Why Men Stay
The primary reason abusive men continue to stay in a violent situation is fairly simple: their self-esteem rests in their ability to control their family members. They know that as long as knowledge of the abuse is kept within the family, they can continue to abuse family members without assuming any responsibility for their actions. Furthermore they know that if the abuse does become known to others outside the family, society is apt to do little to stop it.
An abusive man can choose to get a divorce, another house or apartment, or simply walk out when he becomes angry, but he rarely chooses to do any of these things. Abusive men truly believe their home is their castle and their partner and children are their property.
Many male abusers have low self-esteem, and they frequently feel powerless and inadequate. These men resort to violence against their family as a way to demonstrate their power and adequacy. Most abusive men would consider their removal from their home as the ultimate defeat. With this in mind, it is not surprising that many abusive men who find themselves without a family to abuse commit suicide or become psychotic.
Why Women Stay
“Why do they stay?” is the question inevitably asked in any discussion of abused women. It is sometimes asked in a scornful way, as if to imply that leaving is a simple option. As anyone who has left an intimate relationship knows, leaving – even under ideal circumstances – is difficult. Although it is much more difficult for abused women to leave a relationship than it is for women who are not abused, the fact is they do leave. Some leave after many years of extensive abuse; others leave quickly.
According to one study, couples in an abusive relationship stay together an average of six years – the same as the average length of marriage.
While in an abusive relationship, women may have a number of reasons for staying. Their reasons for staying may vary from time to time and situation to situation. One study suggested abused women stay after the first assault because they hoped for change and because they lacked alternatives. After further assaults, their main reasons for staying were:
- Learned Helplessness
- Perceived Role as a Woman
- Economic Dependence
- Lack of Emotional Support
- Hope for Change
Fear of retaliation is one of the main reasons women stay in the abusive relationships. The abuser often gives his partner good reason for being terrified of leaving. Many abusers threaten suicide or threaten to kill both her and the children if they leave. Many women believe they are in danger of being killed by their partner. All too often this very thing occurs.
Fear and other forms of retaliation also play an important part in why many women stay. Common threats from an abusive husband include:
- Taking the children away;
- Exposing her in some way to family and friends. (Abusers often threaten to tell their partner’s friends that she is a drunk, mentally unstable or abuses her children.);
- Destroying the house and household property or killing pets;
- Cutting off all financial support for her and the children.
Because he has acted on many of his threats during their marriage, the abused woman easily believes that he will follow through on new threats.
When an abused woman fears retaliation from her partner if she tries to leave and when she loses hope of having a violence-free relationship, she begins to feel a terror similar to the terror suffered by hostages and prisoners of war. For her, the notion of freedom loses its meaning. She may truly feel that nothing can be done about her situation. She concentrates only on day-to-day survival.
Perceived Role as a Woman
Women have traditionally been the nurturers and caretakers of a family’s emotional needs. It is this role that leads the woman to believe she is responsible for the health and well-being of her partner. An abused woman often becomes the abuser’s therapist. According to one researcher, this is a particularly irresistible role for the women whose partner is an alcoholic, mentally ill or who has had a painful childhood.
To disrupt the marriage and family and to break the commitment to the relationship violates the basic value system of many women. Some women may feel a great deal of shame for even thinking about abandoning their husband and marriage. The stigma of a “failed relationship” may seem even more frightening than being beaten.
An abused woman may also fear if she leaves her marriage, she will lose her social standing, believing that her family, home, children, and marriage are all that she has in life. Some women have their entire identity wrapped up in their relationship and family. Convinced that they can get out when absolutely necessary, these women will avoid deciding to leave an abusive relationship by minimizing and denying the danger they are in.
Women generally earn less money than men. Because of this, an abused woman with few job skills often feels doubtful about her ability to support herself and her children if she leaves the man on who she has become emotionally and financially dependent.
An abused woman may also be uncertain and fearful about where she and her children will go if they are to leave the abuser.
Frequently the abusive partner has made it clear to friends and relatives he will abuse them if they try to interfere with the situation in his house. She may have resources – credit cards, checking and savings accounts, cash, jewelry, or stocks – but the abuser will rarely allow her to access them.
Lack of Emotional Support
The abused woman often has no reliable way to validate her feelings. Friends, family members, and professionals may blame and harshly judge abused women. Women often receive the mixed message that they are responsible for nurturing in a relationship – and that they should just leave.
Women reared in a home dominated by an abusive male may feel that being beaten is simply the way it is for women, especially married women. Women previously unfamiliar with family violence and abuse may think they are the only woman being beaten and that they are at fault. This self-blame is frequently reinforced by family, friends and institutions.
Hope for Change
The abused woman lives with the hope that something will happen to make her partner change or that she will learn what it takes to prevent the abuse. In the end, though, she clings to the simple hope that somehow things will get better and that the violence will end.