Why do perfectly sane women stay in abusive relationships?

One of my closest friends has been in an abusive marriage for fifteen years. Fifteen years. That’s something. And it’s depressing.

It’s pained me no end to have been at the other end of the phone line all these years and listen to her life, as she has cried her way into middle age. Well, almost middle age.

Have I tried to counsel her, asked her to get out, asked her to seek help. Yes to all of that. It’s been in vain though. She’s seemed so this-is-my-destiny in her approach to her life that it’s been tough to help her. At one point I transferred some money into her account so she could fly back to India (she lives in another country) if it got worse than it was (though that was hard to imagine)

She never used that money, of course, because she never left. And I never understood it. I mean on a theoretical level, I did understand – kids, family, reputation, honor (whatever that is) and stuff like that. Apart from the first point, I didn’t quite see the relevance of the others. But the thing is that the abuse started way before she had the kids, which is when I pushed her hardest to leave. I could not understand it. She was young, very attractive, very independent, educated, extremely smart and the rest of it. Yet, when this happened she kept waiting for it to get better. Which, of course, it didn’t. She now insists it did though, because now he only hits out when he’s really angry and can actually be loving when he’s not getting on her case (puhleeezz). Also, somewhere in her heart she has convinced herself, and this is because he’s been putting her down for the last fifteen years, that she is the one who provokes him.

I cannot describe what it feels like to hear her say that. Provoked? What the ^%&$## does he mean by that? What is he? King of the world? And what defines provoked by the way? That she answers back when he tells her to do something, she says. It makes me mad, mad mad mad and I want to kick her ass for such spineless servitude. But then I check myself, that’s the last thing she needs, because she confides only in me.

Not that I don’t tell her how I feel. I do and sometimes in not so sweet terms. But it does not work and she stops calling.This man has worked her beautifully. When he thinks he’s pushed her too far, he does something nice. Nice meaning, not yelling at her for say about two hours and maybe taking her out to dinner. Guess what, she’s confused and wondering if she really is the one who starts the fights. I’ve tried everything, but she chooses not to leave.

Now it’s becomes like a cycle. She calls every few months and tells me about her life. We talk, or rather I let her talk. She calls everyday for a few days and seems convinced that life has a lot more to offer, that she still can do a lot with her life and move on. Then she brings in the kids and how they would be affected. She then, quite suddenly, stops calling. A few months later she starts again and it’s the same story.

She called today. Nothing’s changed. The kid are now 8 and 11. I asked her why she still wants to stay in this marriage. She said because she’s afraid of loneliness and of the fact that her kids might hate her for breaking up the home. Relevant points I guess, except I could not see why she would prefer abuse over loneliness. Would you not rather be free, I asked her? Imagine, I told her, your house the way you want it (this guy is a control freak beyond belief), that you don’t get told off because you forgot to put one book back in its place (the place he wants that is), that you don’t have to cook, clean, feed, for him and his mum (who lives with them and does not lift a finger) and who only tells her how mediocre she is and hopes that the kids don’t take after her. Imagine a life of dignity.

She could not. It was like I was describing a life on Mars or something. She was quiet for a while and then said “that would be nice, really nice”. But, the big but was the kids.

I know that kids are the worst affected when it comes to a divorce. But is it better for them to stay in a home where there is violence? No, its not. I’ve told her that many many times but she’s convinced that he’s a good dad and that she would be depriving them of his love is she separated. Sigh. I give up.

I cannot help her anymore than listening to her when she calls. She needs to help herself and till she’s not ready, there’s really little I can do. Sometimes when I call and the man is around, she talks in this eerily-cheery tone that gives me the chills and I end the conversation quickly. Also, he does not like her to have friends outside of “their” friends, so I don’t like to cause trouble (even though I knew her waaaaaay before the unfortunate day she met him)

I feel sad tonight as I think of her in her bed (she must be asleep now). Here’s a girl who cooked and painted, danced and sang, laughed and yapped and lit up a party. Now she’s a maid in her own home who works like a dog and then gets abused for one little “mistake”. How did you let this happen? How?

The abiding memory I have of you is that one night when we all drank a bit more than we could handle and you stood up, picked up a piece of fax paper roll as a make-believe mic and sang ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ at the top of your lungs. Well, tonight, I cry for you.

1 Comment

Filed under mommyrage

One response to “Why do perfectly sane women stay in abusive relationships?

  1. Bangalore-mom

    I dont know what to say…When I look at women all around me – educated, spirited, accomplished women – just meekly submit to the emotional, sometimes physical abuse by the spouse, in-laws et al it makes me want to SCREAM!! I want to tell them to break free, to challenge everything and see what is the worst that comes of it. My feeling is that a LOT of this is self-inflicted. It still makes me sad though. And angry. And oh, so helpless.

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