Why Did She Stay? Why Did I Stay?

Why Did She Stay? Why Did I Stay? SavvyMom

This Anonymous Mom has two teenagers. Why did she stay in an abusive marriage for over 20 years?

Why Did She Stay?

The stage production of Tina the Musical came to Toronto for a month. The story of the late, great Tina Turner’s abusive marriage with her former husband Ike Turner, is almost as well-known as her hit songs. After 16 years of beatings, verbal abuse, and intimidation, Tina left Ike and settled for nothing more than her performance name and two cars.

“I didn’t fear him killing me when I left, because I was already dead,” the legendary singer told PEOPLE in 1981.

Tina stayed for 16 years. That’s a long time. Why did she stay? I had to look inwards. I was never hit. There wasn’t a lot of yelling. And yet I stayed in an abusive marriage for over 20 years. Why did I stay?

It’s completely normal to grapple with the question of why one stays in a marriage that became painful and abusive. Relationships, especially long-term ones, are complex, and the reasons for staying are multifaceted. I want to explore some of the reasons why I stayed…

Why Did I Stay?

1. Hope for Change and Return of Good Times:

Like many people in abusive relationships, I stayed because of the good times and the positive aspects of the relationship early on. The promise of those good times returning kept me hoping for change.

An example of this is when we adopted a puppy. My husband was so delighted that I was actually jealous. It had been a long time since I had seen anything bring him so much joy. There truly were moments of genuine happiness and connection that I treasured and hoped would return.

2. Commitment to Family and Stability for the Children:

My commitment to providing a stable and loving environment for my kids is a significant reason why I stayed. And I wanted to shield them from conflict and ensure they had a true sense of family unity.

I stopped fighting back a long time ago because the conflict seemed to really upset the kids. Their emotioal stability was so important to me that I minimized the conflict as much as possible for their sake. Now I know that this is called “fawning.”

3. Belief in My Roles and Responsibilities:

My husband did a really good job of manipulating me into believing that I was solely responsible for the problems in our relationship. He made me feel that if I just tried harder or did things differently, things would improve.

I still have moments every day where I feel like I am the problem and this is all my fault. I’m not and it isn’t. This reveals how deeply his manipulation affected my self-perception and sense of responsibility.

4. Fear of Escalation and Retaliation:

I was really afraid of being treated worse. And I was. I knew deep down that I could not be the one to leave. I had a really highly developed “window of tolerance” that was difficult to crack. The more I stood my ground the angrier he became.

My husband often threatened how financially ruinous divorce is. He’s not wrong. However I stand by the notion that I would not want to be married to someone who is staying with me because they don’t want to be broke. However, the fear of financial abuse did make leaving seem more dangerous and difficult. And I feared that leaving would provoke even worse behaviour and might jeopardize my and my kids’ safety.

And things did escalate. I started enforcing my boundaries and that made the abuse worse.

5. Financial and Practical Concerns:

Financial dependence — like for Tina Turner — is often a significant barrier to leaving. The fear of not being able to support yourself and your children can keep you in a relationship longer than you would otherwise stay. I made a decent living. I was confident in my ability to provide for myself and my kids, with or without his support.

And then I got laid off.

Neither of us can afford to buy the other out of our home. Originally he agreed for me to stay for a year to get myself together. After my job loss he wants to sell asap. He still does. Why is he in such a hurry to sell the house? Doesn’t he realize I can’t rent or buy anything else unless I have a stable income? This highlights how financial instability makes the prospect of leaving daunting. If we were still together, times would be tighter but still totally doable. Now I question whether I will ever be able to retire or even go on a vacation.

6. Trauma Bonding and Emotional Manipulation:

The cycle of abuse creates a powerful emotional bond. Periods of abuse interspersed with moments of kindness or reconciliation make it really hard to leave.

I felt really sad when I realized that the good times were actually part of the abuse cycle. Having this realization shows how the intermittent positive reinforcement kept me emotionally invested. The good times are part of the abuse cycle = the good times are abuse.

7. External Pressures and Judgments:

Societal expectations and pressures to maintain a family unit were a huge factor in why I stayed for so long. I really had a fear of judgment or stigma around leaving and my marriage ending. So did my husband, actually. He wanted to tell people we ‘simply grew apart’ when it comes to why we separated. I did not feel inclined to protect him in that way. Ultimately he did end it however he clearly felt the pressure to present a socially acceptable narrative.

8. Uncertainty About the Future:

Truly, the uncertainty of what life might be like after leaving was paralyzing. And now I’m frequently feeling paralyzed, so I can definitely say it’s easier to stay in a familiar, even if painful, situation than it is to face the unknown. Having said that, deep down I understand there is no going back and ending the marriage is the right thing to do.

And I frequently miss him, or who I thought he was, desperately.

I don’t know when I will be ready to love again. Staying definitely feels like the safer option even if it’s not the healthiest one. He is dating up a storm. I cannot express how much this hurts.

9. Hope for Reconciliation or Change:

For so long (too long) I believed that things could get better if I just found the right way to manage the situation or if he saw the light and changed his behaviour. I am stuck in an unending search for why.

And I understand that my search for why is also tied to my need for control, to prevent something like this happening again. I still wish I could understand and fix our situation, and achieve a better outcome.

10. Denial and Minimization:

Yes, we all know that denial is not just a river in Egypt. Denial and minimization are common coping mechanisms. I continually downplayed the severity of the abuse to cope with it. That made it easier to stay. And he frequently reminds me that we are tied together for life because we have kids. This felt like a way of minimizing the need for separation by focusing on an unchangeable bond.

Now I understand that the kids will be tied to him for life, but I don’t have to be. My kids are old enough to understand that he did not treat me very well. An ongoing joke was that I had three kids. But I wanted a partner. I wanted a friend. I wanted a lover (ugh — that word but it’s the only one that fits). Always being the killjoy or the bad cop or the nag did a number on my self esteem.

I Tried. I Failed.

I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t fix us. And I know that’s because he needed to be accountable as well. And he wouldn’t. I know that staying in an abusive relationship is never a sign of weakness or failure. I’m embarrassed to share how bad it truly was and how I allowed myself and my kids to be treated for so long.

The reasons I stayed are complex and multifaceted.

I stayed because of hope.

I stayed because of fear.

I stayed because of responsibility.

And I stayed because of love.

I loved him. I loved him so much. Too much. He broke my heart and I had to break my own heart too.

All of these reasons reflect my strength, my commitment to my family, and the powerful emotional dynamics at play. And understanding why I stayed is an important step in healing and moving forward.

The years I loved him and tried to save him, save us, reflect just how much love is within me.

I’ll make it. There’s a lot of life left to live. There’s a lot of love left to give. Everyone tells me one day I’ll stop grieving. I wish I could see when that might be.


1 Comment

  1. Rubina on July 17, 2024 at 9:02 am

    This analysis of the “why” is really helpful and validating, thank you. It’s clear that you are still in the thick of it emotionally, and I hope that you know that you are helping others by putting this out there.

    I’m proud of you for making the decision to leave. My mom stayed in an abusive relationship far too long for us kids, and I think it’s made me overly cautious about the red flags in my relationships.

    It won’t be easy, but the most important thing is that your emotional & mental health will improve. Your kids will know that you stayed for them, and they will respect you for both that and for leaving (one day…teenagers can be tough!). Lean on your support network, do things that make you feel good, seek out help (Families in Transition is fabulous & free) and I hope that you find a new job soon.

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