The Cycle of Violence: Why do Women Stay in Violent Relationships?
The question “Why do women stay in violent relationships?” is secondary to “Why do men batter?”, a question which places the blame with the abuser, instead of with the victim. It is easy to blame the victims in violent relationships. Often, we here people say ‘If he ever did that to me, I’d leave.’ It is an assertion that lacks understanding of the forces at play. ‘Where would you go?’ If you had to leave your home tonight, with your children, where would you go? And then what? What choices does a woman have when she is financially dependent on her abuser, when income support levels mean total poverty for her and her children?
What choices does a woman have in a community of 500 people, when to leave an abusive marriage may very well mean leaving her community forever? Abuse is never the victim’s fault, and there are often many psychological issues affecting abused women and their ability to leave an abusive relationship. Self esteem levels in abused women are often so low that the idea of changing her life entirely may seem truly impossible. Many reasons exist for why women stay. These include:
After all, abusers rarely beat their partners all the time. Rather, family violence occurs in a cycle.
The length of each phase varies between and within couples. Slowly, the honeymoon phase fades and the couple moves once again into the tension building. The cycle repeats itself, and overtime, the honeymoon phase usually shortens, while the tension building and outright violence phases lengthen. Some people refer to it as a spiral of violence.
When a victim is caught in the cycle or spiral of violence, she is experiencing many emotions. During the violent stage, she is often afraid of her partner. She knows better than anyone else what that person will do to her or her children if she tries to leave. Once the violence is over and the couple is in that honeymoon phase, the victim may feel renewed love toward the batterer. The batterer is on his best behavior and the victim is reminded of all the qualities in him that she loves. During the tension building stage, the victim often grasps on to a sense of hope. More than anything, she wants things to change. She wants him to mean what he says – this time. Adding to the love, hope and fear, battered women often experience shame, embarrassment and isolation.
To say that domestic violence is a family matter is to underestimate its impact on our community. Shrouded in notions of privacy and secrecy, oftentimes, the community will accommodate the behaviour – if only by not speaking of it. Unspoken, yet acknowledged by family and friends, no one wants to get involved.
Children of family violence have not just witnessed the systematic humiliation and degradation of their mothers by their fathers, they have internalized it. They have normalized it. So too have their mothers. Is it any wonder that violence against women is still a major social ill? Is it any wonder that Iris Kirby House sees the daughters and granddaughters of clients from long ago?
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