Self, Heartbreak

Why Do Women Stay In Abusive Relationships — And How To Leave Safely

Photo: by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash
Why Do Women Stay In Abusive Relationships — And How To Leave Safely

Toxic relationships are, unfortunately, fairly common. If you feel trapped in an abusive relationship and are trying to leave, there are some things you need to know so you can get away from your abuser and protect yourself — and your kids, if you've got any.

Deciding to get out of an abusive relationship is no easy undertaking, and it's likely you feel overwhelmed. But the good news is there are steps you can take to escape your situation.

RELATED: I Said I Would Never Put Up With A Physically Abusive Relationship — Until I Was In One

Way too many people are abused in the United States. While America represents itself as a country of freedom, unfortunately, the numbers of people who are essentially enslaved in unhealthy, abusive relationships are staggering.

The American Psychological Association and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) say 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced rape, sexual assault, physical assault or stalking.

The Coalition says that more than 10,000,000 people are physically abused each year. That number does not even include psychological violence. That is not freedom.

Dealing with people who have been emotionally, physically, sexually abused is difficult. After working for over 30 years with abused women (85 percent are women), I get tired of hearing the question, “Why do women stay in abusive relationships?”

Statistically, the national average is that it takes leaving seven times before being able to stay away for good.

Why? Because leaving is the most dangerous time for the victim.

NCADV tells us that 1 in 3 homicide victims with restraining orders are murdered within one month of leaving.

Restraining orders are not bulletproof and safety needs to be the number one concern when exiting an abusive relationship. To minimize the danger someone is facing is foolhardy and dangerous.

Well-meaning people who say, “Just leave,” may be putting their loved one in danger.

It’s difficult for someone to leave without support, so I hope people who love those who are abused take this advice seriously.

Here are 5 must-haves before leaving an abusive relationship:

1. Get support

You can get this from a friend or family member, or from a battered women’s shelter.

Do not do this alone. Friends must understand that even if they do not see the abuser as all powerful, the victim definitely does. Her fear is real enough.

2. Make your safety a priority

Carefully plan an exit strategy that will give you enough time to get to and stay in safety.

This includes medications, prescriptions, identification cards, bank information, child’s vaccine records, school records, all important papers, and documents.

Take as much cash as you can because the abuser will certainly cut you off financially to lure you back into the home.

Additionally, make sure you have someone who would care for your family pet for at least a month until you get settled. You won’t leave if you are worried about your pet.

RELATED: 4 Psychological Reasons We Stay In Unhealthy Relationships (And How To Finally Get Yourself Out)

3. Keep your plan as secret as possible

Do not tell your children or common friends the plan ahead of time, unless they are old enough to understand the ramifications of giving away your secret.

Be very careful who knows your plan.

4. Accept that your fear cannot stop you

Commit to knowing that you are afraid, will be afraid, and can do it anyway.

Make an agreement with yourself to stick it out away from the abuser permanently as it gets more and more difficult to leave if you go back.

5. Do not fall for the abuser’s manipulation and coercion tactics

Know that your abuser is skilled at keeping you in his clutches. There will be financial threats, and certainly the threat to take your children away from you. These threats make women go back over and over again.

Know that you can ask for custody as part of your restraining order and this is imperative as most states have a “status quo” provision in their custody statutes that children are to stay where they’ve lived the last six months.

This action should be one of the first things you do if you plan on leaving.

I am awed by the strength of women to stay in an abusive relationship for the sake of the family, and the strength it takes to leave.

No one falls in love with a batterer, they love the other parts and it's important to remember there might also be a loving relationship there. The battles being fought daily are scary and their self-esteem eventually is destroyed. Yet, somehow they still manage to leave!

People in this country need to ask, “Why does a man who supposedly loves his wife abuse her?”

I never understood why a man convicted of domestic violence assault would get less time (if convicted at all) than an assault by a stranger. Shouldn’t spouses have a duty to take care of and protect each other? Isn’t the duty of members of your own household greater than strangers to you?

If you know someone who's being abused, have a courageous conversation with them about what it would take for them to leave. Get more information before you leave or help someone to leave at Domestic Shelters and don’t forget to clear your browser and cookies after you exit the site.

RELATED: 7 Heartbreaking Reasons Why People Don't Leave Abusive Relationships

Lori S. Rubenstein, JD, PCC, is a divorce mediator, coach, and author who helps clients with relationships, divorce, and forgiveness challenges. If your relationship is in need of help, you can contact Lori at her website to set up a free 15-minute consultation to learn how she can help you recover from your relationship stress today.