Deciding whether to leave an abusive relationship is not an easy task. People who have never been in this situation often don’t understand this. Tweet This
In their mind, you are being abused, you should leave, ASAP. They don’t understand how incredibly difficult this might be for you. There are many things you might be struggling with. Here are a few:
- You still love your partner
- You are afraid of him
- He has threatened to hurt you, your kids, your family, your pets, or has threatened to take your kids away from you
- You have no financial means of support, and have no idea how you will live
- Your abuser has taken away your self-esteem and you don’t think you can survive without him
- Your abuser has ruined all your supportive relationships and you believe have no one around you to help you
- You don’t want your kids to have a broken home.
If you are a Christian, you may have other questions:
- Doesn’t God hate divorce? Will I be out of God’s will if I leave?
- What if my friends and family don’t support me, and take his side?
I have addressed many of these questions in other blogs. Today, I would like to share a portion of my book A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom where I answer some of these questions. Many of the questions are specific to Christians but many are common to all abuse victims.
What Questions Might You Have About Leaving?
In her book, Keeping the Faith, Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse, Marie Fortune, a minister and director of the Center for Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence in Seattle, discusses many of these questions:
“He* needs me now more than ever. How can he change without me to help him? Shouldn’t I stay and take care of him?”
Ms. Fortune answers, “As long as you are with him, you are an occasion for his sin. In other words, you are the one whom he feels safe abusing, and as long as you are there, he will abuse you; he will continue with his sinful behavior. This does not mean you are responsible for his behavior; it is not your fault.”
Your abuser’s best hope for change is to work with a treatment program for abusers. If you leave him, even temporarily, he may get the message you will no longer tolerate his abuse.
“I would like to talk with someone about my situation and maybe go somewhere safe for a while. But, I don’t think those people at the shelter are Christians. I’m afraid they may try to take away my faith.”
Ms. Fortune answers, “When your house is on fire, and you call the firefighters to come put out the fire, do you stop and ask those people whether or not they are Christians?”
I (Caroline) sought help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline and my local women’s crisis center, neither of which is specifically Christian. They obviously worked with Christian women who had questions about what God thought about leaving their abusive husbands. They were sensitive and kind, and did not try to talk me out of my faith.
“I don’t want to go to that shelter. No one like me will be there.”
Ms. Fortune responds, “You may be right; you may not meet anyone like you, but you may be surprised, too. Women of all ages, races, religious groups, and family styles are abused and go to crisis centers or safe homes.”
4. “If I leave him, I don’t know how I will take care of myself and the kids. I don’t have a job right now. How will I pay the bills or rent an apartment?”
Many abuse victims feel this way. You may also feel frightened about living on your own, making all the decisions yourself, or simply be afraid of change. No one would try to tell you this would be easy. Keep in mind what Proverbs 15:17 says, “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.”
Also, be assured God will walk with you every step of the way. As He says in Matthew 6:25–27:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
God can guide you to the help you need. Do not be afraid to lean on Him and His people. You can turn to family, friends, and your church. In addition, your local women’s crisis center will be able to connect you with many resources in your community. This is a time when you can put your full trust in Jesus, possibly for the first time in your life. This may turn out to be a great time of growth in your faith as He fulfills your needs day by day. Psalm 9:9–10 says:
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name will trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you
5. “I’m afraid of losing my children. My abuser sometimes threatens to kidnap them, and the next day tells me he will petition for full custody. I’m sure he could do either.”
Fear of losing their children is probably one of the greatest reasons people stay in abusive relationships. Let’s take these threats one at a time:
Kidnapping—while some abusers will kidnap their children, this is a fairly rare occurrence. If your abuser did this after you got some kind of legal help and left with them, he would have to leave his home, his job, his family, and probably the state. He would become a fugitive and, if caught, would go to jail. Most often, this is an idle threat coming from a bully, which is in essence what an abuser is. When I left my abuser, thinking of him as a bully helped. Most schoolyard bullies make more threats than they actually carry out. Of course, this is not always the case. You know your abuser best, and need to go with your gut regarding your own safety and the safety of your children.
Full custody—your abuser may very well petition for full custody of your children. This is why preparing before you leave is very important, if that is at all possible. Check out this link for blogs that talk about this. Perhaps the thought of your abuser having any custody of your children without your protection gives you chills. Unfortunately, chances are good he will get some custody (or parenting time) with them, no matter what kind of proof of abuse you have. Keep in mind that right now, he is with them all the time, and in reality, you are not able to protect them at all. If they are with you part of the time, they will be able to see the difference between how you behave and how he does. When you leave your abuser, you show them that his abuse is not OK. This will make a big impact on them in the long run.
“I’m afraid if I leave, my abuser will physically hurt me. He has made all kinds of threats. He has even threatened to kill me if I ever leave him.”
This is one of the greatest fears abuse victims have, and is a very real fear. The most dangerous time for a victim is when she leaves her abuser—a proven fact. This is why you must do your safety planning, whether you plan to leave or plan to stay. Get the help of others, such as your local women’s crisis center, (click here for resources). They can help you discern whether leaving is your safest option, and they can help you with things such as getting a restraining (or protection) order. They can also help you find a safe place to go.
“Is staying ever safe?”
While leaving the relationship is usually safer, some women stay because they feel that is the safer choice for them. I have spoken to domestic violence advocates who say women come and stay at their shelter temporarily whenever their abusers are in the explosive stage of the abuse cycle. Then, when he moves into the honeymoon stage, they return home. If your abuser has not previously been violent, I personally think permanently leaving the situation before it becomes physically violent is better. Also, remember emotional abuse can be more damaging to the victim’s heart, mind, and soul than physical abuse. However, each woman must decide the best choice for her long-range safety and that of her children and pets.
Question: Which of the above concerns do you most identify with?
I hope that thinking through these answers will help you choose your best option.
* Note: abusers and their victims can be either male or female. For ease of writing in this blog, the abuser is portrayed as “he” and the victim as “she.”