Why women don't leaveWhen the Rice scandal hit, everyone’s first response was outrage. Then they went right where they always go when domestic violence comes up: Why doesn’t she leave?

Why Don’t Women Leave?

I find it fascinating that nobody asks the more obvious question: “Why do men beat their wives/girlfriends?” Why doesn’t this topic make headlines? Instead, it’s all about the chick and “what’s wrong with her …” Hmmm.

In my new book, Stop Giving It Away, I write about unequal partnerships and unhealthy beliefs. Now, I don’t know why Janay stayed with Ray, but I know what I’ve seen during my 20-plus years of social work and counseling.

Unhealthy Beliefs

1) Love is about sacrifice and giving, no matter what.
2) If I stick with this, I can “fix” it.
3) If I ignore our problems, there won’t be any problems.
4) I need to adjust to how things are. I need to change to make things better.
5) It’s my fault.
6) I have nowhere to go. I’m afraid to leave. Who will help me?
7) I have to go along with this, but it will get better and things will eventually be okay.

A lot of what we decide to do as individuals has to do with what we understand our role to be. We unconsciously accept messages that tell us what to do and not to do in life—messages like “you’re less valuable if you’re not in a relationship,” and “it’s a woman’s job to be a caregiver”—and it naturally sets us up for unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship beliefs. Yes, these messages are still present despite how evolved we are. Over time the messages morph into unhealthy beliefs that can keep us from getting out of bad situations.

I’m not saying you should abandon your loved one if they fall ill or get seriously injured. It’s just that whatever you do for your partner needs to come from a healthy place.

If I gladly take care of my husband after a car accident, it should be because I love him. If I make sacrifices for my partner from an unhealthy place—out of a feeling of powerlessness, not love, like in the unhealthy beliefs above—then my giving takes on a very different meaning and it will have a detrimental effect. This is the Give Away Girl dilemma.

Making Meaningful Connections

I love it when this happens. I met Sara a while back at baseball practice. First we talked kid stuff and then the conversation went deeper.

Sara is middle-aged cutie who is fun and so nice with a boisterous laugh. Her daughter plays baseball with my son, and you can hear in her voice the nurturing and love she has for her daughter. She also has three other kids – impressive.

One day Sara told me she was having problems at home. Her husband had some serious substance abuse issues, and things were spiraling pretty badly. I suggested she go to AlAnon for some support and direction.

The next time I saw Sara, she said she had gone to AlAnon and that she had left her husband. She alluded that something really bad and dangerous had happened and for her family’s physical safety, she had no choice but to get the heck out of there with her four children.

What Did Sara Do?

She left despite having few financial resources and little help. Because she left, she  had to drive 2 hours each way every day to the suburbs to stay with her mom (who was less than thrilled to have her there in her tiny house). Then, Sara had to get her kids to school, get to work, then back again. Her and her kids wouldn’t get home until 9pm at night and then they had homework to do. When she finally scrimped enough together to get an apartment, they slept on air mattresses until enough could be saved to buy everyday items! All this while maintaining her job and the kids schooling. Wow. What an incredible woman. How hard that must be for her and for the kids.

Sara is still in the midst of the transition. And Sara is lucky that she isn’t being stalked or threatened during this process. (Yes. I said “lucky”.) In domestic violence cases, the most dangerous time is when a woman leaves. In addition, stalking, threats, verbal abuse and the “I am so sorry” emotional manipulation is the status quo during these separations. The added pressure does just that- it adds pressure. Then, the cohersion, threats, financial impoverishment, time exhaustion and understandable depression helps lead a woman naturally down the road of “Let’s try again.” I get it. White flag!

Got It Girl, Takeaway:

Sara was able to find the strength to not acquiesce. And I am in awe. Interestingly, she said she did go to an Al-Anon 12 step meeting a week before she decided to leave. Sara told me that she believes that the strength of the group was a powerful aid in her making the decision to leave. She said she didn’t know how that happened but it just did. Groups are like that. They hold incredible power to help and heal, even if a participant doesn’t verbalize a thing.

In addition to this, Sara contacted a counselor for added help. Getting assistance from a counselor or from a trusted, reliable source trained to help in matters of addiction and abuse is wise. In addition, Sara sought safety. She did not stay. Sara had three things a lot of women do not have that can set them free from bad situations: tools (in this case AlAnon), a job, and she found the strength within her self. Not leaving isn’t a sign of weakness, but it is an indication that something is indeed missing. It could be confidence, a support network, a safe place to go with the kids, even a car to get there. The good news is that there are experts out there who can help.

National Domestic Violence Hotline
Staffed 24 hours a day by trained counselors who can provide crisis assistance and information about shelters, legal advocacy, health care centers, and counseling.

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
1-800-787-3224 (TDD)

Take care,


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