There are many reasons an abused wife might stay with her abuser. She’s afraid to leave but also afraid of life without him. She has no money, no friends, no family, no one to turn to, no place to run. She believes him when he says he’ll kill her. She believes him when he says she is no good and no one will ever want her. She believes she deserves to be abused.
When his words are the only ones she hears, they start to define reality for her. He draws her in, compliments her, tells her he wants to do better, that things will be better. Tells her that he loves her. Then things start to change. She can’t seem to please him. She frustrates him. She make him angry. Or at least that’s what he tells her. The truth is, he has moved to a different part of the abuse cycle, the one that terrifies her. The one designed to terrify her. She dreams of leaving but is so very afraid to do so. So she turns her attention to simply surviving. At this point, she’ll do anything just to make the pain stop. He likes it that way. He gets his way, just like he always intended to.
Abusers destroy self-esteem, sense of self, any sense of worth. An abuser’s words not only destroy, but also define and control. The prison bars aren’t real but they are there nonetheless. The never ending cycle of abuse is a dizzying, frightening, one. Once she’s on, she’s likely to have no clue how to get off.
So why does she stay with someone who treats her like dirt? She stays because…
- He’s told her that if she leaves, she will regret it forever. He has told her that he will: hurt her, kill her, hurt or kill her children, lie about her, take her children away from her, kill himself and fix it so that everyone will blame her, and so many other things. He tells her these things over and over again and she believes him.
- He’s convinced family and friends that she’s either: crazy, abusive, morally corrupt, a bad wife and a worse mother, et cetera.
- She is dependent upon him financially either because he’s: bankrupted her and ruined her credit, he’s kept them both in debt up to their eyeballs, he’s the main or only breadwinner, he’s refused to let her work, he’s forced her to work but has kept all of her money himself, her health is compromised from the stress she lives under and she isn’t up to the challenge of holding a job, et cetera.
- He really can be a nice guy when he wants to be, when it suits his purposes to be. She wants to believe that that, not the abusive man, is who he really is.
- She doesn’t know that there are services available for abused women or they aren’t available where she lives.
- She is afraid that he’ll hound her forever through threatening, stalking, et cetera.
- She has seen herself through his eyes for so long, she has no idea that she is worthy of being treated with love and respect.
- She believes him when he says she causes him to abuse her.
- She has a deep seated fear of being homeless.
- She believes God will be angry with her if she “gives up” on her marriage.
- She believes that her children need their Dad in their lives.
- She’s afraid of being charged with desertion should she physically leave her home.
- Since so much counseling is on “saving” the marriage at any and all costs, she believes that that should be her focus, too.
- She believes her man is basically good…until he drinks, does drugs, has a stressful day at work, and that the abuse is his way of handling or reacting to such things.
- She believes that he needs her, that–if she is patient enough–she might be able to “help him” or “change him” and the abuse will end.
- The church has taken Malachi 2: 16 out of context and convinced her that divorce is always a sin.
- Her abuser has moved her around so often, and has broken her ties to family and friends, so that now she has no one to turn to and no place to go.
- The church she attends believes that her abuser is “a good and godly man” who would “never hurt anyone”.
- Her pastor told her to go home, pray more, and try harder.
- Her church has made it clear that there is nothing that they can do or will do to help her.
- She is ashamed of what she has allowed herself to endure, of being treated in such an abasing and humiliating fashion, and she fears having it come to light.
- She fears she can never “be free” of her abuser. If she turns to the police, even if he is arrested, there is no guarantee that he will serve any real time, and even if he does, he will one day be out and might come looking for her.
- She is afraid of what will happen to her children if her abuser is given joint custody or visiting rights. She reasons that, if she stays, at least she is there with them when they are with him and isn’t leaving them on their own to face his abuse.
- She doesn’t know how to handle everything that must be handled in order to find a way out.
One additional thing that I want to say is this: When I say that the church she attends isn’t helping her, I’m not speaking for all churches. I realize that there are churches where God’s love and grace is poured forth to the oppressed. My mother, who herself was a victim of domestic abuse, was blessed to find one. The church heard her story and welcomed her with open arms. They blessed her divorce. A deacon and an Elder went with her when she filed for divorce. They helped her in numerous other ways for several years. Unfortunately most churches aren’t like that.
What additional reasons can you think of that an abused wife might choose to stay with her abuser?