Leaving An Abusive Marriage – Why did it take me so long?

HealthyPlace.com interviewed me about leaving an abusive marriage yesterday. It is now almost a year after I left my abuser, but before our divorce is final. I have some issues with the interview, and I’m not certain I delivered my message as clearly as I wanted. I want to use this post to clear up a few reasons why leaving an abusive marriage is so difficult.

Leaving An Abusive Marriage Interview

Leaving An Abusive Marriage After Physical or Sexual Violence

Leaving an abusive marriage is never easy. I pushed the few physical abuse incidents out of my mind, but didn't realize he emotionally abused me too.Physical and sexual abuse are definable events (sexual coercion, rape, bruising, death). Unfortunately, in the throes of an abusive relationship, abuse victims dismiss physical and sexual abuse as mistakes on the part of the abuser or blame themselves and quickly try to make things right with the abuser.

The abuser plays into the victim’s (undeserved) guilt in different ways.

  • The abuser may promise not to physically or sexually abuse their partner ever again. Those promises usually accompany tears, admission of guilt and excuses designed to make the victim feel sorry for the abuser.
  • But sometimes, the abuser meets the victim’s desperate pleas for forgiveness with stony hatred, blame and the attitude of “Yeah, that was stupid. You shouldn’t have acted that way.”
  • And sometimes, the abuser denies the event ever happened (crazymaking).

People outside of the abusive marriage may read this and think, “What the hell? None of that makes a lick of sense!” and blame the victim for being so gullible. If you are one of those people, please understand that physical and sexual violence do not happen first. Violence of  the physical type occurs deep into the relationship, when the verbal and emotional abuse don’t seem to be working for the abuser and after the victim undergoes a good bit of brainwashing.

Brainwashing Hinders Leaving an Abusive Marriage

Brainwashing through verbal, mental and emotional abuse is relatively easy to achieve and is no reflection on the intelligence of the abuse victim. Usually verbal, mental and emotional abuse are not so easy to tell apart from normal interaction, especially when the abuser shrouds the abuse by saying things like, “I’m only saying this because I love you.”

There is no magic formula that we can identify and say, “If this is said to you, if this is done to you, then you are being abused.” Abusers tailor their abuse to your unique personality and personal hang-ups. The key factor to deciding if you’re abused is how you feel and think after or during an attack. Of course, you must first be able to recognize an attack for what it is (no matter how sweetly your abuser says it).

Again, brainwashing makes it difficult to even think of leaving an abusive marriage because the victim often does not realize he or she is abused.

Symptoms of Abuse Make Leaving Abusive Marriages Harder

Another problem with leaving an abusive marriage is that the long-term symptoms of abuse cloud your emotions and thoughts. Verbal, mental and emotional abuse causes victims to blind themselves to what others so easily see as manipulative abuse.

To make it worse, abuse causes victims to forget to pay attention to who they are. The victims of the unseen abuses dissociate themselves from their own thoughts and feelings, instead placing their focus on deciphering how the abuser is feeling and what the abuser may do next. Only by being in tune with the abuser can victim more safely navigate through the volatile relationship.

Abuse victims usually do not realize how they feel or what they’re thinking because how they feel and think is not important. It’s what the abuser thinks and feels that is the primary motivator and activator in the relationship. When the victim loses touch with him or herself, then it becomes less likely the victim will consider leaving the abusive marriage because the focus never falls onto how the partner treats the victim, only on how the victim can make life better for the abuser. The victims dreams fall to the side, and he or she lives life for the abuser.

It takes a great shock or sudden realization to jolt an abuse victim from the spell of abuse.

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About Kellie Jo Holly

Kellie Jo Holly passionately advocates against domestic violence through her writing and mentoring service. She loves helping women cope with abuse while in the relationship and supporting them as they leave the relationship and begin to heal. You can also find Kellie on Google+, Facebook and Twitter. You can buy her books from Amazon.


  1. I think it’s true that the abused forget who they are because they are immersed in trying to defend themselves. That’s how I’ve been around abusive people. I wanted so much to save myself from further abuse from that person, that I ignored/suppressed/denied my own thoughts, feelings, convictions, etc., and could manage only to focus on what to do/say and what not to do/say that would encourage the abuser to lay off and stop saying and doing mean things to me. Once I broke away from the abuser(s), I had to learn who I was/am, all over again. And I felt an enormous amount of relief, weight lifted off me, when I was no longer around the abuser. I wasn’t walking on eggshells in an effort to be loved anymore. My ideas weren’t being discounted any longer, do I began to realize once again that my ideas/thoughts can be good and count and can be heard and do matter. I’m currently recovering, again. Hopefully, this will be the last time.

  2. What about the abusive situation at the work place? it is very hard to be around a collegue who keeps putting you down.

    • The first thing to do is tell the person abusing you to knock it off. Tell them their abuse is not appropriate in the workplace. When they repeat the offense, go to your supervisor. If your supervisor does nothing, go above him or her. Utilize your HR department if you have one. If no one steps in to rectify the problem, they it is up to you to continue telling the abuser to stop and to walk away when the abuser bullies.

      Sometimes it only takes one person to stand up to an abuser (at work) for others to come to your side.

      There are no guarantees. I don’t know where you work, so I don’t know if you have benefits or if it’s a small business with no benefits. Find a therapist if you have benefits, and ask for the company to pay for one if you don’t have benefits citing the hostile work environment is having an ill-effect on your productivity and health. If you find no relief from management, consider a lawsuit (hostile work environment) or quitting. Jobs are hard to find, so have a job before you leave the job if possible.

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