Abuse Hides in the Dark. Turn on Your Light.

Why Did It Take Me So Long to Leave My Abusive Marriage?

woman facing away from you and walking toward stairs going up

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 After Physical or Sexual Violence

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 can 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.

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 does not happen first. The violence of the physical type occurs deep into the relationship when the verbal and emotional abuse doesn’t seem to be working for the abuser and after the victim undergoes a good bit of brainwashing.

Brainwashing Hinders Leaving

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 is 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 in 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 they are 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 abuse dissociate themselves from their own thoughts and feelings. Instead, they place 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 the 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 themself, then it becomes less likely the victim will consider leaving the abusive marriage. This happens because the focus never falls on how the partner treats the victim, only on how the victim can make life better for the abuser. The victim’s dreams fall to the side, and they live life for the abuser.

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

Leaving An Abusive Marriage Interview

Featured image byFilip Mroz