Seven Times and I'm Out: Why Women Stay in Violent Relationships Too Long

by C. Imani Williams

Both straight and queer couples face cycles of abuse that are difficult to end without intervention and a partner's preparation to leave for good. Seven is the average number of times it takes for a woman to leave and finally stay away from an abusive partner. Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson’s domestic violence charge, which led to a seven game suspension for both, is an example of this. After their altercation, they still married three weeks later. When Johnson announced her pregnancy a couple weeks ago, Griner followed suit the next day by filing for an annulment. The announcements have left both supporters and critics asking, “What just happened?”

People assume incorrectly that feminine women cannot be the aggressor in domestic violence situations. In the case of Griner and Johnson, both women showed signs of fighting and were arrested. Griner and Johnson are both 24 years old and do what young people do, which includes making mistakes. Pregnancies happen and people’s values sometimes evolve without communication regarding that change. All of these factors can make it hard to know who or what we're actually dealing with. What is most troubling in this situation is the domestic violence.

There are black women elders who swear they would have killed their partner before allowing him to abuse her, or her children. There are women who experience abuse once and decide on the spot to end things. There are also women from families with histories of cyclical abuse that have become normalized over time. With all of these situations, there are various reasons why people stay. And the reasons why we get involved in these relationships in the first place are just as important.

Six Reasons Women (of all sexual orientations) Get in and Remain in Unhealthy Relationships

1. Negative Self-Image

When we don't believe in our self-worth we tend not to set, or care much, for boundaries. It is easy to become reckless when we're lonely and someone pays us extra attention. Taking time to know who we are and what we want from life, helps promote a healthy self-image. Reintroduce yourself to the goodness inside of you because it’s there.

2. Ignoring Red Flags

When we are in a seemingly good space it is easy to ignore red-flags and signs. The more passes we allow, the more comfortable others become in directing abuse toward us. Some questions you can ask yourself when it comes evaluating the signs include the following. Do they treat their friends well? What about their siblings and other family members? Do they go out of their to belittle wait staff? Are they pushy about sex? When questionable incidents take place, we have to be proactive in acknowledging if we don’t like it.

3. Trusting Too Early

Batterers of all genders look for vulnerabilities and will use previously shared information as part of the power-control cycle that plays out in domestic violence. Be mindful of sharing too much personal information early on.

4. Becoming Intimately Involved Too Soon

Intimacy is tied to trust. Becoming intimate without the benefit of knowing who we're actually dealing with is risky. Spending time with a person, seeing how they interact not only with you, but with others lends insight into how they handle things emotionally. Maintaining mental, physical, and emotional health means doing some screening and not leaving it all up to fate. We have choices.

5. Financial Security

Women may be financially dependent on an abuser and unaware of where or how to seek help. Financial fears over where and how we will live is real for women experiencing intimate-partner abuse. Domestic violence shelters not only provide short-term emergency shelter, they also connect women with employment resources. Gathering the courage to leave an abusive partner is the hardest step, just know that help is available.

6. Shunning Counseling

Domestic violence counseling differs from general counseling in that, it specifically addresses the cycles and patterns of abuse. Group counseling sessions provide a space to hear about the experiences of other women so that you don't feel like you’re the only one. Individual counseling allows women to dig deeper on a one-to-one level with a therapist. Both are helpful and can be done simultaneously. Deciding not to seek counseling can keep a woman in unhealthy situations longer than necessary. With counseling, Griner decided that working on self and filing for an annulment were smarter than staying in a volatile situation. She's doing the work and that is a great start to changing behaviors.

Why We Don't Get Involved and How We Can Help Sisters Experiencing Domestic Violence 

We often fear reprisal from the abuser and other black women caution against getting involved in other folks’ business. Black women who blow the whistle on black men are seen as meddlers. However, ignoring abuse won’t protect the people experiencing domestic violence. We can help sisters in abusive situations by listening, being trustworthy, and connecting them to resources.

If you or someone you care about is in need of assistance due to intimate-partner violence the National U. S. Domestic Violence Hotline is confidential and anonymous. 1-800-779-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224. The Sasha Center offers support to black queer and straight women dealing with intimate partner abuse and sexual assault.

Photo: Shutterstock

C. Imani Williams, is a freelance writer and human justice activist. She holds an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and a Masters in Guidance and Counseling from Eastern Michigan University. Her work has been published in Between the Lines, Tucson Weekly, The Michigan Citizen, Harlem Times, and with various popular culture, health, news blogs and magazines. She is a regular contributor with For Harriet.

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