“Why does she stay? I’ve raised her better than that”.
“I would never let someone treat me like that”.
Whenever the subject of abuse comes up, these phrases inevitability come up in one form or another. To many, these phrases are harsh, judgemental, rude, and ignorant. To me, these phrases indicate that there is more work to be done to educate society on what leaving is actually like.
When a woman leaves an abusive marriage, she leaves far more than the abuse behind. Let’s explore what leaving actually looks like. Here’s a list of some of what a woman leaves behind. I’m sure this isn’t a full list or an all inclusive list, however it is a good glimpse into what one loses when they leave an abuser.
Obviously. Right? Out of everyone who says why doesn’t she just leave, how many of them do you think are willing to walk away from their spouse? Here’s the crazy thing about abusive relationships, they aren’t 100% bad or riddled with abuse. In fact, most of them start off as a fairytale. How else do you think they get together in the first place? And, the abuse doesn’t happen all the time. Yes, couples argue, yes, couples don’t agree, yes, people make mistakes and treat each other poorly from time to time. No one is perfect. So not only can it be confusing to make the determination if your spouse is abusive or having a bad day (strange thought, I know), but, the thought of leaving someone you love and losing that partnership, that lover, that confidant, can be hard to process for anyone whether or not abuse is involved.
Her Financial Stability
When the man is the income source, it is obvious why a woman would fear financially for the wellbeing of herself and her children. Add that some of these women haven’t worked in years due to staying home with the children so don’t feel competitive in the workforce. And the fact that there is still childcare to consider when she does start working and it paints a better picture.
According to Current Population Survey BLS 2010, in 2016, 66% of American households are dual income households. So even if she is currently working, the task of maintaining a household under one income can be daunting for anyone. Again, ask someone who says why doesn’t she just leave if they would be willing to modify and most likely downgrade their lifestyle and see if they still feel it is just that easy.
A home should be a safe haven for all family members. While living in a home with abuse may not feel like a safe haven, leaving your home behind completely and living in a shelter, or living in fear that your abuser could show up at any time and violate a protective order (if you were able to get one in place) is terrifying.
Human beings as a general rule are more comfortable with what they are familiar with, including a familiar threat. Afterall, being in the home with an abuser and able to keep a thumb on the pulse of their abusive cycle is much more predictable then living apart from an abuser making it so you have no clue when they may reach the explode phase.
And, most people aren’t willing to just walk away from their home and all their possessions, especially when they may have to drag kids along, just to become homeless.
I was terrified that my ex would take my son away from me and flee the state and that I would never see him again. The idea wasn’t so far removed when I grew up with a great aunt who experienced just that. My ex fought for it too. He filled a protective order on behalf of my 12 month old son against me. Child Protective Services and the courts got involved and all of the sudden I had no control over when I would get to see my son.
Even though I was awarded custody and didn’t lose my son completely, I still am required by law to send my son to stay with his dad and step mom at regular intervals (one night a week and every other weekend plus holidays). While this is great for my son (I fully believe in kids having a good relationship with both parents so long as they are safe) and even though it can be a blessing to have some kid free time especially when you’re a single parent, I still miss out on so many moments in my son’s life. I miss out on scouting events and lost teeth. His first plane ride and his first trip to Disneyland. Every other Thanksgiving, birthday, and Christmas morning belong to his dad. How many people who say she should just leave would willingly give up that much time with their children?
Sure, losing your pride doesn’t seem like that big of sacrifice right? Except it is. It can be a hard thing for people to let go of. We live in a society of social media and publicizing our lives. It’s a weird thing, the ways your pride can be hurt when leaving an abuser. You don’t want people to think poorly of you. That you didn’t try hard enough. That you picked the wrong partner. That you waited too long to leave. Even though failure is an essential part of life, and is often what brings us to success, it is still painful and hard to go through.
So often those people who sing the ideology of leaving an abuser are too prideful to see the hardship and pain that causes. They think they know better.
Our ego is often synanomous with our self esteem. When someone leaves an abuser, often times all they have id their self esteem. I for one left behind everything, my home, my furniture, my clothes, my belongings. All I took with me was 3 days worth of clothes for myself and my son and (thankfully) my car. That type of scenario is frighteningly common when leaving an abuser.
Having to start over, from scratch, on your own, while being a parent and fighting a court battle isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a lot of work and there are lots of tear-filled lonely nights reflecting on perceived failures of the day and anxiety riddled thoughts of what is to come.
Not many people willingly take that sort of a beating to their self esteem.
I have seen this go so many ways. Making the choice to leave is a tough one and it affects more people than just who’s leaving and who’s being left. We often spend years with the person we are leaving. We get to know and love their family. And our family gets to know our abuser.
Leaving can bring out unpredictable responses from family. The abusers family can blame you for leaving and make things difficult for you. They can agree with you and support you (this is rare) which often makes things difficult as it can make the abuser more angry and resentful. Your own family could be blinded by the abuser and not understand or support your choice. Your family may question your dedication to marriage or what’s the right thing for your kids. There are several possibilities of how those closest to you may react and you have no way of knowing what that will look like until you make that choice.
Losing family members and those you love is a hard choice for anyone.
There are so many things a person considering leaving can possibly lose. So how do you do it? How do you make that choice? You don’t overthink it. You just follow your gut. Leave when you know it’s right. You will know suddenly and unexpectedly. Take that leap of faith.