As a teenager, I watched telenovelas full of drama with my mum and grandma. Think along the lines of Jane the Virgin but maybe a bit less cringe. Usually, these soap operas were brimming with love stories, family feuds, long-lost families, murder mysteries, cheating, jealousy, and themes of domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse was a recurring theme. Whenever I watched a female actress in a telenovela being repeatedly mistreated by her partner and then choosing to stay in the relationship, I felt a certain anger brewing inside me. Furious thoughts would race through my mind.
Why doesn’t she just leave him? Why doesn’t she run away? Doesn’t she have any self-respect? What is wrong with her? If I was her, I would have left ages ago…
Ironically enough, my first relationship ended in physical abuse. I did choose to end it the moment it happened. But did it feel easy doing so? Far from it. Did I ignore lots of red flags? Plenty. The truth is it can happen to any of us.
I then learned the many reasons it isn’t easy to walk out on an abuser, whether emotional, physical, or mental abuse. It’s really easy to judge another person when we’re not in their shoes or don’t know how they’re feeling or their personal situations. It’s also really easy to say I would have done this, or I would have done that. But if it actually happened to you, would you?
I believe there are many explanations for “why didn’t she leave him sooner?” Here are just a few of them:
Shame is a huge factor. It might be the shame of having to tell your friends and family that you have been a victim of abuse. It might be the shame of having fallen for his charm and being misled the whole time. The shame of divorce or the fear of being seen as someone who couldn’t keep a relationship together. Older generations pride themselves on sticking together through hardships, and many believe that marriage is for life, no matter what. Either way, shame can really eat you up inside and hold you back from taking that step in the right direction.
This one is probably one of the most common reasons. Living in hope. Living in the hope that he will change. Living in the hope that it was a one-off and he won’t do it again. Living in the hope that he will get help and apologize and everything will be alright again. Sadly this more than often isn’t the case.
Women who have been with an abusive man often live in fear, and the fear usually continues beyond the end of the relationship. Women might fear that the abuser will stalk them and make their lives miserable if they leave. Fear that their partner may harm them if they leave. They may also fear starting over again, coping independently, and having enough money to support themselves.
It is very common for abusive men to guilt trip and threaten their partners when they say they’re going to leave. For example, he may threaten to kill himself or self-harm if she leaves. He may also make her feel guilty by saying he will be lost without her or that it is all her fault that he did what he did. Guilt-tripping sadly makes it very hard for a woman to leave an abusive relationship.
Many mothers in abusive relationships worry about the effects of a breakup or divorce on their kids. Mothers want to protect their children from the stresses of a broken household and often believe a violent father is better than no father. Sometimes abusive men threaten to take away the children completely when a woman says she will leave him.
It’s never as easy as “just leave him.” There are always many factors why it is so hard to leave an abuser. So please, let’s not judge. Instead, let’s support our sisters. Let’s hold their hands and help in whatever way we can if they’re going through a situation like this. Let’s encourage them to leave, to find safety and healing, but let’s not judge.