Why do women (or men?) stay in abusive relationships?

Ha ha, that is a silly question, isn’t it? And I’m not women, I’m only one woman so I can only answer for myself.

I don’t know why people ask this question, especially those people who ask this question with that tone in their voice that says they already know the answer. If you are already biased, why do you ask? If you want to know a person’s truth, why not ask and then listen? I don’t understand why people don’t do this.

Remember, my words here only represent myself. If you want to know why someone else is in an abusive ~ verbally, emotionally, physically or otherwise ~ relationship, you’d have to ask the person involved.

For years I didn’t even have an idea that I was in an abusive relationship. And there are those (primarily on the conservative side of things) who don’t believe the relationship I’m in is abusive at all. That’s frightening. But  many of those were the voices that guided me for years. Being totally socialized into the society I lived in, everything seemed normal. AH’s disinterest in nurturing our relationship wasn’t any different than other couples I knew. His utter lack of involvement in caring for and lack of interacting with our children seemed pretty normal too. Quite a few of the fathers we associated with essentially were fathers by sperm donation only. Once their female was impregnated, their interest in the process ended and once the children were born, there was less time spent at home in general in order to avoid that nasty responsibility.

The conservative Christian beliefs I held at the time also reinforced the abuse. I was forcibly baptised into the Southern Baptist religion by my stepmother when I was eight years old. I went to every youth group and Bible study our church had. When I was a teen, and had read the Bible through a few times, the inconsistencies and the twisting of the words got to me and I stopped going to church. I became a hellbound wanton feminist heathen and I grew as a human and as a woman. But after two years of marriage to AH I was desperate for anything to make things better. I tried counseling and self-help books by the truckload. That didn’t help, so why not give Jesus a shot at it. Obviously all my problem was is that I was being a willful, disrespectful wife, duh. Ummm, no. No matter how obedient I was, how submissive, how good a wife I was, no matter if I tried headcovering and turned myself into Skirt Woma, it didn’t make a difference to my marriage. All it achieved was the total obliterated of any of my remaining self-respect. Sensible, reasonable, well-functioning people do not  listen to even a few of Pat Robertson‘s greatest hits on marriage or otherwise without realizing we’re dealing with some serious misogyny here. Yeah, I wasn’t that sensible or well-functioning at the time and frighteningly, there are a lot more where I came from.

We were also part of the military culture. The culture that laughs that “if the -place branch of service her- had wanted __ to have a family, it would have issued one!” The culture that, despite being chock-full of mixed-culture marriages, has offensively racists shirts and sundries sold in the spaces outside the BX/PX. There are a lot of miserable military wives. Most of them had no idea what they were getting into and have no clue how to get out. There’s also a lot of indoctrination on so many levels within military culture. But despite the gains women in the military have made, for the wives and daughters of too many military members, “women as chattel” still is the norm.

So…I didn’t realize I was in an abusive marriage until a few years ago. And was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. That diagnosis came as a surprise. I wasn’t depressed. I had a wonderful life ~ that is what I told myself day after day. I was blessed with a wonderful husband and if things weren’t perfect, I simply wasn’t being obedient enough to God so I needed to just focus on the positives, the blessings, and change my attitude. The fact that I burst into tears at the most inappropriate or awkward moments didn’t mean I was depressed. That just meant I was too sensitive. Wishing I were dead every day didn’t mean I was depressed. That just meant I was being a bitch to God. The incredible fatigue that made my limbs heavy and meant that one meal took six hours to prepare didn’t have anything to do with depression. That was sheer laziness and lack of willpower. “Bad wife, you need to take better care of your man or you’re going to lose him acting like that!” The utter lack of enthusiasm I had for anything I’d once found pleasure in certainly wasn’t depression. Anyway, AH never was interested in reading, hiking, travel, taking classes, community service, activism or anything active like that so it’s all for the better, right? Obey your husband and wait patiently nearby until he has a need. Once Cognitive Behavioral Therapy started, though, I really needed to look some of these beliefs in the eye. Tracing the source of so much of my negative self-talk and feelings went right back to religion and marriage.

Indoctrination.

Socialization.

Being a nice woman.

So, indoctrination is the single largest reason I have stayed in an abusive marriage. I hadn’t a clue. Girls are supposed to get married and be wives…I may have grown up with NOW and ERA but my stepmother thought feminism was the path to hell and Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinham were demons sent by Satan to lure women away from God’s lovingkindness.

Here are some other reasons why leaving isn’t such a simple answer.

I’m a woman. Being a woman means that I have no value. Don’t know what I mean? I quit my  (well-paying, awesome-benefits) job because I got married. That is What (some stupid) Wives Do. After 20+ years completely in charge of a household ~ including managing a budget and digging my “company” out of debt repeatedly, allocating scarce resources, performing damage control, etc, etc, I’m told I have absolutely no marketable skills. I have absolutely no value outside of taking orders at drive-thru windows or stocking Big Box shelves. The (extremely varied and often difficult) work that I’ve been doing since I became a (awww, how sweet) housewife means zip. If I wasn’t a feminist before, you can damn well bet I’m one now.

I have two children with conditions that require money to pay for medical care. Money I can’t earn taking orders at that drive-thru window. And I cannot leave my kids with AH because he is incapable of caring for another living being. I suppose I’m lucky in that the form his abuse takes with our children is monumental indifference to their existence. Unless he wants a gaming buddy or a scapegoat.

I have no support network. I come from an abusive family. My step-mother is not someone I can rely on. My Aniki is a bagful of screwup on his own. My friends are as fragile and effed up as I am.

I have a condition that has eroded my lung function. I have another condition that causes flares during which I can barely stand for the vertigo, along with other unfun symptoms.

Anyway, I’m probably making this all up. AH is really a Nice Guy and I’m lucky to have him. I’m just a freaking unhappy bitch who is ungrateful for all I have. Nothing will probably make me happy anyway. If I stop being a selfish bitch and think about him a little more, things would just be fine.

Right?

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