Love shouldn’t hurt-ever

Abusive Relationship
by Christina Hayes

When someone leaves an abusive relationship, it can lead to some of the hardest times in that person’s life. Leaving someone you love and have hoped would change is extremely hard. Often you want to believe the best in that person and may even see glimpses of the person who you originally began to love. One reason survivors of domestic abuse return to their abusive partners is that they feel no one else understands them. The harsh reality is that abusers control the narrative for so long that survivors feel empty and withdrawn from everything that is not their relationship. Keeping that relationship going was a full-time job to them.

Leaving an abusive relationship has to be the survivor’s choice. If anyone is pressuring them to leave, demanding that they leave, or giving them an ultimatum that they have to leave or else, the survivor is much more likely to stay in that relationship or return to it if they were talked into leaving. This may seem counter-intuitive, but listening without trying to fix the situation is the most vital part of helping someone make the decision to leave an abusive partner. Trusting the survivor and not trying to help fix that situation can be frustrating, but trauma bonds are very hard to break. This cycle has been the driving force of their entire relationship. Explosive arguments end with love bombing, reaffirming the bond, and promises for the future of that relationship, and survivors want to believe what they are being told.

So how do we ever hope to help someone come to the realization that they need to leave an abusive relationship? It takes time. It starts with compassionate listening. When a survivor gets the courage to tell someone what has been going on in their private relationship, it is imperative that you just listen. Do not offer advice and do not speak bad of the abuser. Even though we just want to make a plan and get that survivor out, remember it has to be the survivor’s choice. As a domestic violence advocate it can be extremely hard to remind myself at times that this is not a witch hunt. We have to accept that this is happening to the survivor by someone that they still very much love, and they may not be ready to leave.

When a survivor makes the decision that they cannot continue in their abusive relationship, ask them how you can support this decision. Again, we cannot tell them what to do, but we can offer information on ways for them to get out and stay out of the relationship permanently. This is where safety planning and emotional planning become crucial steps of fleeing abuse. Just as someone who grieves a death, the survivor has to grieve the loss of this relationship that they have poured every ounce of their energy into fixing. Giving up the hope that their partner can change is a slow and painful process. Accepting that they can survive without that person’s love takes time and compassion.

Give the survivor the chance to talk about how much they miss this person without judgement. Gently remind them that you are willing to listen and just hold space with them. Encourage them to not romanticize the past but to talk about the entire relationship and not just the times that they considered were good. Focus on the reasons they give for not being in that relationship. Ensure that the survivor has a support system of other people who will be willing to do the same when the survivor is feeling lonely or sad. The survivor needs support so they do not contact their abuser and go back into a potentially dangerous situation.

If you or someone you know is experience intimate partner violence, Crisis Services of North Alabama can help. We provide free, confidential support to intimate partner violence survivors. You can reach us locally at 256.574.5826 or at our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.

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