Why did you stay?
He wouldn’t do those things if he didn’t really love you.
I’m sure you’re exaggerating.
What did you do to make him do that?
Those are just some of the things that were said to me after I left my husband. Some believed his stalking was proof of his love for me. Some believed that it was a matter of two sides to the story and they were only hearing mine. Some believed that something I did caused him to push me against a wall, hold his arm against my throat until I could not longer breath and hiss that he would kill me.
People that love an abuser, and I don’t mean the victim, I mean the friends and family of the abuser, they don’t see the other side of him. They see the fun guy, the charismatic guy. They see the guy that always helps hang sheetrock or give a ride to the airport. They see the guy that offers help with that fence that fell down. They see the good side of him. Everyone has a good side. Even abusers.
In fact, there are abusers who have a side so good, so fun, that most people would never believe he is an abuser. That was my ex. He was the life of the party, the guy who was always there when you needed him. He was also the guy terrorizing his wife if you made her laugh too loud or look at you too long.
That is another one of the parts of abuse that make it so difficult for victims. It’s hard for most people to reconcile the perceptions of an abuser with the person who is always willing to lend a hand. It’s hard for any mother to look at her son and think of him as a man who would threaten his wife with bodily harm. What sister could look at her brother and think he would batter his wife?
There are different relationships built on love and on denial. Maybe they see things. Maybe the jealousy rears its ugly head from time to time. Maybe the control shows a bit as it worsens. But usually it’s laughed off. That’s when you hear, “He must really love you to be jealous like that.”
When I left my husband, he threatened to kill me. More than once. He tapped my phones sure that he was going to find the proof he needed. Needed for what? He never could understand that there was no other person involved in my decision to leave him. There was nothing for him to find and why did it never occur to him that if he did find something that it should be proof of how broken the relationship was and not some bargaining chip to force me back?
That’s the part that most don’t understand. Leaving an abuser isn’t easy and it isn’t always safe. How do you reason with a person who believes if they could only catch you they could keep you?
So why does she stay? For a lot of reasons that may not make sense to you. And no. The fact that he followed me everywhere was not proof of his love for me. It was some scary stuff and nobody should have to live like that. We should be free to leave a relationship for any reason. And we don’t owe those reasons or explanations to anyone.
Peggy is a mom and student at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. Peggy hopes to change the perceptions about what a victim looks like as well as raise awareness about domestic violence. Peggy believes it is possible to break the cycle.