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What if I stay?

 

It's somewhat of a taboo topic, but many DV victims choose to stay with their abusive partners, temporarily or permanently. A lot of people would instantly jump at you for even considering this option: you must be "in denial," "being irrational," needing to be "rescued," etc. It makes sense: staying in an abusive relationship is likely to result in serious injury or death, so of course people want you to escape the danger you're in. Everyone deserves safety, respect, and love, so if you want to leave your relationship, help is available. However, "saving" DV victims against their will simply doesn't work: you're likely to return to your abusive partner a few days/weeks later, if leaving them wasn't your idea to begin with. This page is not an argument on whether you should leave or stay; it's simply a list of common caveats that we wish someone told us about while we were in your shoes. At the end of the day it's your life, we just hope that you will consider your options, weigh pros and cons, and consciously choose what you feel would be in your best interest.

Pretending DV is not there

Some of domestic violence is mutual, i.e. both partners participate in it to some degree. If that's where you are - not throwing the first punch is statistically likely to help, even if your partner hurts you more than you hurt them. On the other hand, if you never engage in violence, walking on eggshells only shows your partner that their behavior is acceptable; they have no reason to stop something you aren't even objecting to. The more you let them get away with, the worse it gets, and the situation spirals further and further. Read about the cycle of abuse for details on that.

Law enforcement

The police can come in an emergency, but sooner or later they'll have to leave and you'll be on your own again. If your partner committed a crime (e.g. physical assault), the police might arrest them. Legal system is complicated, and your partner might be let out on bail, on probation, or with a warning - or they might get sent to prison for decades. This might not be what you expected or hoped for, but the police are only there to enforce the law, not to resolve your conflicts. If you want to leave they can take you to a DV shelter, but if you want to stay they won't be rescuing you against your will: you're an adult, and have the right to endanger yourself.

Anger management programs

These are open to everyone, but usually target convicts who are required to complete the program as a part of their sentence or parole conditions; whether they are effective or not is unclear, partially due to high dropout rates. The simple truth is - learning to not yell, not hit, etc isn't rocket science. Anyone can google basic tips like breathing and counting to ten, and that's all those programs offer because that's all there's to it; to stop being violent you just stop being violent, there are no hidden tricks or magic wands. The issue is not whether your partner can learn the skill, but whether they would choose to. Changing one's habits is a hassle, so most people don't bother unless they have a good reason to. For example, my aunt lost use of her right hand to polio, and learned to write with her left instead: she simply had no other choice. Your partner, on the other hand, might not have a strong motivation to change because, even though you complain of violence, you aren't leaving them over it, and aren't reporting them to the police. They are getting what they want either way, so why would they bother changing their habits?

Marriage counseling

Marriage/couples counseling can be of tremendous help if both of you are contributing to the problem and genuinely want to change how you interact with each other. Unfortunately, that's rarely the case, as, even when violence is mutual, both participants usually blame each other and refuse to look at their own behavior. Counseling can only help the person who genuinely wants to change, so if one of you is only doing it to please the other - it'll be a waste of time. Also, a marriage counselor won't be able to work with you unless physical violence stops completely; they'll refer you to DV counseling or individual therapy, and your partner to anger management programs. It might sound odd, but it's illegal and unethical for mental health professionals to support self-defeating, dangerous, unsafe choices of their clients. They can't advise you how to commit suicide most effectively, how to stay homeless, or how to get addicted to drugs. Domestic violence is one of those things; they can help you get out of it, but they can't encourage you to stay if that's clearly putting you in danger.

Therapy

DV counseling only focuses on safely escaping your relationship; if you want to stay in it, the counsellor won't be able to help you. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is probably the most helpful approach to DV in the long run, though might not produce immediate results. It focuses on your emotional health irrespective of your relationship, can help you clarify your goals and priorities, and brainstorm solutions to problems. Again though, your therapist has ethical and legal regulations, will keep pushing you to leave your relationship, and might even report their concern to authorities, if they feel your life is in danger or if there are children involved.

Church

Usually churches aren't very helpful to abuse victims because they have opposite goals: the victim wants to leave, press charges, and receive community support - while the church wants them to stay, preserve the family, and keep the issue private. However, if you want to stay in your abusive relationship, your and your church's goals coincide, so you can push for practical help and guidance from your church. For example, if your alcoholic husband just drank away his paycheck - ask your church what are you supposed to feed your children now. Be proactive, don't accept platitudes about getting along and turning the other cheek, insist that they do a fundraiser for your family. Eventually your church members might get a better grasp on the day to day reality you live in, get fed up with routinely paying for your husband's drinking, and offer you more realistic guidance and support.

Family and friends

Some friends and family might approach your situation the way churches do (described above). Others might try to push you to leave your partner. It's understandable: your relationship is endangering your physical safety, they love you, and don't want you in harm's way. Unfortunately, this disagreement is likely to result in your withdrawal: if you can't talk to them about what matters to you the most, you will omit, lie, and generally spend less and less time with them. After a while you'll notice that you don't have much of a relationship with your friends and family anymore: you might still see each other occasionally (e.g. on holidays), but the conversations are superficial, you have nothing to talk about with them. That's not what your friends and family want, so you need to explain to them that providing you with "help" you did not ask for and do not want is likely to damage your relationship. Instead, tell them how to help you practically. Read about emergency escape for details, your friends and family can be of enormous help particularly while you're staying with your partner, they are your lifeline.

Children

A lot of the literature on domestic violence views children as some sort of appendage to the mother, i.e. a man is abusing his wife and children, so both the wife and the children are the victims. That's not an accurate view even if we ignore gender bias. By law, both parents are responsible for protecting their child from harm and providing a safe and stable home for him/her. Failure to do so is child abuse, so you can be simultaneously a victim of domestic violence and a perpetrator of child abuse; it's two separate crimes. Actual prison time is rare, though does happen, but loss of custody is pretty likely. It might seem unfair because both you and your child deserve safety - but you're an adult, and have the right to risk your life and health, while your child should not be subjected to such risks. Exposure to domestic violence endangers the child, even if they never get hit. For example, 11yo Jahlil Clements was killed in traffic while trying to save his mom from her boyfriend. DV also traumatizes children; many children raised in violent homes believe that violence is somehow their fault - or that it's a norm, something that happens in all families. This results in psychological problems, sometimes life-long. Children have to move out of an unsafe home, with or without you, so if you can't or won't protect your child, the state will take over.


I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning to sail my ship.
~ Aeschylus
This page was last updated on September 27th, 2017
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