In Australia, at least one woman is killed by a current partner or ex-partner every week. Every single week. So if these men are capable of such violence, why do women stay? Such an easy question to ask, not so easy to answer. Women stay with violent and abusive men for a range of reasons and unless you’ve been there, you just can’t understand.
Relationships rarely begin with a display of verbal abuse, shoving, hitting and controlling behaviour. It’s something that creeps up over time. To begin with women are made to feel like they’re making it up or blowing it out of proportion “I never said it like that, you’re hearing things” and “Do you really believe I would do/say something like that? Wow, you mustn’t know me at all.” The verbal abuse continues either bluntly or subtly for a while before the first physical incident occurs and he’s so unbelievably sorry, it’ll never happen again and he’s so sweet and attentive. She believes him. She so badly wants to believe him. After all, she never knew he was capable of physically striking her so it has to be a once off due to all of the stress he’s under.
She’s in love with him. He was amazing in the beginning. “He used to take me out to dinner, buy me flowers, tell me how beautiful I looked so where has this telling me what I can and can’t wear come from? He never acted like that in the beginning.” It becomes a strange concept to grapple with. A man who abuses, controls and isolates his partner didn’t begin his relationship that way. Denial plays its part because it’s hard to understand where his new persona has come from. Maybe it’s just stress? He has been working hard lately, maybe his boss is giving him a hard time? She makes excuses trying to explain his change in behaviour. She’s trying to give meaning to who he has become. She’ll just try and keep the peace, try and make him more comfortable, go about her day and hope things go back to normal, that he goes back to normal. But this is his new normal now unfortunately.
By the time she identifies that she is experiencing verbal, emotional, sexual and/or physical abuse she may have been deliberately isolated “I don’t know why you want to go and see her. She’s a whore” and “I can’t believe you’re friends with someone like that” or a blunt statement “I don’t like her and I don’t want you to hang out with her anymore.”
Either she pulls back from her support network or they just drift away as her relationship takes a different course. Well meaning friends might gently persuade her that what she’s experiencing isn’t right and tell her to leave but if that causes her shame she’ll stop answering the phone and make excuses to skip social occasions. She wants to avoid any shame, embarrassment, pity and finger pointing at all costs. A lot of her energy goes into getting through the day and home on her own feels safer.
Her family may be bolder and call him out on his behaviour. Arguments occur, conflict arises and he forbids her from seeing her disrespectful family members or tells her she must choose. He’s her partner, they share a house together, he’s the father of her children and she can’t take their Dad away from them. She has limited options. She chooses him for the sake of her children and for peace. Short lived peace though.
As the arguing continues and intensifies the control tightens and the name calling and vitriol occurs more frequently. Even a strong woman becomes quite downtrodden when she is constantly referred to as dumb, fat, ugly, nagging, bitch, slut, stupid. It’s hard not to let words affect your self esteem and eat into your soul. She begins to believe him. She feels useless, worthless and she doesn’t think she can do anything right.
Everything seems so overwhelming. Leaving becomes too hard to a worn down woman because where does she go? Family members have offered their support in the past but how can she uproot her children from their bedrooms and home and cram them into a small shared space with family? He’s already told her that he’s not leaving, if she doesn’t like it then she has to be the one to leave. She may or may not be working but she’s always shared the finances and the costs of the house and the children with him. She doesn’t have the means to continue the same lifestyle and pay mortgage/rent on her own. Finances play a big part in if women stay or leave. Statistics show a large number of women will return to an abusive relationship purely for financial support for their children.
Maybe she has reached out before. Maybe she wasn’t believed because he’s such a model citizen, he’s a great friend who helps everyone when he can and he’s so charming, nice, helpful….are you sure you didn’t provoke him? Maybe he’s just under a lot of stress? She just got shut down and she won’t mention it again now.
She also hopes he will change, that it is just a phase because she knows the man he was when they met, the man he can be. She prays he finds himself again and they can go back to being a loving couple and a loving, happy family.
A lot of women hear threats of harm. He’ll threaten to keep the children from her if she leaves, threaten to harm their pets or family members, threaten to self harm and threaten to hunt her down and kill her if she does dare to leave. You have no idea what goes on behind closed doors and she has no idea if he is really capable of following out his threats. Does she want to find out?
The most dangerous time for a woman living in an abusive relationship is when she’s planning to leave or just after she’s left. It’n not as simple as just walking out the door and leaving. Many will look over their shoulders and tense up every time the phone rings for years to come. Many struggle mentally for the rest of their lives. They have experienced trauma and develop post traumatic stress disorder. Some won’t make it. Women don’t just become safe when they leave the relationship. They are killed by their ex-partners or their demons get the better of them and they take their own lives to escape the pain.
She stays for lots of reasons. Many you can’t comprehend unless you’ve been there.
‘Why I Stayed’ is my personal account of a domestic violence relationship. It takes you through my life, the beginning, why I stayed, how I left and the healing I’ve done since then. It can be purchased by download the Kindle app to your device and buying it here:
If you are in an abusive relationship and want to get out, get in contact with a local support organisation or ring a national helpline for advice, make a plan, assess your safety and remain vigilant, find your support network, engage help.
If you have left an abusive relationship and are struggling, please get in contact with your local support agencies – that’s what they’re there for, reach out, find a counsellor, love yourself and know that there is life after domestic violence.