While in college, I was out at a bar to celebrate a friend’s 21st birthday. It was a small gathering because it had been a Wednesday or Thursday and right around the end of the semester. But it was during this that I had a drunken conversation with an acquaintance about intimate partner violence and why people stay in abusive relationships. He was trying to work through why people don’t just leave, not quite understanding all the complicated nuances that causes people to stay in unhealthy relationships and how leaving can in fact be really dangerous.
It’s easy from the outside (and especially so with 20/20 hindsight) to make judgments about other people’s decisions. And for those who’ve never been in abusive situations, it’s even easier to speculate and wonder about what’s going on in another person’s life. But the reality is that leaving an abusive relationship, especially if it’s a marriage, can be really really difficult for so many different reasons, some of which Leslie Morgan Steiner talks about in her TEDxRainer talk from a few years ago.
People stay because they’re scared to leave – for them, maybe for others. Others stay because of financial reasons – they have no means of support outside their abuser or any way to leave. Jennifer Williams-Fields wrote about why she stayed in an emotional abusive marriage:
I stayed because I was isolated. I was financially dependent on him. I was sleep deprived. I was told and I believed I was worthless. I was worn down from constantly being on guard for the next attack. I stayed because I was more afraid to leave.
We’ve learned to normalize abuse – both in carrying it out and being on the receiving end. We say that little kids like someone by the teasing and hair pulling and books like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey have taken abusive and controlling relationships and perhaps unintentionally spun them as romantic ideals, relationship goals, things to ultimately gain. (Unrelated note: the only thing I love about the Twilight books and movies is the fact that the cast of the movies seem to hate it even more than anyone else.)
Abuse can take so many different forms and impact people in so many different ways. Transmasculine folks experience it; elder abuse impacts some of the most vulnerable people; men can be on the receiving end, not just perpetuating it. Polyamorous relationships can have abuse; partner violence can also happen in LGBT relationships; and these are just some of the types of abuse.
Leaving can be really hard but it is possible and if you are in an abusive relationship, there are resources and people who are here to help you leave. It is possible to leave, heal, and move on and you so deserve that chance. The CDC has several resources on intimate partner violence (including links to several online resources); there are organizations like Bradley Angle in Portland, OR and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence that exist to help people. Bikers Against Child Abuse is another organization that has been helping victims of abuse feel safe, especially children.
This is a heavy conversation, one that desperately needs to happen. And if you’re going through an abusive relationship, I’m here for you if you need help.