18 Jun 2013

Why She Stayed

I posted on Facebook about the photos of Nigella Lawson having her neck squeezed by Charles Saatchi and called him a typical abusive creep for making a statement minimising his behaviour by describing it as merely a "playful tiff". One of my friends said "I just cannot understand why such a smart, beautiful and independently successful woman would have stayed with him throughout torment like this!"

I thought about this and decided to respond here instead of on Facebook.
I don't know why she stayed, only she can answer. But I would be very surprised if at least some of the reasons I shall list don't apply. 

So here is why she and people like her may stay:
  • It started out so slowly and insidiously that she didn't realise it was abuse until she was married or much later.
  • She thinks that she doesn't deserve better.
  • She's afraid, confused, guilty and burdened by obligation.
  • He's hurting and needs her love. She can heal him, it's her duty to just keep giving.
  • She thinks she's to blame for most of what goes wrong- if she could stop being so emotional and weak things might improve.
  • She sees him behave properly in every other situation except with her- it's her fault.
  • She minimises incidents, explosions, hurts and humiliations as soon as things get on a more even keel. 
  • She feels embarrassed, thinks she overreacts, knows she's not perfect, thinks of herself as too argumentative and combatative. 
  • She finds it hard to keep track of what happens.
  • She still feels love for her partner- it may turn out that the emotion could more accurately described as pity.
  • She's frightened of change, of things getting even worse if she tries to end the relationship.
  • She can't imagine how things would be if the marriage ended.
  • She's afraid of being alone. 
  • She's concerned about the impact on her children.
  • She's afraid of what a man with wealth and power could do to her if she tries to leave him, how he could affect her reputation or career. Will he start telling people that she's mentally ill or unstable?
  • Sometimes it's fun being with him, she remembers good times they shared, sometimes he acts as though he might actually love her.
  • He might apologise, promise that he loves her, he'll change and do whatever it takes to make things ok, but that he can't do it without her. 
  • Stockholm syndrome is real- the person causing the hurt may then take care of her, increasing the confusion, making her dependent on him and feeling like she couldn't possibly cope without him.
  • His promises keep lighting the hope that things will improve. Hope takes a long time to die.
  • Ending a marriage goes against all her values and principles, she thinks that she must fight harder to make it work, give it one more go, try to accept things or be more understanding.
  • Ending a marriage means admitting defeat- she must accept that she failed to either pick the right partner or to make a marriage work. She might feel shame especially if she's the only person this has happened to in her family. She might feel shame that people will blame other difficulties in her life for making marriage impossible.
All kinds of women and men can be in abusive relationships. Thankfully sometimes she recognises what's been happening, fights the denial, crushes false hope and with a heck of a lot of help, she gets out of it and makes a far better life without the abusive jerk. But it never stops stinging slightly when people ask "why did she stay?"


Anonymous said...

My dearest - I apologize if my comments seemed insensitive, and stung! That was not my intent. No doubt there are complex reasons that you've listed and the other article I read alluded to. I guess, his abuse was / is so blatant, especially for people who live such public lives, that I found it hard to conceptualize WHY she would stay. In most cases of abuse, I guess it goes on behind closed doors and is more insidious...... and that's easier for me to rationalize w.r.t my question.

Sharon McDaid said...

You're nothing but kind my friend and it was an honest question. I still think that even in their case he will have been able to minimise it exactly as he tried to do in that article where he called it a "playful tiff". But people outside the situation can call bullshit on him. She's too close and will take his excuses, will lap them up probably because it's easier than facing the truth. She may say, "but he never left a *mark* on me so thats not abuse." just as others will have told themselves "well he never *hit* me, so that's not abuse."
She's probably so worn down in her dealings with him that she just can't think straight and make sense of it all. That's the case even if some of it happened in public.

Lindsay said...

Yeah, it's hard to understand if you haven't experienced it.

I know I didn't get it until I'd read a bunch of essays by people who'd been in abusive relationships.

Unknown said...

Its all of those things. The BIGGEST thing for me was that I grew up with divorced parents and I was so determined my kids would not have the same experience so I tried to privide smoke & mirrows for them.....until it was just no longer possible.

Bobbi said...

Thanks for writing that, Sharon.

I think our society needs to stop asking why she stays, and start asking why any human being would treat another the way an abuser treats his (usually) victim. Who does that?

Sharon McDaid said...

Lindsay that's true, it's easy to judge and claim that you wouldn't put up with it but for people living it, it's different and there are so many competing factors and lives entwined and emotions that it takes a long time and lots of support to see things clearly.

Karen, we all have our own reasons and rationalisations. You try so hard to do what is right. And then eventually realise it's no way to live.

Bobbi that is the most important point of all- society and the media should focus more on the perpetrators and criticise their targets less.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. This is the most insightful and comprehensive list I've seen, and I think I've felt all of them at one time or another. Being under stress makes it so incredibly difficult to think anyway, very fuzzy thinking can pass for reasonable when you are living on eggshells.

Thank you. I am only sorry that, to understand this so well, you must have experience. I wish you the very best. I wish us all the best.

Sharon McDaid said...

Anon I'm sorry that you have been through this too and hope that wherever you are, you are living a life free from abuse.