Before I get started, I just want to lay down some statistics.
• Everyday in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
• Men who as children witnessed their parents’ domestic violence were twice as likely to abuse their own wives than sons of nonviolent parents.
• A child exposed to the father abusing the mother is at the strongest risk for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. Source: “Report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family”, APA, 1996
(The first two statistics are from Domesticviolencestatistics.org)
Basically, your abuser is not going to change.
No matter how much they say it, how long they can behave themselves, or how beautiful the last month was, they just aren’t. At the end of the day, they are just pretty words. Pretty words that I wish were true, for your sake, the children’s sake and mine.
But they are also clearly pretty words that can kill you.
I know it sounds harsh. I know I sound like a mean spirited person who has no hope or a pessimist who hates abusers. But, neither of those statements is true. Unless you have been there and heard the endless “I’m going to change” while your abuser is still kicking you around mentally, emotionally and physically, you don’t get it. And you probably won’t ever get it. I wish they could change. God knows, this world would be a better and happier place. But, from personal experience, it is only going to get worse. “I can change” is the calm before the storm.
When my abuser first hurt me when I was pregnant, I left him. I told him that I wasn’t an idiot and I would not have my baby (I didn’t even know Ollie was a boy yet) brought up in an abusive and violent home. He had always told me that he would change, at least every six weeks during the honeymoon period of the abuse cycle that we were stuck in. But, this time, his actions matched his words. He got a counselor, who helped him with his anger management skills, stopped drinking as much, started coming home after work and promised that he would never hurt me again. For my sake and the sake of his unborn child, he would never hurt me again. I’m actually really ashamed that I believed him. All the time I think to myself that I should have just stayed gone, never allowing him the chance to hurt me again. But, I was young and had never experienced any kind of physical abuse before. I naively believed in “the power of love” or whatever hippy-ish name that I had given it back then. I thought that if you loved someone enough that anything could happen. Leopards could change their spots, ugly caterpillars find their wings and even abusers could rewire their brains. But, no campy sayings or counseling was enough, or is enough, to change an abuser. Usually, when you return, things get worse.
It seems like, from talking to other people that have been through similar situations and reading more than one should about abuse, that when you return to an abuser (physical, mental, emotional, etc.) you are sending them a silent message that what they did was okay. You are giving them a statement of your worth. And by returning after whatever horrible thing they have done to you, you are saying,
“I forgive you. What you did to me is okay.”
You might not even intend to say that. You might feel indignant, outraged, defiled, and worthless. You might hate them with a passion that is ungodly. But, by walking back in that door and their open arms, you are letting them know that the abuse is okay. No matter what they have done to you, you will come back. I think this is why the violence escalates. If a little was okay, why not add some more? I don’t think that an abuser actually thinks this to himself. But, the next time they lose control, they will become more aggressive.
When you go back to them, you are accepting that this possibility could become a reality.
Once my abuser started becoming physical again, he was more aggressive. If we were discussing something and I wanted to walk away, he would hold me there in a grip that hurt. He would grab me by the arms and scream in my face. He would hold my child hostage when he was drunk and loudly yell at me that he was the father and knew what was best for him better than I did. And finally, all of these separate acts of violence culminated in him throwing me down on the stairs, spraining my arm, and holding a knife to my throat, saying that he would rather leave my child an orphan than have me leave him.
If I would have never listened to his sweet words and believed that he was going to change, I never would have opened the door to all of those things.
It’s hard. This week, I went to the lawyer with my ex to sign papers so I could have sole custody of my son. Once again, he told me that for my son’s sake he would change and that he was oh so sorry for all the awful things he has put us through because we never deserved it. He even wrote a public apology on Facebook saying that he was going to “turn over a new leaf.” At first, it made me angry. Everyone seems to be so supportive of someone who almost killed me in my own kitchen and made my sweet son, the best thing that has ever happened to me, an orphan. But no one knows your abuser and who they truly are like you do. And they haven’t heard the other 100 times that he said he would change and didn’t. They still have hope where I don’t because they haven’t been through this before. I want his sweet words to be true. I want him to change and, for once, be the father my child deserves. But I also know history. I know the statistics. And I know that only God could change someone who has hurt me and my son so much.
So when you say, “But, Eliza, he really means it this time!”
About your abuser, I get it more than anyone. But knowledge is power. Knowing that women are more likely to be killed by their abuser than an abuser is to change should strike terror into your heart and let you know that he probably won’t change. You are more likely to end up dead on your kitchen floor. Not only that, we are passing a legacy of abuse on to our children. My abuser was physically abused by his father and then he abused me. In time, he would have abused our son or he would have witnessed his father abusing me. After that, my son had twice the chance to abuse his wife or girlfriend. That is when I stomped my foot on the ground and said, “ENOUGH”.
He might have stolen my joy, dignity, and self-confidence for a time, but I would be damned if he would ruin my son’s future and his happiness.
I think it’s hardest to resist a man who says he is going to change. It gives you hope. You think that the man you fell in love with is going to become the knight in shining armor, saving you from the Mr. Hyde he turns into when he loses control. But, God can be your knight in shining armor. And if you think that sounds campy, BE YOUR OWN. You can’t be happy while you are placing your heart in the hands of someone who is constantly hurting you. You need to stand up and say that you have had enough. For your own sake, and your children if you have them.
And why? Because you deserve to be happy.
One of the only things I remember from the week after I left and moved in with my sister is laughing. One night, my sister and I were talking and we started cracking each other up. Before I knew it, we couldn’t breathe, our stomachs ached, and I almost peed myself. It was awesome! I went in to my counselor’s office the next week and I was talking to her about it and the first thing that popped into my mind was that it was the first time I had truly laughed in over a year. A YEAR. A year of my life was wasted to depression, unhappiness, and sorrow. If you are in abuse right now, you probably know exactly how that feels.
You need to set yourself free!
So, I suggest that you get away from anyone who treats you in a way that is less than you deserve! And once you have left them, stay gone. No matter what they do or what pretty words they throw your way. God wants better for you. It’s hard, but in the end it will be worth it because you will be safe and happy. You can always cling to Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” And if it takes a couple of times to leave, it does not mean you are a failure. Leaving abuse is hard and it can take an average of 7 times for someone to leave their abuser. I pray that it does not take that many times for anyone, but at least you know that you are not a failure and you are not the only one who has left multiple times to find their strength.
I guarantee that the only chance that anyone might be able to change will come when you leave. You have to stop the cycle of abuse. Now, thanks to having sole custody and visitation that stipulates that he will be supervised by someone in my family when he is with my son, my child is safe. I’m safe. And if his father wants to change, that’s awesome. But thanks to the fact that I had the courage and God provided me with an awesome support system that helped me escape, our lives don’t depend on the slim, possibly non-existent hope of him changing for real this time. And, even if he beat the odds and did change, we aren’t going back. Because a leopard never changes his spots, and chances are an abuser isn’t going to change either.
P.S. If you are in an abusive relationship and need to talk or someone to pray for you, you can definitely shoot me an email. You aren’t alone! You can always and reach out for help, no matter how desperate you think your situation has become. God is always listening!