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I like to think of myself as the 'crazy mom of four'. I'm 31 years old and I love my life, my kids, my husband and my God. "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Jim Eliot

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why Women Stay

I don't have all the answers. It's very easy to say how you would react to a situation if you were in it. However, when faced with a difficult decision, I think that sometimes we end up reacting differently than we anticipated.

My heart is aching tonight for women who are in abusive relationships. And I believe that abuse can take many forms. It could be physical abuse, but relationships are also impacted significantly by drug or alcohol abuse, verbal abuse, or pornography addiction. All of these things can destroy relationships. When one of the above 'issues' arise in a relationship, it's easy to sit back and say that we (as women) would never stand for it. I don't mean to generalize and imply that women are the only ones impacted by these issues. I am simply writing this from a woman's perspective and viewing the issue in light of being a woman myself.

When a woman is abused (and let me assure you that I am NOT in an abusive relationship), outsiders judge the woman and question why she would continually go back to a man who is abusive. To those of you out there who are strong, confident women, I think it's great if you are able to immediately withdraw yourself from an abusive situation. But I think that some people are too quick to say "She should get out of that as quickly as possible." But what some women don't (and may never) understand is that not all women are the same. We don't all think alike. We don't all handle conflict the same. We don't all react the exact same way in every situation.

There are some women out there (myself included) who battle low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and a fear of being alone. And unfortunately, while it may not make sense, people like that tend to stay in abusive relationships. There are many reasons, even if some of them don't make sense to most people.

#1. We are afraid that if we leave or try to 'escape', we will be alone and never find someone to love us. We are afraid that we will never be able to stand on our own feet, or raise our families on our own. Is this logical? No. Is it a real fear? You bet it is! We have a very unhealthy view of ourselves and our worth and oftentimes we feel like we 'deserve' what we get.

#2. We are sadly, unrealistically hopeful that the person causing the hurt will change. We want to believe that people can change. And I do believe that they can, but only with the help of God. And so we stay and we hope and we pray that they will change.

#3. Our self-worth is directly tied to the men we love. If we can't make our relationships work, it is a direct reflection of who we are and the value we have. If we sever ties, we admit that we are unworthy of love. Again, I know that it is flawed thinking, but it is indeed how we process things.

There are other reasons. What makes me qualified to say these things when I have insisted above that I am not in an abusive relationship? Because I understand how I would react IF I were in this type of relationship. And I know that I am not alone in it.

Do I want to be abused? NO. Of course not. But if I gave 10 years of my life to someone that I loved more than my own life, it would not be easy to just run away at the first signs of abuse. Abuse isn't just a cut and dry thing. Maybe it should be. Maybe for some women it is. But for other women, it isn't a sure escape route from a marriage or relationship. There are other factors to consider. Money. Ability to provide for family emotionally, not just financially. Fear. Fear is a big factor here. So many different fears - what people will think, how we will be perceived, how the abuser will react. In our warped minds, it makes more sense to stay with an abuser than to get out.

Is it fair to our children? No. I've heard so many people say "What about the children? What is this teaching the children?" These are very valid points. But unfortunately, they are not the only questions. It is unfair for someone on the outside looking in to say how an abused woman should react in a situation, especially when there are children involved. I do not believe for a second that an abused mother stays in a relationship with no regard for what it will do to her children. A mother (abused or not) wants nothing more than to provide a safe and loving environment for her children. And some women may feel that it is safer and healthier for the children to stay with the abuser than to rip their lives apart with divorce. Is it the right answer? I don't know. It isn't my place to say. No situation where abuse is involved is ideal. But it isn't OK for someone who doesn't know the person or the situation to look in and say that the abused woman is wrong for making a decision to stay or go back. Do I think it is safe? No. Do I think it is healthy for a woman to stay in an abusive relationship? No. Do I think it is safe mentally or emotionally for the children to witness an abusive relationship? Of course not.

I am not even sure where I am heading with this. I was moved by a story of abuse this evening and read comments saying "How could she stay with him?" and "How could she put her children back into that environment?" And my heart aches for that woman. Because I truly believe that she is not being selfish and thinking of no one but herself. I am thankful that I am not in an abusive relationship. But I am not blind enough that I don't recognize that if I were in that same situation I very likely would be that crazy woman who chooses to stay. I'd like to think that if direct physical abuse were involved that I would take my kids and separate myself from the abuser. But I know myself. I know how unfortunately my self-worth is tied closely to my marriage and not to God where it belongs. And I know that if someone hurt me and were repentant, I would struggle to push them out of my life.

The reality is that women caught in these horrible relationships need prayer and support, regardless of what they choose. Because they may not even realize WHY they are going back. They are alone and frightened and feeling helpless. And they want to believe that people can change. And they have such deep love for the person harming them that they choose to stay instead of throwing it all away or starting over.

So, while I am terrified you'll stone me hesitant to do this...what are your thoughts? Try not to be too mean...let's keep it family-friendly please!

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