“Why Don’t You Leave?” Understanding that leaving an abusive relationship isn’t always simple

We’ve all been the friend that has rushed over to our friend’s house when they are a crying mess over a fight with their partner. Most of us have either offered a warm hug, or to be the person that they could share some wine with and watch a good movie to get their mind off of things. However, only some of us have experienced listening to a friend and have heard things in a friend’s relationship that have just seemed wrong, or completely detrimental to their health and safety. In these times, it is very easy and natural to be pleading them to leave the relationship. It is also natural to be frustrated when they decide days later, to stay in the relationship.

However, what a lot of people do not realize, they also might be able to understand how hard it is to leave an abusive relationship. If you are a survivor of Domestic Violence (DV), you might know that leaving the relationship is not always the simple solution. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), it is defined as, “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse.” It is also important to note that instances of DV are not always forms of physical abuse, but also emotional and psychological abuse can be as extreme as physical abuse (NCADV). Lastly, the most common misconception is that DV does not happen often. It does in fact, happen all over the world and a study from the World Health Organization (WHO) shares how shockingly common this epidemic actually is.

“Overall, 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or nonpartner sexual violence. While there are many other forms of violence that women may be exposed to, this already represents a large proportion of the world’s women; most of this violence is intimate partner violence (WHO).”

Although the statistics of violence against women are alarming, it is easy to wonder that when violence does occur, “why don’t you leave,” is the most asked question by supporters of survivors of DV. The answer? There are many, however, the most clear one is - abusers do not abuse 100% of the time. Abusers display different aspects of behavior that is not seen in the beginning of the relationship. They are smart, cunning, and manipulative in the way they treat their victims. Domestic Violence relationships are about power and control, and most times abusers will show love to their victims in the wake of violence or emotional abuse. For children that have grown up in households of abuse, they begin to associate love with abuse with the skewed image that, it is normal.

Domestic violence does not discriminate. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender can be a victim – or perpetrator – of domestic violence. It can happen to people who are married, living together or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels (NCADV). The problem with being with an abuser is that over time, they will slowly take away more resources an individual needs to stand on their own, because again, it is about gaining power and control over the victim. Different forms of abuse include emotional, fear of one’s safety or their children, and financial. Financial abuse is probably one of the leading reasons why victims can not leave an abuser, and must give up everything entirely to start a new life. Furthermore, DV relationships have high effects linking back to mental health problems. Evidence that does exist reveals that women who have experienced this form of violence are 2.3 times more likely to have alcohol use disorders and 2.6 times more likely to experience depression or anxiety (WHO).

As a relationship intensifies, signs or red flags of abuse or Domestic Violence (NCADV) in the future may include:

  • Tells you that you can never do anything right

  • Shows extreme jealousy of your friends and time spent away

  • Keeps you or discourages you from seeing friends or family members

  • Insults, demeans or shames you with put-downs

  • Controls every penny spent in the household

  • Takes your money or refuses to give you money for necessary expenses

  • Looks at you or acts in ways that scare you

  • Controls who you see, where you go, or what you do

  • Prevents you from making your own decisions

  • Tells you that you are a bad parent or threatens to harm or take away your children

  • Prevents you from working or attending school

  • Destroys your property or threatens to hurt or kill your pets

  • Intimidates you with guns, knives or other weapons

  • Pressures you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with

  • Pressures you to use drugs or alcohol

The National Hotline

With that being said, if you are a survivor of Domestic Violence, I would like to say you are not alone, and I believe you. I understand what it is like to completely open yourself up to someone, be vulnerable, share aspects of yourself you haven’t with anyone else. I understand the relentless belief in someone that they’ll change, that you can help them change, that a lot of the fights are on yourself and your issues causing them anger. I get hating yourself so much to the point that the little bit of love they give, when they decide to give it, is like an electric shock of revival. A brief moment where you don’t hate yourself as much and it let’s you recharge before you slip back in your dark hole of insecurity, hatred, and sadness. I believe you. I also believe that you will be okay. That one day you will gain the strength to walk away and understand that love does not hurt, and that you are strong enough.

Domestic Violence is not commonly talked about because survivors are fearful of their abuser, they feel ashamed, and sometimes moving on is the only way to keep going. In a world full of social media pressure, and the common media messaging that love is crazy, hard, and fairytale-like has led our culture to believe that anything but, is boring. Even the public figures of world speaking out against violence do not talk about Domestic Violence as frequently as they could because many do not know healthy signs of relationships. It is easier to hide in the mask of the internet to display happiness, because then maybe, we can hope to start to feel that way. I hope one day that changes.

The Buddahists say, “if you meet somebody and your heart pounds, your hands shake, your knees go weak, that’s not the one. When you meet your ‘soul mate’ you’ll feel calm. No anxiety. No agitation.” I think this is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in recovering from an abusive relationship. It hasn’t been easy, but the road to recovery has brought me so many healthy, and beautiful things to my life. It will for you too.


Text by Devi Jags

Preview Image Sydney Sims

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