As a woman who works with Survivors of Domestic Violence I often hear the Survivors ask, “Why do I want him back? He treats me horribly, but I still want to go back”? My answer to this is a bit long and complicated but I will try to explain my thoughts on this dilemma.
Leaving a Domestic Violent Relationship is extremely difficult. I often hear, within society, people saying ignorant statements like: “If it was me I would have left the first time he (or she) hurt me.” “Are you stupid? Why would you stick around for that kind of treatment?” “You must like it if you stay” “Just leave!” Just leave. If only it were that easy. On average a woman will try leaving her abusive relationship 7 times before she finally ends the relationship. Some of the roadblocks a woman runs into, when trying to leave, can be financial; 99% of all Survivors have suffered some form of financial abuse. It could be that they have limited access to funds. The bank account may be in his (or her) name and they may only be given a small allowance to live off of or their abuser may have racked up a lot of debt in their name. Financial abuse is a great way to have control over your victim. You can’t get far if you don’t have any money can you? At least that is what the abuser is counting on. Another thing that often holds a Survivor back from leaving is fear. Often a Survivor will have their life threatened while in the relationship. They may fear what their abuser is capable of if they do leave. Statistically the most dangerous time for a Survivor is when they are planning to leave or have just left. Why? Their abuser senses that they are losing control over their victim and they will often stop at nothing to keep them at their side. They will use fear and intimidation to keep their victim weak. Their abuser also may have threatened to hurt or kill their family, friends or pets if they leave. If their are children involved they may threaten to take the children away from them if they leave.
OK, so back to why a Survivor goes back to their abuser. You might think that once they get past all the hurdles listed above they would just stay away from their abuser, right? Wrong. Abusers are good. Really, really, really good at manipulation. I call them Master Manipulators. People often think abusers do not know what they are doing, that their rages are out of control anger (which is why many are ordered to go to anger management classes), but let me tell you they know EXACTLY what they are doing. Exactly. They know that they are hurting their victim. They know they are scarring them and they are OK with that. Abusers are not healthy people and many don’t have a conscience about hurting other people. Many abusers actually enjoy or “get off” on hurting others. My ex often had a smirk on his face when he hurt me so yes they know exactly what they are doing. They also know exactly what to do to get you back. If fear and intimidation doesn’t work then they will turn on the charm. They will promise that they will never hurt you again. They will profess their undying love to you and many will buy you a gift just to soften you heart. My ex manipulated me a few ways. He made promises that things would be different, he would become more attentive to the kids and would help me around the house, he would dote on me. He would suddenly be the father and husband I always asked him to be. He would sign up for counselling and would promise that this time it would be different.
So did I go back?
Yes. Yes I did. Time and time again I took him back, much to my families concern.
My ex also applied guilt and played on the fact that we were married and that we were a family. He played on the fact that I took my vows very seriously. I didn’t see until much later that he had already broken every vow we ever made so our vows were really a moot point, but while I was caught in the cycle of abuse he kept telling me that we had to honour our wedding vows. He also said that we had to stay together for our kids. Most abusers will use their children this way. For the longest time I thought I was the worst person ever to think about breaking up our family. It wasn’t until I realized that living in an abusive home is a form of child abuse and that my children actually feared their father, that I was able to break free from that guilt.
Another reason I went back was financial. I did not know how I could afford paying a mortgage and raise three kids without his income. You see the majority of abusers will not volunteer child support. My ex actually stopped, without telling me, the direct deposit of his paycheque, shortly after one of our separations, into our joint account. As a result I had loan and mortgage payments bouncing all over the place. It didn’t take long and I was contacting him again because…well I was struggling to feed our kids and keep a roof over our heads. Well played by him wasn’t it?
For some trauma bonding or Stockholm Syndrome happens making it hard for them to stay away. You might wonder what that is. It is a syndrome often suffered by kidnap victims with their kidnapper. Through the trauma they form a loving bond with their kidnapper, it helps them survive what is going on. This also happens to many abuse victims. In turn they have hard time separating themselves from their abuser.
Yes we love them. You might ask, “How can you love someone who hurts you?” Well let me explain. First off they are not Monsters all of the time and we sort of have a fantasy love with them. They also know how to be very loving, very attentive and be everything you would hope them to be. In those good moments you are grateful that you hung on during the rough times because the good times, well they are really good. Also when you are in a relationship where your self esteem has been taken apart and you feel worthless you jump all over the loving attention when it is given. Abusers know that too and they will use it to their advantage.
So these are the reason we return; money, fear, kids, guilt, homelessness, craving love and trauma bonding. It’s complex why we stay and it’s hard when we decide to leave. My advice, if you know a Survivor just listen and offer support. Be their sounding board as they try to figure all of this out. Please do not judge them. If you are a Survivor, build your support system, reach out for help and work on your self esteem. There are people and organizations waiting to help you. You are not alone. You can do it!