I never understood how anyone could stay in an abusive relationship. I was independent and strong. I said if a man ever laid a hand on me—even once—I would be gone no matter what. I was unapologetic and unforgiving towards victims because I was sure I would never let it happen to me, just like everyone else who’s never been abused is sure they wouldn’t let it happen. I said it only takes one time for him to lay his hands on you for you to know he is abusive and leave right then and there—until it actually happened to me. You have no idea what you would really do until you are in that situation.
The first time won’t be a hit or a punch. Sometimes abuse is never a hit or a punch, but emotional and psychological abuse. Sometimes the abuser will never lay a hand on a woman until she tries to leave, and then he will kill her.
I have been in an abusive relationship for four years. It began with psychological abuse, and then with him just breaking inanimate objects. For the first two years he never laid a hand on me, and to this day he has never actually hit me, but he has broken my rib, left bruises up and down my arm, thrown me onto shattered glass, among many other things that weren’t actually outright punching me.
He has made it easy for me to defend him and say it was an accident. But I am not ignorant; I am a smart, educated woman who knows the signs. I can look inside my relationship and see and hear my husband spout off stereotypical lines of an abuser verbatim. He would tell me it’s my fault, that I shouldn’t have provoked him, that I made him this way and he used to be a nice person.
Colleen Hoover said in her book It Ends With Us that you lose sight of your limit. There is a limit of what you are willing to put up with before you are done. With every incident you stretch your limit further and further until you lose sight of your limit altogether.
They say it only gets worse, he will never change. I fully believe that, but I don’t want to. He hasn’t laid a hand on me in three months. Sometimes I think maybe he is really changing. I am a stay-at-home mom to our children, we own our home, our car, everything is in his name, and I have no money and nowhere to go; so I want to believe he is changing.
If you think you would leave right away, you’re wrong. It takes time to leave.
Victim shaming needs to end. It is dangerous for people to have these expectations of victims of domestic violence and to make them believe that it isn’t common and they are alone in not being able to leave. The truth is you never leave the first time.
Why when people hear a woman is in an abusive relationship do they say, “Why didn’t she leave?” and not, “Why did he hit her?” People condemn women for staying, but so many circumstances in our society make it impossible to leave.
Sometimes there is no help to be had by the police or court system; the abuser controls everything, and will destroy you if you try to leave. Just because I’m not leaving my children homeless or taking the life they know away from them doesn’t mean I’m not the strong person and mother that I thought I would be. I am still the same strong person that I was before; strong comes is many different forms. Right now I AM doing anything it takes to survive and do what I have to do for my children.
No matter what anybody tells you, you are still beautiful, strong, and capable; you are no less because you have stayed, or because you will stay again. You have been through more than some people could imagine, and you going through something others haven’t is what makes you strong, not the opposite.
That does not mean you should never leave. Sometimes it means you need to prepare beforehand to leave safely. I’ll say it again: it takes time to leave, and when you find a way to leave, you will come out even stronger.
This post was originally published on Parent.co.
This author has chosen to remain anonymous.