When I worked as a prosecutor handling domestic violence cases, I was often asked the same question: “Why does she stay with him?” The answers are as simple as they are complex. Imagine being hit or verbally assaulted on a first date. If that were the case, there would be no second date and the phenomenon of “domestic violence,” which in its broadest terms “the physical and/or emotional abuse perpetrated by one intimate partner against another,” would not exist. But domestic violence is much more sinuous, and it is something that develops and happens overtime. It creeps in as relationships take root. When things are exciting and chemistry between two is abundant, “mistakes” and “character flaws” are discounted and red flags overlooked. It is easy to dismiss the new controlling behavior that has crept in, the jealous quips, the put-downs that are happening with greater frequency when there are so many good things in this relationship. The pros far outweigh the cons.

As time passes and bonds deepen, cracks slowly begin to surface but they are dismissed and ignored, especially if you grew up in a home without healthy role models or where abuse was part of the landscape. You don’t realize it or maybe you do but your partner subtly begins to exercise power and control over you. Maybe it is something like “I love you so much. You don’t need to spend time with your friends. I will miss you. I need you. Don’t go.” And so, you don’t go. Or you start going less. It isn’t worth the hassle and fight that will ensue. This becomes the pattern and without realizing it, the growing isolation and undermining has taken hold on your relationship. The dependency has increased. You believe the words and actions of one who loves you so much. Surely your partner has your best interests at heart. You are loved and needed. Your friends notice you are a shell of your old self. You do not want to hear it from them. More shame. More disappointment. It is easier to withdraw.

With this slow drowning isolation and exertion of controlling behavior comes a new layer of emotional abuse. The insults. The demeaning comments. The blame. The arguments must be your fault. You were the one who was late, who forgot to get something at the store, who flirted a little too much at the party with someone else. Or did you? “I thought I was just being friendly but now I see I was acting suggestively. I must have done something to provoke this, or he wouldn’t be so angry. I deserve this. It is my fault. I am scared.” The self-doubt and dependency grow stronger as you grow emotionally weaker. The juxtaposition is set.

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