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  • Iwette Rapoport

Why is it hard to leave an abusive relationship?

Updated: Apr 15

Violence in intimate relationships: Understanding and Breaking the Silence

Violence in close relationships is a widespread and pervasive issue in society. Despite being frequently reported in the news and discussed among friends and acquaintances, it remains one of the most underreported issues in our community. A common question is why people stay in destructive relationships. Despite increased brutality and oppression, why do individuals continue to endure these relationships?

Why is it hard to leave an abusive relationship?

My partner is subjecting me to domestic violence - how do I leave?

Violence in Close Relationships and the Process of Normalization

I use the analogy of placing a frog in boiling water to explain how it is possible. If the frog is placed directly in boiling water, it immediately jumps out. However, if it is placed in cold water gradually heated, it stays until it dies. Similarly, violence is introduced gradually, increasing in intensity and frequency over time, combined with a traumatic bond between the parties, making it very difficult for our brains to leave these relationships. The traumatic bond involves violence alternating with warmth.

To help answer this question, Change Collective has identified three overarching phases in abusive relationships. The first phase is the infatuation and control phase, the second is the adaptation phase, and the third is when everything is black and white.

It is crucial to understand that the victim bears no responsibility for the violence, and it is the perpetrator who carries all the blame. It is also important to comprehend that violence is never acceptable, and help is available.

The Three Phases of Normalization

In the first phase, the victim is subjected to "positive criticism" and receives a lot of attention through phone calls, text messages, or being picked up from various activities. Much of this attention can be perceived as "cute jealousy," love, or care. However, soon "positive criticism" turns into criticism of behavior, clothing style, or other restrictions, such as not allowing the victim to meet friends, it turns out to mental abuse. At the end of this phase, the first push or other forms of violence, such as sexual violence, may occur.

In the second phase, all forms of violence intensify and become more frequent, involving multiple forms of violence. If this had happened early in the relationship, most people would leave, but now the way out is hard to see. The victim has been broken down and, in some cases, finds it difficult to see how they could survive without the relationship. Generally, the perpetrator externalizes violence, meaning all violence is placed outside the perpetrator, and if the victim had been better, smarter, or in some other way more advanced, the violence would not have occurred. At the same time, the victim internalizes the violence, usually by thinking that if only they had been better, the violence would not have occurred. This is because the victim cannot live up to what is required in a relationship. The victim behaves wrong or dresses wrong, and if they had been more enjoyable to be with or had not talked so much, the latest outburst would not have occurred. The victim usually also believes they can control the violence at this stage, if and when it happens. It happens unconsciously or consciously. The control they believe they have is a reason to stay in the relationship. We say there is no control; the violence has gone too far, and too many boundaries have been crossed for the violence not to increase in intensity and frequency at this point.

In the third and final phase, all violence is severe, and the victim does everything to survive and keep the secret within the four walls. If there are children involved, they also do what they can to keep the secret hidden from school and other activities. Everyone is normalized into violence.

It is important to understand that the victim bears no responsibility for the violence, and it is the perpetrator who carries all the blame. It is also important to comprehend that violence is never acceptable, and help is available.

Working Towards a Vision of Zero domestic abuse

What can be done? It is a complex question with no simple answer. But a first step is to break the silence. We need to talk about this, raise awareness, and put the issue on the agenda. This is not a private matter but a societal issue. We also need to strengthen the legal protection for those at risk and ensure they get the help they need.

However, we cannot rely solely on laws and regulations to solve the problem. We also need to change norms and values in society. It's about questioning destructive patterns and instead encouraging respectful and equal relationships. It's also about providing young people with tools to handle conflicts positively and learning what a healthy relationship actually entails. And we must work towards taking away the stigma from them that live in or have lived in such relationships.

This is a challenge that requires efforts from the entire society. But we cannot be overwhelmed by the extent of the problem. We can all contribute in our own way, by standing up for those who are vulnerable, by educating ourselves and others, and by taking responsibility to create a safer and more equal world.

We can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that violence in close relationships is one of the greatest societal challenges we face today. But we can also see this as an opportunity to create change, to learn from those who have survived, and to work together to build a better future for all.

Let us break the silence and fight together against violence in close relationships. Because it is only when we dare to talk about it and take action that we can create real change!

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