You spent the majority of your freshman year at college in bed, crying, and wondering how you ended up this way. You used to be smart and funny. You used to have tons of friends and loved life. Now you just love him and somehow that seems like enough, even though you know it’s really nothing at all.
Domestic violence is not a topic to take lightly. In the United States alone, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men age 18 years and older have suffered physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. In fact, close to half of all women and men nationwide have experienced emotional abuse or psychological aggression in a relationship. Abuse doesn’t discriminate, and its effects are long-lasting, debilitating and oftentimes deadly.
A Tale as Old as Time
Half of all men and women in a relationship have experienced emotional or physical abuse. Abusive relationships, though, are always wrong, varies from person to person, relationship to relationship. And while the signs are always similar, no two stories are alike. To an outsider the solution is in black and white: “Leave him,” your entire support system demands, not understanding the fact that you can’t. Mentally, physically and emotionally you are tied to this person; so completely bound that you just know that you would lose yourself without him. Like a cloud burned up by the sun, you would evaporate into thin air without his constant hounding presence.
What our friends and family don’t understand, what any person that hasn’t experienced abuse in their relationship doesn’t understand is that it’s so much easier to stay.
Why It's So Hard to Leave Your Abusive Relationship
It typically takes a woman 7 separate attempts to leave an abusive relationship once and for all, and that’s no surprise to advocates and experts in the field. Domestic violence is centered on power and control, and abusers are highly manipulative toward their victims.
Threats, fear, children, finances, low self-esteem and love can all be factors in a victim staying with an abuser, and all too often, the victim’s self-worth is so rattled that he or she no longer has the confidence to make such a difficult decision alone.
The shame that people feel about their relationships often serves as a barrier to seeking help, which is an unfortunate side effect of a society that largely blames victims as opposed to abusers.
Some people who were raised within abusive households may misinterpret abuse and violence as a normal dynamic within a relationship. Unfortunately, children exposed to domestic violence endure a wide range of behavioral, emotional and social issues, and male children are more likely to become abusers themselves.
Many times, addiction issues make battering worse and disable a victim’s attempts at leaving. Statistics show 90% of rape and sexual assault cases involve alcohol, and its prevalence in abusive situations is alarmingly high. If a victim is addicted to drugs or alcohol, seeking treatment and rehabilitation assistance is a vital step in ending the cycle of abuse.
Tips for Leaving
Ending a violent relationship is no easy task, and certain tips are advised to help make the process as safe and effective as possible.
• Develop a safety plan: Leaving is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship, and while many people may assume that it’s “easy” to do so, it’s vital you take precautions to make this move as safe as possible for your unique situation. Pretend to take a donation basket of clothes and toiletries to Goodwill in order to store those needed belongings with friends or family prior to leaving.
• Tell someone: Tell a trusted coworker when you’ll be making the attempt and have that person check in with you, or make sure local law enforcement is aware so they can monitor your neighborhood at that time. Create a code word to use with loved ones to signal you’re in danger. Plan ahead for every scenario, and always keep safety at the forefront.
• Build a support network: Not having support is a surefire way to end up back with your abuser. Seek support and encouragement from friends, family, coworkers, support groups or a counselor. The more help you have, the better your outcome will likely prove.
• Completely terminate all contact with your abusive partner: Ending a relationship is usually very emotional, and abusers know how to manipulate partners with words of love in the honeymoon phase. Ignore any attempts at contact, and don’t initiate conversations or leave the door open for communication to continue. Change your phone number, seek a protective order, switch jobs or relocate — whatever you need to do.
• Understand you can’t fix someone else; you can only modify your own behavior: Many times, the abused partner feels that he or she can change that person’s behavior if only they were smarter, more attractive, more patient, more wealthy, etc. Because abused individuals likely have damaged self-esteem, they often blame themselves for the problems in the relationship. To make matters worse, society often reiterates this misconception by asking the abused why they didn’t leave. Focus on practicing self-care. The only person to blame is the person who abused you, and beating yourself up is only giving that person more power.
• Access community resources: If leaving the relationship means you’re without shelter or unable to manage financially, seek help from a domestic violence shelter. Trained counselors and advocates can assist you while you get back on your feet, and their support is monumental during this transition. To find a shelter in your area, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
• File necessary court paperwork: Obtaining an emergency protective order is oftentimes advised for women who fear retaliation from an abusive partner for leaving. Counselors at domestic violence shelters can assist you in filing an order, and they will also be present with you in court for moral support and advocacy.
Leaving is a major step for any abused partner to take – and it’s a crucial component of finding the happiness and peace of mind you truly deserve. With proper support, safety planning and resources, you can make that critical leap toward a better life.