It’s bad enough that you suffer in an abusive relationship. What you don’t need on top of that is guilt for not leaving, and the judgement of family and friends. They ask, “Why do you stay in this terrible relationship?” It’s hard to answer that question.
Surely it didn’t start out to be abusive. You fell in love, that mysterious, magical transformation to bliss. It was less a choice you made than an irresistible force that overwhelmed you. By the time you noticed any signs of abuse, you were well into your relationship, too late for introspection about possible difficulties ahead. You were already attached and committed before the little humiliations became apparent. That’s because abusers are very smart about seduction and getting you hooked before they reveal themselves.
At first, you excuse the abuse. After all, you love him and he didn’t mean it. When the verbal attacks give way to physical harm, it’s still easier to think it’s an aberration than real trouble. When you finally came to the realization that you’re a victim, you’re deep in a relationship. It’s hard to leave if you love him, even if you feel unsafe. There are plenty of reasons why.
Denial. You may choose to minimize or rationalize what’s happening to you. That’s a pretty normal response. In the case of verbal abuse, you may feel that no physical harm’s been done, even if you were demeaned in public or systematically controlled so your life isn’t your own. The drive to stay attached so you can procreate is a primal urge for the survival of the species. It’s often stronger than your need to flee. So you mitigate the facts and rationalize—or even blame yourself—in order to keep up the fiction. You appease your partner until you feel safe again. For the moment.
Low Self-Esteem. Your confidence in yourself is less than stellar, which is probably how your got involved with an abuser in the first place. After a time, the abuser begins to belittle you, and you believe he’s right, further eroding your self-esteem. This is not just happenstance, but a deliberate campaign to whittle you down until you are completely under his control. Now you are susceptible to his manipulations and you are willing to believe that the lack of abuse for a bit is a sign that he loves you. Or a small act of kindness. Or an invitation for sex. But this is how he keeps you on the hook. Until he abuses again.
Honeymoon Cycle. He loves you; he loves you not. After the abuse, there’s a honeymoon period. He’s so sorry. He doesn’t know what got into him. If you would only forgive him, you can be happy again. He may beguile you with roses or a mournful apology. And you are just happy for momentary peace. You want to believe he didn’t mean it and that it will never happen again. So you do what you really want to do—connect again and feel reassured. And feel hope. Until the cycle begins again.
Repetition of the Pattern. There is the repeating honeymoon cycle, and there is also the repeating of generational cycles. You grew up in an abusive household, no doubt because one or more of your parents grew up in an abusive household, and on and on. So you seek out what you know and feel comfortable with. If abuse is familiar, you gravitate to a partner who makes you feel the same way you felt in childhood. Maybe you have unfinished business with a parent who hurt you and so you find a partner with whom you think you can finish that business.
The truth is it’s usually hard to leave your abuser for a number of reasons. You did marry him for the good things—he can be charming. He might be a good provider. He might make your life interesting. And until the harm of abuse outweighs the good, you stay. Sometimes for years. You’re loyal and loving and resilient. When friends try to help, they may actually feel like a threat to you. Until you are truly fed up with your way of life, it is hard to disentangle yourself. But it is the healthy thing to do, and the sooner the better.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact