But... I Love Him!

There are many excuses women give to justify staying in an abusive relationship.

Posted Aug 05, 2013

Sarah is a beautiful, married, 29 year old marketing rep for a telecom company. She is independent, strong and self-confident. Her husband owns a plumbing business and is successful, handsome and the life of the party. They seemed like the perfect couple, though Sarah seemed a bit clumsy, sometimes showing up with bruises due to a “fall” or “running into a door”. One day Sarah turned up in the ER with a broken arm, two broken ribs, a smashed face and a concussion. Her husband was an abuser, and Sarah was the target. They separated for three months before Sarah took him back, telling me, "I know he has a temper...But, I love him!

Sarah is not an isolated case and the statistics are bleak. According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their life. That's over 1 million women per year and many are repeat victims. Even worse, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to American women between the ages of 15 to 44. That's more than the injuries sustained from automobile accidents, rapes and muggings -- combined. In total, 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths occur annually due to domestic violence.

The reasons given by abused women as to why they continue to live in fear and shame are many and varied: "It's my fault”, “I shouldn't have made him mad", “He's under pressure at work”, “He promised it will never happen again", "He apologized, and is so sorry”, “He said he will spend the rest of his life making it up to me” and the most common of all, “But, I love him!”

Jenny wrote in to my website. She has struggled with one abusive relationship after another, each guy a carbon copy of the last. She was physically abused by her father throughout her pre-teen and adolescent years. This abuse, the only attention she ever received from him, was, in her mind, better than no attention at all. Fathers can have a profound positive effect on their daughters' choice of boyfriends and eventually husbands by modeling, which is teaching by example. A father who is strong, loving, caring and respectful to his daughter's mother, imprints this as what constitutes a normal, healthy relationship.

However, in an abusive household, the daughter grows up seeing abuse as “normal”. Jenny has gone through life accepting the abusive man and believes this is love; it's what she knows and also what she thinks she deserves as her low self-esteem whispers in the back of her mind, “you are not worthy of anything better”. It helps to understand that emotional and physical abuse destroys self-worth and lead to depression, anxiety and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and isolation.

Catherine is a colleague. She was happily married to a very successful and loving attorney. The day came, however, when he engaged in fraud, was convicted of a felony and eventually disbarred. He lost the only source of income he knew. Although Catherine stood by him, as it dawned on her husband that he would never be able to practice law again, the lashing out began. It started with blaming her for everything; yelling morphed into slapping, hitting and ultimately threats of death. Catherine felt trapped and helpless and finally found the strength to leave only after her husband held a knife to her throat for hours as she begged for her life on the kitchen floor.

There is no mold or “typical” abuse victim. Rich or poor, weak or strong, black or white, male or female – anyone can end up as a victim. What prompts a person to stay? What helps a person leave?

I know, I know. The majority of you are shaking your head and saying, "Why doesn't she just leave, already?" It should be that simple, but it’s not, there are always multiple reasons why leaving seems hard or even impossible. In Sandy’s case she was a stay at home Mom with three young children. Her dad was in prison, her mom had died and she had no relatives she could count on when she moved across the country to marry a man she had met online-- her prince charming.

She called it a dream come true. That dream, however, quickly became a nightmare when she became a literal prisoner in her own home. He controlled the money, the car and who she was allowed to see. He told her if she left, no court would give her their child because she was worthless, had no job and wouldn't be able to care for him. He even hinted that "she would never see the boy again", implying he would kill the kid before letting either of them get away. Fear. Fear of the unknown. It can do a number on even the strongest among us. How much more so on a victim who has lost her self-confidence and sees no way out?

I have dealt with women from all walks of life who found themselves in situations they could never have imagined. Some were born into the cycle of abuse and blindly end up in one abusive relationship after another, with little insight into how they got there. Others are strong and impressively independent, yet are in the wrong place at the wrong time and become trapped in this most unexpected violence.

Shame is often a reason they remain both silent and stay. Hope can be another factor, as in the case of Catherine. She knew her marriage was wonderful before, and she had the belief that it would one day return to be the same. There comes a time, however, when one must see things for the way they truly are and reject being a psychological victim.

From the abuser's perspective, the abuse is not really about violence, but rather about power and control over another. This cycle of abuse often follows a well understood pattern. First comes isolation from family and friends, a primary tactic. How much easier to exert control if the woman has no one else to turn to?

Sally, another patient, felt trapped in a relationship with her jealous boyfriend. He only rarely allowed her to see family because he said, “they don’t treat me with respect”. He also insisted her friends, all of them, were bad influences. He told her over and over that she was such a loser that her friends didn’t really like her anyway. He deserved better than her, of course, but felt sorry for her, so stayed around -- and she better be happy about that because he was her only true friend. And she believed it all. What better way to erase someone's identity than to make them feel nothing's there to begin with ?

Next in the cycle is psychological battering, repeatedly hearing "if you love me you'd _____ (fill in the blank), "You're so lucky to have me..." and “You are really not very smart…..or successful…..or deserving”. This quickly leads to verbal abuse: cursing, name calling, demeaning comments, destruction of personal property and threats against the family pets.

He will call her stupid, fat, worthless, a failure and ugly. He will compare her to younger, more beautiful women, making her feel inadequate. Saying repeatedly she's slow, retarded, a bitch and worthless will eventually cause her to believe it. This is actually a type of brainwashing, similar to tactics used on prisoners of war. The childhood saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" does not apply here. Hearing these insults from the one you love and the one who professes to love you will, indeed, take its toll.

When the abuse reaches the physical stage, the victim, has been cut off from family and friends and psychologically battered and weakened. She often doesn't work -- many times because the abuser makes her quit her job. So without an income, no friends or family support, and no one to turn to, she is overwhelmingly afraid to leave. This is even worse when children are involved.

The physical abuse can take many forms: Sexual assault, hitting, punching, choking, arm locks, hair pulling and more. Often weapons are brandished; knives, guns, baseball bats. To the outside world, proof of violence such as welts, bruises and even broken bones are often blamed on being clumsy.

For some who finally reach a breaking point, when they try to leave and this is the time of gravest danger. More than 70 percent of domestic violence injuries or deaths occur when the victim leaves or attempts to leave. The abuser often lives by the mantra, “If I can’t have you, no else will either”.

This is what happened to Raylene. Her fiancé had been verbally abusive since the beginning, but never violent. However, when she told him it was over he became in her words, “psychotic”. Calling, texting and emailing hundreds of times a day, following her around, sitting outside her house or job and the constant threats that he would “never give her up to another man.” The restraining orders did little and eventually she had to change her name and move across the country to become free.

That is why the clear cut advice is this: If you're going to leave, have a plan in place and don't tell anyone except one or two trusted family members or friends. Inform the local women's shelter of your plans and have a restraining order ready and waiting. Secrecy is critical. And those lines he's been feeding you about no one caring? Lies. All lies. It's simply part of the control.

Roxanne occasionally hinted to a few friends about abuse in her marriage, but never came right out and asked for help. They made light of the situation -- after all, her husband Charles was such a sweetheart! Witty, charming and quite the looker, plus everyone knew Roxanne loved being dramatic. They all laughed, until Roxanne ended up in the hospital.

Her friends went to visit and almost didn't recognize her. A bandaged head, sipping a meal through a straw which was held by a heavily bandaged hand left an indelible image. They all felt the guilt of not taking a stand and the regret from not reaching out and offering to help. They had heard her, alright. They just weren't listening.

Steph had enough of her abusive, controlling husband. She thought it was the right thing to do to tell him she was leaving. She shouldn't have. As happens all too often, he blocked her departure. He took away her phone, disconnected the house phone and took her computer. He took the keys to her car and forbid her to leave the house. Blocked from the outside world, she was repeatedly restrained, raped, scolded, humiliated and degraded. It wasn't until after a few days of this that Steph realized she had to outsmart him or he'd kill her.

She professed her love and devotion, and apologized for being a “bad wife”. When he let his guard down, she planned a night of heavy drinking at home for the two of them, but unknown to him, she was drinking water. After he passed out late that night, she made her escape on foot, leaving everything behind and ending up at the door of her best friend. Her husband knew where she would go, and showed up the next day pounding on the door but she was one step ahead, having obtained a restraining order that morning with the help of her friend. She dialed 911 and the threat of jail time cooled him off, and Steph was able to start over.

Unfortunately for many, leaving is often not the end of the ordeal. Forty percent of women who make it to a women's shelters return to their abuser. Why? Again, every case is different, but the investment theory is a classical analysis that is often used to explain why people do what is so clearly not in their best interest. Simply put, what has already been invested into the relationship, be it emotional, social and/or financial, can be incredibly hard psychologically to give up.

For many, it’s infinitely easier to stay in a bad situation then to muster the energy and make a change. This explains why people stay: In jobs they hate, cities with no opportunities, with the wrong circle of friends or in an abusive relationship. Where we are may not be good, but it seems easier to coast along rather than put in the considerable effort needed to make a change.

In the stock market, the job market and in a relationship, we don’t want to ever give up; that is the psychological equivalent of losing. And, the unknown can bring fear, disorientation and the discomfort of not knowing exactly what to do or how to do it.

The cost to society for abuse is a staggering $8.3 billion annually. Physical abuse raises health costs for all of us, and abused women seek mental health care 2.5 times more often than those not abused. Every woman visiting a doctor or therapist should be asked if she has EVER experienced abuse during the initial visit. Typically if you don't ask, they don't tell.

For many Americans their first exposure to domestic violence occurs when a celebrity is involved or a case is highly publicized. The 2009 photographs of Rihanna, beaten by her then boyfriend Chris Brown became international news. That once beautiful face, now bruised and swollen, was unrecognizable. The outcry was deafening, but amazingly, there were supporters on the other side.

Shockingly, Rihanna’s father wanted them to get back together, since he was Brown's "number one fan". Then, the unimaginable happened: they did get back together. The relationship ran its course and they have now split again, this time Rihanna claims, for good.

Then there is the shocking murder of UVA student-athlete Yeardley Love, which at the time was considered a wakeup call for domestic violence. This beautiful college student was killed by her boyfriend George Huguely in a drunken rage and left to die, alone. They were both from relatively well-off families and this case shattered the stereotype that domestic violence was only a problem at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale.

Huguely, a University of Virginia lacrosse player, by all accounts, was a loving, fun and good-hearted individual. Yet, the signs were there; his bad temper, a prior arrest, jealous rages, too much alcohol and an immense need for control. After their last fight, Yeardley broke up with him, but Huguely vowed to others he was going to get her back. He is now serving a 23 year sentence for murder. Her mother and sister claim if only they knew then what they know now, they would have immediately intervened.

Fortunately, there are slivers of good news in all of this. Many will find a way to leave when they're ready. Camille became a hero at her local woman’s shelter. When she had finally had enough and was ready to get out, she had done her homework and had the groundwork in place. She had a plan and carried it out to perfection:

1. A place to go: A good friend had a room ready and waiting, but only her brother and best friend knew about it.

2. She had slowly and discreetly removed sentimental and necessary items from the home when her husband was away and gave them to her brother for safe keeping.

3. A secret text word was set up for her brother or friend to call 911 in case something happened or tempers escalated.

4. Money: Camille had taken a little money here and a little money there; she sold her wedding dress and some clothes and opened an account at a new bank. She used her brothers mailing address for the new bank statements. The day she left, she withdrew the maximum amount of cash from their joint account.

5. Women's shelter. She spoke with a counselor at the shelter who helped with the plan and recommended an attorney. She had an initial visit and a restraining order was set up to be filed on the day she left. If he broke the restraining order there would be no second chance. The police would be called and charges filed, no matter what he said or how much he begged and promised to change. This was her new life and SHE was going to be in control.

6. She had her cell phone number changed the day she left and the new number was unlisted. She also added 911 to her speed dial.

Camille made the break and today is remarried to a “wonderfully sweet man”. She is the manager of a large art studio and is due to deliver a new baby any day now. Sometimes there really are happy endings.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone, anywhere and at any time. Being in tune and acknowledging an abusive relationship for what it is, can often get you out in time, before you become completely enmeshed. Life should never be lived in fear, especially at the hands of someone you love and who professes to love you. You don’t want "But I loved him!" engraved on your tombstone. If you need help, call the National Domestic Violence hotline, 1.800.799.SAFE (7233).

Author's note: All of the stories depicted here are true. The names and, at times, certain details have been changed to preserve confidentiality. Dozens of domestic violence stories have been sent in to my website. Here are a few:


Maud Wants To Escape Her Abusive Marriage

Shand'e Vows Never To Be Silent Again

You CAN Leave An Abusive Marriage!

Will Nicky's Boyfriend Follow Through With HIs Threats If She Leaves?

Camellia Has An Abusive Fiancé

Leila Feels Trapped In Domestic Violence

Fay's Ex-Fiancé Is Sorry For His Abuse

The Face Of Domestic Violence