I was married to a psychological abuser for 20 years. Why didn’t I leave in 2002 when I first thought of leaving? Why didn’t I leave when my friends offered me a place to stay? Why didn’t I leave when he first said he wanted a divorce? Why didn’t I leave when...? The answer is fear.
I was scared of losing the privilege of being with my kids every day. They were my everything and the idea of not having them in my daily life was scary. Little did I know that they were determined to come with me and stay with me. A few years later they moved out on their own and I had to face down my fear of them not being in my daily life and of being alone in the world. Guess what - I survived.
I was scared of poverty. During the times when I thought of leaving, I didn’t have a job and no money. When I did have a job, he demanded I pay 50% of all the bills – sounds fair right? 50% was always more than what I made, and I still had to buy the groceries and pay for the kid’s extra curricular stuff. What do you do when you need to pay for something and you don’t have enough? You use your credit card. In the end, I had no job, I had a credit card bill, which my ex wouldn’t pay because he stopped paying any bill that was in my name. Can you guess where I ended up by myself? You guessed it, in front of judge admitting I was a financial failure. I made payment arrangements and a month later, I finally got a job and after 2 years paid it all back, but my credit rating was gone. He didn’t pay much in child support and what I made barely paid the bills, but we made it through.
I was scared of being alone. By this time, I believed I was worth nothing to the world, that no one could possibly love me and I didn’t matter. If I left, I would be alone for the rest of my life and the pain of that fear was worse than staying. When my marriage broke down, I went out into the dating world trying to prove to him that I could be loved and be loved by someone amazing. Well, that didn’t happen. I was provided more evidence that I was unlovable or only wanted by men whose behaviour was worse than my husbands. Funny thing, I am now happy with being alone and the idea of a solitary life no longer causes me pain or fear, in fact, I enjoy being alone.
I was scared of my parents. This has got to be the most irrational fear I had at the time. I was scared that my parents wouldn’t love me if I left him. I had no good reason for leaving besides I didn’t want to be with him. He didn’t cheat, he was responsible, and he didn’t beat me. He only yelled and told me all the ways I was useless. Growing up, I was taught marriage was forever and you didn’t bail because you were unhappy, you stuck it out through the bad times for the good times. Divorce for the sake of divorce was unacceptable and bad for the kids.
Never mind that my son was begging me to leave his dad. In the end, my relationship with my parents is better than it ever was. I now realize they will love me even when I fall flat on my face. I know, I should have known that before.
I didn’t see myself as being abused. I didn’t see his behaviour as abusive. I didn’t understand that I was in constant fear of his moods and believed what he told me, “I didn’t deserve better.” He didn’t want to be whipped and doing anything for me meant he was whipped. I thought I was OK with never having help and always picking up the slack around the house because I was more than capable of doing it all, work, home, kids. His constant criticism was normal to me. I ignored him when he blamed me for his lot in life and the dust. I always get blamed for the dust. I believed he was the best partner for me because our strengths and weaknesses were opposite and he forced me to do the things I didn’t want to do, like clean the house. Real romantic huh. I look back now and wonder how we stayed together so long.
After he forced me out of the house, I started meeting with lawyers and other divorce professionals. Each one told me there was government help because I was an abused woman. I’d stare at them blankly and tell them I wasn’t. Then they would explain how my behaviour and attitude was that of an abused woman.
I was terrified of upsetting him. I wouldn’t demand full child support and was willing to take the pittance he offered because I was scared of his temper. I didn’t think I deserved my fair share and the only thing I cared about was having the kids with me full time. I’d sacrifice anything and everything for that one thing. I am not a timid person and I am smart enough to know how to protect my interests, still the idea of him finding out I’d put a lien on the house terrified me.
After 3 years, I finally got a lawyer and I felt protected for the first time in years. He had my back and a no contact order to send to my ex.
My recovery started on that day. It was like a huge weight of fear was lifted off me. Every day since then, I have gotten stronger, more confident, and less afraid. I have a lot of work to do still but I can be proud of myself because I am a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man – Which is exactly how my son described me soon after the separation, I didn’t feel that way then, I do now.
Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships
Women often stay because the abuser has threatened to kill them himself, or the children:
About 26% of all women who are murdered by their spouse had left. Half of the murdered women were killed within two months of leaving the relationship.
Women are 6 times more likely to be killed by an ex-partner than by a current partner.
Almost 60% of all dating violence happens after the relationship has ended.
Women stay because they are financially dependent on their partner. Women who leave a partner to raise children on their own are five times more likely to be poor.
About 1 in 5 single mothers in Canada live on a low income.
Some women stay because they have strong beliefs about keeping the family together.
Sometimes, relatives or in-laws blame the woman for the violence and insist she stay.
The mental health consequences of abuse can make it difficult for women to leave a relationship. Sixty-four per cent of battered women exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Domestic abuse is often a gradual process, with the frequency of assaults and seriousness of the violence slowly escalating over time. Since abusers often express deep remorse and promise to change, it can take years for women to admit that the violence will never stop.
The long-term experience of being abused can destroy a woman’s self-confidence, making it more difficult to believe she deserves better treatment. or can manage on her own.
If you know someone living in a bad situation and they seem oblivious to it or are always making excuses for their partner. Be there for them by listening and asking questions to help understand why they are staying and finding ways to help them.