Why do women stay in an abusive relationship?
It does not happen because they are stupid or weak-willed. Abused women stay in bad relationships simply because nobody taught them how to recognize an abusive relationship when they fell into one. Two things leave women vulnerable to abusers; lack of information and lack of self-worth. Nobody would willingly put themselves through that misery. What follows are 7 critical mistakes that all women unknowingly make that put them at risk - that you doubtless made also.
1. You bring a lot of unresolved negative programming to your relationship.
You may say that you were riding high before you met your abusive partner. (Abused women frequently tell me that they were doing well before they met their emotionally abusive partner.) That may well be true. But here is the other side of the coin: you felt bad about yourself; you had low self-esteem. You didn’t really believe you deserved the best. In fact, you didn’t believe you deserved very much at all. That is why you settled for a partner who you actively disliked at first glance. Chances are your parent(s) trained you to expect to be treated as inferior.
2. You don’t have clearly stated needs, wants and expectations at the start of a relationship.
Well, you wouldn’t, would you? You were trained to be less worthy (than pretty well everyone). So how could you possibly imagine that your needs, wants and expectations would be important to anyone – even you. Maybe you thought that if you could just get your partner to love you, then he would want to focus on your needs, wants and expectations. It’s a nice theory, but it doesn’t work, because it is like trying to rewrite a contract, after it has been duly signed and witnessed. The contract you actually signed up to stated that both of you would focus your energy on meeting his needs, wants and expectations. Why would he want to change a state of affairs that suits him perfectly.
3. You are brilliant at putting yourself last.
It’s probably in the context of your relationship with your abusive partner (and offspring) that the word ‘martyr’ comes up most frequently. But you are an Olympic medallist at people-pleasing. Your unvoiced hope is that, one day, if you do enough for other people, they will finally reciprocate. How long have you got? If it hasn’t happened yet, the overwhelming likelihood is that it never will. A wise person once said: “Today is practice for tomorrow.” What you are actually practising is throwing good love after bad; while your partner is practising bleeding you dry. If today is practice for tomorrow, what do you think tomorrow might look like?
4. You are quick to believe the best about everyone - except yourself.
You’ve grown up in the fantasy kingdom of The Pedestal. The most precious thing in this kingdom is the pedestal on which one lucky person gets to stand, because of their outstanding personal merit. Maybe, at the start of the relationship, your abusive partner allowed you to stand momentarily on his pedestal. But an abusive man soon reclaims it – by right, of course. Standing on the pedestal means that he is The Best – and you are a sorry excuse for a woman, a partner and a human being. Because he says so, you believe it; and because you stand so far below him, you find it easy to believe that you stand far below everyone else also. Believing is seeing, is it not?
5. You fail to learn from experience.
An abusive relationship represents the – insane – triumph of hope over experience. Every time you tell yourself that it won’t happen again, that it will get better, that you can believe his apologies (if he still bothers to say he is sorry); and every time it does happen again. The only difference is that it gets a little worse. And you hang on in the relationship, by tooth and nail, in the vain hope that it will get better. You hang on while the months turn into years, maybe even into decades… but it never does get any better.
6. You don’t hold your abusive partner accountable.
Perhaps you tell him that you don’t like his behaviour. You may even have left him, on occasion, for a while. But, sooner or later, you ‘forgive him’. You take him back, and the abuse starts all over again. Why? Because he knows that although you might make the ‘right noises’, there are no real deterrents to his behaviour. He knows that, whatever you say, when push comes to shove (as it often does) you will put up with whatever he dishes out. In an abusive relationship, you get the behaviour that you are prepared to tolerate. How do I define the term ‘tolerate’? What you do not draw a line in the sand under, in reality, you tolerate? Under which of his behaviours have you actually drawn a line in the sand?
7. You become a denial superstar.
Distorting the true importance of what happens is a lot easier than changing his attitudes and behaviours. So, you tell yourself, and the world, a story that is less unpalatable than the reality. ‘He can’t help it’, ‘he doesn’t mean it’, ‘he loves me, really’, ‘he’s had a difficult childhood’, ‘it’s just the alcohol’, ‘he’s going through a really hard time’, are some of the stories you tell yourself to explain his treatment of you. The next stage is: “I don’t blame him for feeling like that’, ‘it’s my fault, because I…’, ‘if I hadn’t done X, he wouldn’t have…’. And then there is: ‘he’s no worse than a lot of men’. Your justifications sanction his bad behaviour. By refusing to admit what is really happening in your relationship, you collude with him to allow the abuse to continue.