Characteristics in Spousal Abuse

Why do some women remain in abusive relationships?  When they do leave, why do so many return, again and again?

One of our clients had been married for a year.  The abuse commenced not long after the honeymoon.  After repeated assaults, she contacted us for shelter. Though we made arrangements for her safety, she chose to give her husband another chance. She loved him. Perhaps the threat of separation would cause him to change this time? One month later, following further abuse, she called us again for shelter. However, she failed to leave once more.  Two weeks later she was beaten so severely she was hospitalized.

This pattern of staying, leaving and returning by battered women is due to a number of complex social, personal and marital factors.  Women in love with their partner initially hang on to a belief that the abuse will stop, as promised.  After the violence, the remorseful husband affirms his affection and makes an appeal for forgiveness and promised change.  Such is the Cycle of Violence which will be repeated until the wife gives up that belief.

Abused wives have strong emotional ties to their husbands, and even more so if they have children.  For religious women, this entrapment can be more difficult owing to their spiritual commitment to the marriage.  Over 95 percent of victims report that they do not want to leave the marriage if the violence can be stopped.

For other women the explanation to stay is not love but fear.  Sociologists Maria Crawford and Rosemary Gartner conducted a Canadian study of “intimate femicide” over a fifteen year period.  Their research found that 31 percent of murders of women by their partners were committed after they separated.  In 45 percent of these cases the killer’s identified motive was attributed to the actual or impending split.

Many women stay or return owing to low self-esteem and negative feelings from the sense of hopelessness of their situation.  They become psychologically paralysed to inaction.  For others the lack of financial resources limits their alternatives, preferring to subject themselves to abuse rather than raise their children as a single parent on welfare.

Knowing and understanding all of the above, a restored relationship is still possible in some marriages.