Two reasons why you find it difficult to leave an abusive Marriage
Last time on the blog we looked at co-dependency – a toxic relationship pattern in which one partner’s needs are completely neglected in favour of the other. We can often be in these patterns without realising it.
This time we’re looking at two reasons why you find it difficult to leave an abusive marriage: trauma bonding and gas-lighting. The dangerous thing about these behaviours is how hard they are to spot when you’re in the middle of them. Which makes it so important to gain awareness and build a trusted support network of friends and professionals around you.
Let’s take each of them in turn.
When we think of bonding, it is usually a positive process – people become attached to each other because of shared experiences and feelings. With trauma bonding, the reason for the bond comes from difficult or abusive experiences, such as verbal or physical violence, neglect or shaming behaviours.
But why stay? Often abusers (your husband) are inconsistent in their actions – as well as being abusive they shower you with love and affection and promise that they will change. At the beginning of the relationship or after you have begun to pull away, they will ‘love bomb’ you, telling you that you are the one person who can help them. They will appear to be vulnerable, sharing their stories of an unhappy or abusive childhood so you feel pity for them and forgive.
Once you are hooked, they may socially isolate you, so their behaviour becomes normalised with no-one outside the bubble to sense-check it. You build your world around him as a rescuer and it feels good – you and him against the world – perfect soul mates.
When you’re hooked, you become more dependent on your husband for his attention and support. You want to get closer despite the poor treatment. This in turn lowers your self-esteem and increases your social isolation further, so they are increasingly trapped.
Signs you are in a trauma bond include:
- Your soon-to-be-ex-husband behaves badly but promises to change his ways
- You keep trying to please or appease him but get nothing in return
- You feel addicted to him and pour emotional energy into wanting them to change
- Trusting your emotions is difficult and you may doubt your capability to live independently
Gas-lighting is a way for your soon-to-be-ex-husband to exercise power and make you doubt your own sanity. It usually has a ‘drip, drip, drip’ effect over time, so you gradually find yourself isolated and undermined. Gas-lighting is not the same as having a different opinion to someone else. Differences of opinion are natural and happen in any healthy or unhealthy relationship – they make life interesting! I’m talking here about a systematic technique to breakdown someone’s self-belief and stability, so you are confused and disoriented.
So, how do you know if gas-lighting is happening?
- Your soon-to-be-ex-husband contradicts you, even when you have evidence to support your point
- He tells blatant lies
- Your soon-to-be-ex-husband says something, then denies he’s said it
- He says and does different things
- He projects – accusing you of lying when he is doing it himself
- You notice your soon-to-be-ex-husband trying to turn others against you – by lying, undermining you or telling people you have lied.
Accepting that you’re in this situation
Accepting that you’re in this situation is the first step to changing the pattern. Think back. Right back to the beginning of your relationship. How did it feel. Were you swept off your feet? Was it a whirlwind romance? How long did that last? When did you first see his ‘other side’? How did he justify it and how did that make you feel? If this is a light bulb moment for you, don’t panic. Know that you’re not alone. There are literally thousands of women just like you, the world over.
What can you do if this has happened to you?
Be kind to yourself
This hasn’t happened because you are weak or stupid. It’s because someone manipulative has sought an opportunity to gain power over you. Don’t beat yourself up, instead congratulate yourself on your new awareness. Show yourself small acts of kindness every day, don’t rely on your abuser to look after you. This is a huge step towards freeing yourself.
Chances are your soon-to-be-ex-husband has done everything he can to isolate you from friends and family. Reach out and bring loved ones back in your life. Also seek specialist support from therapists, counsellors or coaches to help you navigate your situation and re-build your relationship with yourself. I have linked to the Women’s Aid website at the end of this article.
Stick to your truth
You’re never going to convince an abuser that they are wrong, and worse, that they are being abusive. It’s just not going to happen. But you can take back control for yourself. Gas-lighting and trauma bonding works because you have given someone else power over you. You might not be in a position to confront or challenge on your own, but you can remind yourself that you know the facts and you’re not crazy. Start building trust in yourself again.
These are just two reasons why you find it difficult to leave an abusive marriage – there are of course many more If you are in an abusive relationship, confidential help is available via Women’s Aid.
I am developing specialist support for women leaving high conflict spouses, which will be available in 2019. I am the only Divorce Coach trained in high conflict relationships in the UK. Contact me to be the first to hear about it.
The Divorce Alchemist
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a practising family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com