Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Doesn't She Leave, Part II

Last week, we were discussing the question that I’m asked daily, “Why doesn’t she leave?”

You learned that the three reasons a woman stays in an abusive relationship are fear, stalking and economics. If you missed that blog entry, look for “Blog Archive” on the right side of the page and click on “Why Doesn’t She Leave, Part I” to get more background information on this topic.

This week we’ll discuss three more reasons a woman will stay in a dangerous relationship.

Reason #4 - Children

Children can often be the trigger that enables a woman to leave the relationship, but they can also be the reason they stay. Women will stay to protect their children.

Abusers will threaten to take the children from them through the court systems with threats such as, “I will call the state and report you as a neglectful mother” or “I will tell them you use drugs.” Or they may threaten to kidnap the children and never let her see them again.

The women know that the threats are real. When faced with the possibility of never seeing your children again, the answer is simple: you stay.

Reason #5 - Emotions

Women stay because of feelings of guilt, shame and a host of other emotions. They may feel guilty that something bad could happen to him because he has been arrested, or he might lose his job or his status in the community. She may feel the abuse is her fault, and thinks if she would have done something differently, he wouldn’t have lost control.

It is very common for an abuser to threaten suicide when they feel that their partner is thinking of leaving, as a way to keep them in the relationship and in their control.

Reason #6 – Love

The reason that seems to be the most difficult for people to grasp is that the women are in love with their partner. Being in love with their partner doesn’t mean they are in love with the abuse. Battered women do not thrive on being hurt.

Abusive relationships can have periods where there is no abuse, also known as the “Honeymoon Period”. This is the time when the woman can see the person that she fell in love with; the one that doesn’t hurt her with his words and actions, but shows her kindness, sorrow and regret for previous actions.

She desperately wants to believe that this change is for real and will last. She wants it to be the relationship that she had always hoped it would be. So she stays to give it another chance, to believe that her dreams can come true.

So why don’t women leave? My answer is this: they do. If they haven’t left yet, then there are reasons that are valid and need to be supported and understood.

My challenge to you is this: rather than asking “why doesn’t she leave?” ask yourself, “what can I do to support her so that she can leave safely? What can I do to make sure that he is held accountable for his actions so she is not put in the position of having to make that decision in the first place?”

Thank you for reading my blog and for your comments and questions. I look forward to our continued dialogue.


  1. Diane R., Hope House client in 1996December 3, 2009 at 4:03 PM

    Maryanne, I love your bottom line challenge. It was my experience that after holding on to the marriage (each time full of hope that things were better now, finally forgiving again and starting to relax, just before the cycle began again) I was so exhausted emotionally that to try to make a change was like looking at climbing a mountain. In that emotional condition, to consider making a break felt like yet another dangerous move, and seemed to require more energy/resources than I could muster.

    I was fortunate that my sister gently suggested I leave some of our clothing and important papers at her house, months before I actually left. Even though I would not admit to her the full extent/frequency of the abuse, it was good to know she was there, supporting me and she had her own sense that there was danger there.

    Being able to take some of our things to be kept at her house was a positive step in the process of climbing that mountain to freedom and safety, and it had a way of bringing me out of "denial" into the reality of what was happening in our lives.

    I considered everything I could think of to try to find a way out (without a job or funds). I wondered if we could move to someone's basement; my mom offered some money to help rent a place--the last place I would have wanted to go was a shelter.

    To Hope House's credit, when we finally escaped one night from impending terrorism, we ended up in a safe, warm place with compassionate and capable staff to help us begin finding peace, safety and healing.

    Leaving our home and going to Hope House was not the crisis. It was the beginning of the end of the nightmare we had been living, the open door to a new life.

  2. Diane, thank you so much for sharing your perspective. It is so helpful to hear and learn from those who have experienced it. I am so thankful you had your sister who was there for you and offered you hope and a safe refuge. I am inspired by your perspective that leaving and coming to Hope House wasn’t the crisis, but the beginning of the end of the nightmare. That is what gives me fuel to continue this work. Thank you for sharing!