I stayed with him for six years because I was convinced I owed it to my parents to make it work. I was convinced that no one else would ever love me.
A question I’m often asked is, “Why did you stay with him for so long after everything that happened?”
This is one question I have mulled over trying to come up with a satisfactory answer. I know they are simply trying to show interest or concern for my personal life, but it always leaves me feeling raw.
This isn’t an easy question for any divorced abuse victim to answer for themselves, let alone other people. The simplest answer is that I don’t have one. I don’t have a complete answer that would satisfy every facet of that question. I have my reasons, but when you examine any singular reason, it really doesn’t make sense, nor does it fully describe the entire picture. I often wonder how my life would have turned out had I left sooner. The “woulda, coulda, shouldas” keep me up at night.
I stayed with my abuser for a number of reasons. When you marry, you aren’t just marrying the other person. You marry into a family and likewise they marry into yours. My parents loved him. My dad thought the world of him—because I hadn’t shared with them everything that was going on. I wish I had. Perhaps my parents would have encouraged me to take a different path. Perhaps I would have listened.
Similarly, I had a wonderful relationship with his parents, siblings, and assorted family members. I didn’t want to lose those connections. I didn’t want to let my family or his down by not fighting to save what I had pledged to save, despite a multitude of reasons not to.
I also thought I was in love with him, something I know now wasn’t the case. He was someone I had dreamed of being with for so long, when it became clear we weren’t a good match I had a hard time giving that dream up. The reality of our relationship was so far outside what I had hoped for, I think I convinced myself that, over time, it would get better.
Initially, we had a great relationship. It wasn’t until the second year that things took a turn for the worse. Part of me always hoped that he would go back to being the “real” version of himself, the one I had put up on a pedestal. That version never actually existed. It took me years of therapy to finally realize the person I fell in love with isn’t the person who stood before me.
When you live in an abusive environment with a person who constantly calls into question your worth, you begin to see yourself how they see you. When that person says you’re unlovable, you believe them. When they tell you you’re unattractive, you believe them. Who, other than the person you’re with, would want an unlovable, unattractive partner? No one. That is the truly sick part of emotional abuse. It’s filled with lies that you begin to believe.
I stayed with him for six years, despite all of the emotional and physical abuse, because I was convinced I owed it to my parents to make it work. I was convinced that no one else would ever love me. I became accustomed to the abuse and had convinced myself that is what I deserved.
I grew comfortable, as horrible as the situation was. That home had become my “safe” place. Our finances were tied together and even though I could have supported myself on my own at any point in time, he convinced me that I was worthless, helpless, and couldn’t survive without him. Divorce was expensive, he constantly reminded me. He would take everything and leave me with nothing.
So, why did I stay? Because I couldn’t bring myself to open up to someone on the outside of our relationship, someone who could have potentially convinced me otherwise. I was isolated, alone, lonely, heartbroken, beaten down, desperate, and without the ability to hear the wise words of the people closest to me who knew what was going on without my having said a word. Years before I acknowledged how abusive he was, a close friend unexpectedly told me, “There are people out there you could be happy with.” At the time, I had no idea where that came from because I was blind to what was going on.
It’s no wonder my ex-husband’s first step was to alienate me from that friendship.
It took a weekend away from him, a weekend where I could bare my pain to another person without him there shutting me up, to come to the realization that I deserved better. Even if I struggled and couldn’t support myself, I realized that anything was better than where I was.
So I left. It was both the hardest and most joyous thing I’ve ever done for myself. The moment I walked into my new home, a weight lifted. I felt happier than I had felt in years and I knew that even if things were hard, I was going to be OK.
I got lucky. Far too many people stay in abusive relationships until it’s too late.
You can have better. You deserve better. You are not ugly. You are not worthless.
We need to stop listening.
Sarah Blohm is a pseudonym for a woman living in the Pacific Northwest.