There are many, many reasons why women and men don’t leave an abusive relationship. Often it is because they don’t realise that they are being abused. They think it is normal. I know from experience that I believed the emotional, psychological and financial abuse I suffered was normal. I thought everyone’s relationship worked in this way. It wasn’t until I literally woke up one day and thought ‘this is n’t normal’ and started really looking at other people’s relationships that I realised I was in an abusive relationship.
I went and consulted a solicitor who agreed that not only was this an abusive relationship but I had grounds for divorce. Unreasonable behaviour. And so I took my courage in both hands and filed for divorce.
What is an abusive relationship?
One where you are treated in one or more of these ways:
Manipulated – Have their will imposed on you so you do as they say without realising it
Controlled – told what to wear, what to do, where to go, where you can and can’t work, who you can and can’t speak to
Insulted – in private and/or in public
Treated as a possession
Told that everything is your fault
Deprived of money – only allowed so much a day not allowed your own income
Deprived of friends – not allowed to have friends
Only allowed a mobile phone as long as you only call the abuser and they control the bill
Psychologically mistreated – made to feel worthless
Emotionally mistreated – constantly told you are useless and nobody wants you
Physically – beaten, burned, tortured
Sexually – raped, made to perform acts you don’t want to, made to be part of a threesome
Verbally – shouted at, berated in front of other people, made to feel small and inadequate
Held prisoner/locked up
Made to have meals on the table at specific times and threatened with various consequences if they don’t appear on time.
Interestingly in 1995 a national survey showed that just under 50% of abusers are in fact female.
I believe that most of the reasons that people don’t leave abusive relationships, once they realise what it is, stem from fear.
Most of the fears are understandable, but often irrational. For instance, fear of having no money if they leave. Because women are generally at home looking after the children, they don’t have any income of their own. The fear of financial ruin builds in the mind until it becomes ‘I can’t survive if I leave’. And so they stay.
Fear of losing the children. If a man has been abused he may find it very difficult to leave with the children.
Most of the fears are understandable, but often irrational. For instance, fear of having no money if they leave. It may be they don’t have any income of their own. The fear of financial ruin builds in the mind until it becomes ‘I can’t survive if I leave’. And so they stay.
Fear of what other people might think. There is often a social stigma that labels people as failures if they dare to leave their partners. Usually nobody outside the home realises what is going on which adds to that stigma. This leads to feelings of insecurity. And so they stay.
Fear of what might happen to them at the hand of their partner if they did leave. Often people believe that their partner will come after them and kill them and/or their children. The threats are made to them over and over again, until they are ingrained in their mind. And so they stay.
People often fear that they are the reason that they are abused. That it is their fault. And if they were to change their ways their abusive partner would be different. A false supposition. And so they stay.
Of course, the abuser will tell their partner that they will change, they won’t do it again. But they do. They never change.
I know how difficult it is to leave an abusive relationship. I was verbally, emotionally and financially abused by my first husband. He would belittle me in front of the children and other people, always tell me that I knew nothing, that I was of no use and he would do anything to stop me succeeding at anything. Add to that the fact that my parents believed that I should make the marriage work because I was too young, in their opinion, to know what I was doing, and I was financially dependent. And so I stayed. I stayed 10 years.
I did, eventually, wake up to the fact that it was not normal to be treated in this way, and found the courage to leave and take the children with me and started a new life in a different town. The feeling of relief was immense. Although I was threatened with all sorts of things, such as having the children removed, losing my flat etc., I discovered that the threats were empty. And this is probably true of most abusers. They are cowards and when someone actually stands up to them, they generally back off.
There are ways out of this horrendous situation. There are both men’s and women’s refuges who will help you so that you can get yourself out of the abusive home. Once you are out and can think about what options there are for you, there are counsellors and life coaches who can help you see yourself as you, the real person, and not a punch bag.
There are various organisations who can and will help you to start your new life. Social Services and the Police will work together to ensure that you are safe and help you to move on with your life. They will give you respite and guidance in a safe environment. There are solicitors, the Samaritans, Citizens’ Advice, Relate and they can all point you in the right direction for help. Schools will have contacts if you are worried about your children. There is a whole lot that can be done for you once you are out of the abusive situation and in a safe place. There are protocols that can be introduced and put into action for you.
There are trusted friends and family who may be able to help you too.
If I had known about life coaching back then I would have been first in the queue.
There is no reason good enough to actually justify staying in an abusive relationship.
It can be hard to admit that you are in an abusive relationship. But if you think you are being abused and you are unhappy, get out of that relationship as soon as possible. Take your courage in both hands and make the leap. Often men find it much harder to admit to being abused than women do, but I believe they are just as justified as anyone else. There is help out there for everyone.
Do you want to remain stuck and miserable? If your answer is no, find your way to get out and start your new life on your own terms.
Remember, the relationship has failed, not you. You are not a failure.
If you would like to chat confidentially about your situation, contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Maggie CurrieThought Leader, Speaker, Author, Survivor Contributor to BBC Radio, Vectis Radio, Susan Rich Radio Published author and regularly write articles for national and international magazines. Find out more about me on my website.