the grey area of abusive relationships
For the longest time I wondered why my mother couldn’t just leave my abusive father who also sexually abused me.
In fact as a kid I begged her to leave him.
I imagined that when I grew up I’d save her from him. She would live with me and finally leave him. We’d be free together and live a normal life.
I grew up — 33 years later I didn’t save her from him.
The truth is she never left my father.
She still lives with him to this day.
I resented her for years. I felt abandoned by her. I feel sad that she is still there but she has a choice regardless if she realizes it or not.
Despite her neglect as a parent I understand why she “chooses” to stay.
“Why don’t you just leave him?”
It is easy and somewhat careless to ask a victim of abuse why don’t they just leave. However I think for the victim it is much harder to answer.
There is a grey area in abusive relationships.
It is more complicated than a six-word question.
Why do people stay in abusive relationships?
The National Domestic Hotline shares some common reasons why people like my mother stay —
- Fear — fear of what will happen if they try to leave the relationship
- Normalizing abuse & not realizing it is an unhealthy relationship
- Embarrassment or shame
- Low self-esteem — When you are constantly belittled and put down you start to believe it.
- Kids — A big reason my mother was afraid to leave is she didn’t want to lose us.
- Money — a person may be financially dependent on their abuser. My mother is financially dependent on my father and actually gets terrified if he gets sick. In her words, “she needs him to be alive” because she has never been on her own.
These are just a few reasons why a victim may not leave their relationship.
Ultimately it takes resources, advocacy and the victim needing preparation and a team on the outside to support their exit.
It’s not an easy journey for someone to leave an abusive relationship.
There is a lot of mental warfare and possible threat one has to face in order to try to exit a relationship safely.
From my own personal experience I was in a few abusive relationships and it took me years to get the courage to leave and stay disconnected from my abusive ex.
I remember the day my ex (the woman who cheated on me) and I broke up.
We had a horrible fight and she was arrested. She spent the night in a jail cell. And I spent the night crying realizing that I was living my worst fear — a relationship like my parents.
I needed help desperately and luckily I started going to therapy shortly after.
It was a long break-up and if it wasn’t for therapy I’m not sure we would have truly broken up.
Rather than ask the inconsiderate question of “Why don’t you just leave?” — try this instead.
“How can I support you?”
Offer support, to listen, to provide tools or resources. Be a gentle guide.
It is a delicate and raw process to exit an abusive relationship.
Let’s keep advocating for each other.
We all deserve to find healing, recovery and love again.
There is hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
(Dedicated to you Mom, I hope you find yours)
If you are in an abusive relationship and need support please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline — 1–800–799-SAFE (7233) or chat with an advocate at their website.