The only one who can really understand why someone stays in an abusive relationship is the person it is happening to. It is VERY frustrating for the friends and family members who can see this happening plain as day, but when you are IN it, you have no idea how bad it is.
You have this dream/desire of what you planned for your life, you have a vision of this great man that you are with, that has some problems, but you think doesn’t everyone?? You over accentuate all of the good qualities of this guy, “he can be so sweet…we have a good time when we’re together…most of the time it’s great…he loves our child(ren)…he really does want the best for us…he LOVES me and he wants to be with me.” You are with this guy in mind, body and spirit, but he might only be in your mind. He might not actually exist, or he exists in the man you are with but only part of the time. All you know is what you know.
You do everything you can to make him happy, to keep the relationship together. You think you know what he wants and you make your whole life about being “That Girl” that you know he wants…then once you think you’ve gotten close, he moves the target!! You think, “Ok, NOW I know what needs to happen here” and YOU make adjustments. He never makes adjustments because according to him he didn’t do anything wrong and if you were just this much better in this area or that area (which he might not ever come right out and tell you, he’ll only make subtle hints about to keep you guessing) then the relationship would be perfect.
You love him, you worship him, it is very similar to the way a follower worships God or Christ. You don’t mind tweaking yourself or making small OR BIG changes for him, because you LOVE him and you just want him to be happy so he wont _______(fill in the blank with, stray, cheat, disrespect you, hide things from you, make you feel inferior).
You crave love from him, and he gives it just a little at a time like a fish in the water and trails of bread crumbs being dropped in a teeny bit at a time. Just enough to keep you interested, not enough to make you feel like you’re where you need to be, not so little to make you want to leave and give up that dream/desire of what you planned for your life.
The fear of doing it all on your own is crippling, and you love him and he loves you so why leave? You think, “Maybe if I leave for a couple days he will see that I’m serious about leaving him and he’ll straighten up”. So you leave knowing you’re just trying to teach him a lesson, just trying to SHOW HIM how much he’ll miss you and how serious you are about not wanting to be treated that way. When you think he’s had enough and has “learned his lesson” you go back hoping and praying that this man that you LOVE, that doesn’t actually EXIST in the man that you’re with, finally *wakes up* and starts doing what he’s supposed to as a responsible father and significant other. Meanwhile he’s preaching the “I’m so sorry…I miss you so much…I will get help…I can and will be the man that you need me to be…please don’t leave…please come back…I’ll get help…I want to raise our child(ren) together…please don’t do this to our (child)ren.” And you go back thinking, maybe he suffered enough this time to actually make a change!! You don’t want him to suffer TOO much because you know what that feels like.
What you don’t know is most of these men are not capable of anything other than “first order change”. First order change is when he changes, just long enough, just good enough, until the heat is off, until she’s comfortable again, or isn’t looking, or has taken her guard down. Second order change is REAL change when he gets up each morning and makes a constant and consistent effort to stay on the path that he is on and not be pulled back into the very deep rutted and familiar path that he is used to. Unfortunately, the norm, the habit, the pull is so strong that even if the man wanted to be capable of 2nd order change (real change), it’s almost impossible.
Same goes for the woman. HE is HER habit, her norm, her deep rutted and familiar path!! So the cycle continues. Some women never make it out. They feel like they are doing the best job they can for their family by staying. They have no idea that their children are picking up on these things. They feel it, they might not know exactly what’s happening because they are only children, but they know their mom is stressed, their dad is gone again or vice versa, and they live each day knowing something isn’t quite right but they don’t know what.
Unfortunately anyone and everyone can talk to her about the relationship not being good for her, or it being “abusive”. The word abuse might come as a surprise to her because the abuse is sometimes silent. It’s not like he comes right out and tells her she’s stupid or incapable, He just implies it. Or sometimes he does come out and say it but she feels like he didn’t really mean it, he was just mad (or insert another excuse for him). She thinks, “everyone has problems!!” She may not realize that the problems other people have are things like “how are we going to afford this extra expense this month” or “why the hell doesn’t he ever help me around the house, I swear I think I do everything around here” or “I think you should go back to work once the baby is born, I’m not sure we can afford for you to stay home”. Yes, these can be tough issues for relationships, and she deals with these too maybe, but then there’s the abuse all weaved into it.
It will take the 3rd time or the 4th time or the 5th or maybe longer, she needs to get to the point herself that she’s had enough and she can’t be told by anyone else that she needs to leave. She has to want something better for herself and know she deserves something better.
The best way to handle it is to be supportive. Be a listening ear. Try not to tell her what to do but guide her to seek help from a counselor by herself. And remember, just like an alcoholic or an addict, until they see for themselves that there’s a problem, they will be in denial and make every excuse to get back to their drug, or their familiar but unhealthy path!
From the brave one who finally left
(Photo credit: http://masonloika.com/moving-cross-country/)