Why Do Women Stay?

If you have not been in an abusive relationship, you might wonder, “Why do women stay with abusive men?” Ten years ago abuse against women was not even on my radar. It was not something discussed or ever mentioned in my social circles. Now, I know not only does it exist, but it is a far greater problem than many people recognize.

The recent focus on women coming forward after being sexually harassed, especially in the workplace is so very important and long overdue.  Awareness of human trafficking is leading to an understanding that mistreatment of women can be more evil than many of us ever imagined. Of course these issues need addressing.  My concern is for some reason relationship abuse and domestic violence have been placed on the back burner.  I don’t understand this. Has society slumped back into thinking that women abused by their partners chose their situation and if they don’t like it they can leave?

I have heard, “Why didn’t you leave before?” and “He’s changed, so why won’t you go back?” and “Why can’t you forgive him?” Before I recognized that I was a victim of abuse, I would have asked the same questions. If you have not walked in our shoes; then you won’t really understand the effect of constantly being with a negative, critical and controlling person. The short answer:  A woman might not even realize that her partner is abusive, particularly if the abuse is mental and emotional rather than physical.

Everyone’s personality is a combination of positive and less favourable characteristics. When we fall in love we tend to see only the positive behaviours. I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying:  Love is blind. When we first meet people and enter into a dating situation, most of us put our best foot forward to try to make a good impression. So, during the first days, weeks and even months of a new relationship, we’re actually seeing the façade the other person wants us to see. (It sounds very contrived, but in fact many of us are not even aware we are doing this.) By the time some negative characteristics surface, often we’re already ‘sold’ on the person. We are, therefore, no longer objective. We consider the pros and cons. If we’ve already vested a lot in the relationship and decide the pros outweigh the cons; we continue the relationship. From that point on it’s human nature to see mostly the positive characteristics. Why? Because we’ve made the decision and we like to be right; we’re going to consciously, or unconsciously, seek and ‘collect evidence’ to prove ourselves right. In other words, once we make a decision, our brains look for patterns – ones that support that decision.

In some cases, abuse sneaks in and we don’t really acknowledge or even notice it at first. Then, at the first signs we make excuses. “Oh, he’s having a bad day” or “He’s under a lot of stress” or “He’s had too much to drink”. In my case, it was “He’s mentally ill, so it’s not his fault”. We convince ourselves it’s a minor issue compared to all of the wonderful qualities of the man we chose (remember, we want to prove ourselves right).

We also put bad behaviour into the category of ‘give and take’ in a relationship. We tend to see ourselves as putting up with the bad things on a scale of ‘pros and cons’. We think if the pros outweigh the cons, then the balance is good.

Last, but not least, we think we can ‘fix’ it. That’s what I thought. I believed that if I continued to accompany my ex-husband to his psychiatrist, if I made sure his environment was stress-free, if I made sure he had lots of exposure to his family, if I paid attention to him and fed into his ego; then surely he would get better. None of that worked. 

The answer, in my case (and I suspect I’m not alone in this), is that these pernicious behaviours crept into our relationship slowly – slowly because I was vested in my husband’s positive characteristics. He had many good qualities. He was outgoing, charismatic, intelligent, the life of the party, and was a wonderful family man. I loved his children and was so deeply entangled into the family, by the time I started to notice the negative characteristics in his personality I had decided overall the positive parts of his personality and the circumstances outweighed the negative. His negative characteristics were noticed and forgiven by the rest of his family. Sometimes, they even joked about them. When he didn’t display the negatives ones for a while, I believed he was changing or returning to the man I had loved. I was wrong. By the time the negative behaviours were more prevalent, 15 years into our relationship, I felt trapped.

The biggest regret I have is that for years I modelled ineffective weak behaviour to my granddaughters. I wanted them to look at me as a role model of a strong, independent woman. Instead, as children, they saw Nana succumb to their grandfather’s negative critical behaviour.  At least as teenagers, and now young adults, they have witnessed their grandmother draw the line, leave the abusive relationship and fight for what is right.

If you are an abused woman, please reach out and ask for help. At best, leave your abuser. At minimum put a safety plan in place. Stay safe.

On Being Positive

I believe there are naturally positive people and naturally negative people. I have been told by others that I am a positive person. I have no formal education regarding ‘how to be positive’ – merely my personal observations in life. My first real teacher on how to be more positive was my friend Katherine. Many years ago when her son was a toddler, she observed how he would get easily frustrated when something he was trying to figure out didn’t work. I’m sure you’ve all witnessed small children throw some inanimate toy and say, “Stupid _______”. She would instantly pick up the toy and say, “Darling, the toy isn’t stupid. Here, let’s try this again.”  It was through observing Katherine with her son that I started to frame my awareness of how we all have negative and positive thoughts about daily activities; and it’s how we approach those activities that will shape our attitude, our beliefs and our ultimate success.

Many of us, by nature, think of the negative first. That’s okay, if we’re aware of it. In fact, negative thinking can keep us out of trouble.  In a stressful situation, it’s very likely the first thoughts will be either negative or emotional. Those are ‘self protection’ thoughts and they are not bad thoughts. If, however, one is stuck in those thoughts; the results are unlikely to be positive.  If we’re aware of it, then we can consciously turn it off and think about the situation positively. We’ve all lain in bed at night reliving some mishap of the day. The secret is to recognize that you’ve got this never-ending Ferris wheel happening in your thoughts and to mentally tell yourself to stop.

If you cannot think positively about that particular situation then try thinking of something else….and keep doing it. For some people saying prayers helps – saying thanks for the positive things that happened in your day and perhaps asking for some guidance with unresolved issues. My friend Elizabeth, a staunch atheist, would say that if you fall asleep thinking about all of the aspects (both positive and negative) of a problem, you will wake up in the morning with potential solutions. She believed that your brain worked through the problem as you slept.

In my years working as a consultant, our focus was on positive and negative language that affects the reaction of the listener. This is relevant with everyone. If you think negatively, you will likely speak negatively. If you speak negatively, you will likely get a negative reaction. Let me give you a simple example. As consultants, we listened to hundreds of telephone calls. We found that many company reps were saying, “You have to mail us the form.” Often, the reaction was negative. “Why should I have to do that?”, or “How long will it take?” or “Why can’t you just issue the cheque?” We suggested to this particular company that they’d have less resistance if they said, “If you mail us the form, we can issue the cheque right away.” Bingo. The resistance was minimal. People didn’t “have to” do anything and they understood the benefit immediately.

We may or may not have control over what happens to us. We do, however, have control over how we react.  Only you have the power create happiness. Maybe that happiness will come from changing your own situation. Maybe it will come from helping others change theirs. Likely you won’t be able to master your personal challenge on your own. Over the last five years, I have had the good fortune of many positive friends and professionals who made my journey easier. I have surrounded myself with positive people. I continue to surround myself with positive people. Build your own support network of positive people.  Whatever your journey is, know that you can be strong and that there are others out there who will help you.

Father’s Day

I was lucky enough to have a wonderful father. As a child I remember sitting on his lap and feeling happy and safe. As a teen I remember him challenging me to be the best I could be. As an adult I remember his praise of my accomplishments. He believed in me. He was the first man I knew that truly respected women, particularly those with whom he worked.

I wish he was still alive. If he was, I would be in close contact with him and most certainly would call him or be with him on Father’s Day to let him know that I loved him unconditionally.

I have known many fathers in my life – some where great, others not so good. They all, however, did the best they could. I do know that there are many fathers out there who will be sitting by the phone tomorrow hoping their son or daughter will be calling.

Do the right thing. Call him!

Hindsight/Guidelight

Welcome. What does the title mean? Hindsight because at my age one begins to reflect upon the events and experiences of one’s life, celebrate the successes and wonder what one could have done differently. Guidelight represents the concept that perhaps someone else might find hope, direction, or mere solace in my sharing some of those experiences.

I support many causes: animal rights, woman’s rights, saving our oceans and forests, preventing senior abuse, and more. I won’t be writing about those here. What I will be writing about is relationships – those we have with our parents, children, friends and ourselves.

I am a domestic abuse and violence survivor. I have written an unpublished manuscript that started as a journal 6 years ago. In my upcoming blog, there will be posts about those events and the journey I took to get away from my abuser. Some of the detail might be a little dark, but I will endeavour to keep it focused on the positive with insight and encouragement. If I can help one woman recognize that she’s in an abusive relationship, set her on a new path, or provide her guidance in making good decisions, then my mission will be accomplished.

However, being a survivor neither defines who I am nor limits the ideas I have to share with others. I plan on writing about many topics that will likely interest women of all backgrounds and ages.

Professionally I have been a salesperson, manager, life skills coach, teacher, curriculum writer and realtor. I have also served on the Board of Directors of the London Abused Women’s Centre. Personally I have a wife, step-mother, and full-time caregiver. I’ve had many opportunities, some successes, and a few failures. Eventually, I will write about most of them.

I welcome your positive input. Be safe.