not for the reasons he says you do. You start going to some Christian counselors. You grew up so conservative Christian and you were taught many times that divorce is not an option. You do. Not. Divorce. Plus, do you see all those memes on Facebook that say young couples just give up on marriages? That it’s hard work but you stick it out? That good marriages come to those who don’t quit? So… you go get help.
But the Christian counselors… well, I mean you’re not 100% honest with what is going on, how could you be? But you tell enough. Enough. But they encourage you to be a good Christian woman. A submitting wife. To love and respect your husband. They say all kinds of things to him too but he doesn’t care while you do. You want to be a good wife. So you stay. And you pray. And you beg God to change him so that you can be a good wife and not divorce.
As much as God loves you, he doesn’t interfere with free will so your husband… well he’s just going to keep doing what he’s doing. And the counselors will keep telling him to change, but he won’t, and they will keep telling you to do better and you’ll try. All the while you are dying inside and you don’t understand how this could be right. But this is how you were raised.
You are ashamed and desperate and beaten down. When you closest friends ask why do you stay? You have no idea how to answer. And they don’t even know the worst of it. Hope… is the only answer you have. Hope that things will change, hope that God will intervene, hope that a miracle will happen.
There’s more. There’s always more. And every person’s story is different. Some women stay because they have no money… no financial means to get out and take care of themselves. No one to turn to. Where will they go? Where will they live? How will they feed their children?
I am so blessed. I had no money when I left my abuser but I have parents who love me and gave me a safe place to live and time and space to heal. I have amazing friends who walked beside me and paid for counseling for me and listened and were there for me. I am so blessed. Not every woman has these things.
I hope this helps someone. I hope this helps someone see how it could happen to anyone. I truly believe it could happen to anyone. I hope that someone reads this and realizes they are not alone and it’s possible to get out and start a new life.
Mostly, I’m glad that I’m done writing about it, if I’m being honest.
Thank you so much for reading.
Help is available, start here:
Domestic Violence Hotline
Love is Respect – the
National Dating Abuse Helpline
Text “loveis” to 22522
Live chat at www.loveisrespect.org