The domestic violence case of Ray Rice and his wife Janay is the latest case of domestic violence publicized in the news. This is a reminder of the question that is often posed to Marriage Therapists such as myself which is: Why do women stay in abusive relationships? Also, why do women not press abuse charges? Certainly there are women who do not remain in abusive relationships and/or do press charges. Just as there are men who are physically abused by their mate. The focus of this blog is to answer the question of: Why do women stand by their man and do not press charges? I have listed below the 14 main reasons from my lens as a Psychotherapist/Marriage and Family Therapist in my understanding of working with couples for the past 20+ years who are in these case scenarios. Perhaps this will shed light on this most recent case in the news, for those of whom are trying to make sense of it. Do note: not all of whom have experienced domestic violence experience all 14. This list is a compilation of the top 14. Some experience several of the 14, some all, some many. Each person’s quantity is their own experience.
The Top 14 Reasons Why Women Don’t Press Abuse Charges And Remain In An Abusive Relationship
- Embarrassment- The feeling of embarrassment is so strong, that there are women who wish to cover up the reality of the violence. It is these women who feel if they don’t press charges, if they stand by their man, stay with their man, then there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Rather, they are showing that they are strong because they are courageous to stand by their man. In essence, they are protecting themselves emotionally from their own feelings of embarrassment. Thus, if they admit how horrific they are feeling about the abuse, and stand up against domestic violence by pressing charges and/or leaving, then they are admitting the reality of their circumstance, which is embarrassing. Therefore they protect themselves from this embarrassment.
- Fear Of The Unknown- The statements made by women who remain in abusive relationships, and the reason why they do not press charges is because they wonder: “What will my life look like if I am no longer with this person?” “I cannot imagine what my life would be like without this person”, is the statement often shared. Thus, these women do not press charges, for to press charges they are afraid will propel them into a situation where their mate no longer wishes to remain with them, and these women are not ready to end the relationship. Since they are so fearful of what life will be like without their mate. Another common fear regarding the unknown is the fear of how their mate will respond if they press charges, and/or if they state they are going to leave the relationship. For an example, often women will share that they are afraid their mate will behave even worse than they already are, such as by talking poorly about them to their children. Or, finding a way to make it such that custody of the children will not be shared and that they will not be able to see their children.
- Dependency/Feeling Weak- There are women who feel emotionally dependent and/or financially dependent and thus willing to cope with physical violence because they feel stuck. They wish there was not violence, but they feel stuck with it due to feeling small and dependent. They feel if they leave the relationship, and/or if they press charges, they will no longer have what they need from their husband. And they do not feel they are capable of attaining the same financial security without their mate. And/or do not feel another man will love them the same way this man does, thus they are emotionally dependent on this man. This feeling of weakness, a lack of self confidence and self-worth keeps them feeling dependent.
- Love– The belief in unconditional love. Believing that loving the person means you love them and thus in turn remain with them even though they have done something wrong, is what keeps some women to stand by their man and not press charges. It is the belief that one’s husband’s behavior is bad, but that behavior does not define who he is. In essence, the thinking is: “I love who he is, so he just needs to improve upon his behavior. I don’t want to miss out on his love. If I press charges he will be angry at me and thus I will no longer have his love.” There are many women who can love their husband while hating their actions – yes, at the same time. These 2 emotions, thoughts and feelings can co-exist (see #9 compartmentalization).
- Protection/Obligation- The desire to protect their husband and feelings of obligation to protect them from the consequences and ramifications of his behavior. The thinking is: “If I press charges it will be a problem for him in his work and how others view him (e.g., colleagues, family, friends). Thus, I must protect him from others viewing him in a negative way.” For example, the concern might be that his job may become in jeopardy if she presses charges or doesn’t stand by him. Another example is feeling that she must protect him from being scorned and/or embarrassed publicly. Obligation can stem from feeling like she owes him because of what he has given to her, done for her. Obligation can stem from one’s own philosophy of what marriage is (see #7 marital philosophy).
- Self Blame- Feelings that they themselves have played a role in why their husband was abusive. Believing that they triggered their husband’s behavior. Statements such as: “If I just didn’t say _____ or do ______” he never would have gotten so mad. I should have known better.” In some couples, there is a cycle of physical violent interaction between the couple that exists. For example, the woman may physically get close in her mate’s face, or points her finger at and on his chest, or perhaps even hits him. Thus, she blames herself in terms of the role that she plays in the physicality of the interaction.
- Marital Philosophy- Philosophical belief in standing by one’s spouse no matter what. “In sickness and in health” mentality. Thus, to press charges the women feels would be an example of betrayal of the marriage. To leave would be going against one’s marital philosophy.
- Rationalization – Rationalizing what he did by making sense of his behavior (e.g., he has an illness, he was overwhelmed, his childhood affected his coping methods into adulthood, he has reactive tendencies). Women who rationalize their mate’s violence make sense of the behavior and therefore feel it would be unreasonable to press charges. Just as it would then not make sense to leave the marriage.
- Compartmentalization – Compartmentalizing/separating out the view of one’s spouse versus the other part of who he is (i.e., his hurtful actions). The thinking of women in this mind set is: “The good part of this man is the man I knew and know him to be versus, this ‘other man’. This ‘other man’ is not the man I know nor the man he really is.” Therefore, the wife puts the ugly view of him in a box, and rather keeps the view she wishes to view of him in her conscious mind as the focus of who he really is and thus can and will be.
- Vision Of What Was And What Will Be- The man she believes he was, remembers him to be and the man she believes he can and will be is a major drive for remaining in the marriage. This is all about her vision of the life she thought she had and was building toward having and thus is hopeful and believes she will have (e.g., ambitions of being married to a man of power, visions of being a 2-parent household . . .). Thus, the woman’s concern would be that if she were to press charges, she is ruining her vision of what she believed to be and wishes to be. Therefore, if she doesn’t press charges, and remains in the relationship, they can overcome the violence and still continue on the path of what she envisioned would be.
- Energy Already Put In- A woman who has put in so much emotional energy and time into the relationship so far feels overwhelmed to think that was a waste of her time. She wishes to prove to herself and to all those around her that she is right, that she is not a fool to have stayed with him. It is that woman who recognizes the utter embarrassment she would feel to confront herself that she was oh so wrong, and to confront others that she misjudged him and thus misjudged the reality of what was, is, and will be. Also, for some women as they look at their age and/or how many years already put into this relationship, it is devastating to them, and an overwhelming proposition to consider throwing in the towel on the relationship and starting over with someone else. Thus, her drive is to fight for the relationship to both prove to herself that all this energy (e.g., years) she put in is worth it and that she was right, and perhaps prove to others (e.g., family, friends). Thus, she does not have to start over.
- Child- A woman with a child (children) has a vision of what she wants for her child (e.g., stable family life with married parents). It is important to the mother what she is teaching her child through this marital challenge and has thought about it deeply and determined staying is better than leaving in terms of the message her child receives. Likely the type of thoughts this woman holds includes: “I want to teach my child that challenges are to be worked on and overcome- not to give up when the going gets tough. Fight for what you want.” Thus, her thoughts are not to leave the marriage when confronted with pain, and rather work hard to rise to a better place as a couple unit to teach her child the “no pain no gain” philosophy. Also, to press charges the woman feels would hurt the child-father relationship, for she does not wish her child to view their father through a negative lens.
- Denial- The denial of the reality that the violence is more than likely to occur again exists for some women who decide not to press charges and remain in the relationship.
- Male Philosophy- A woman’s philosophical belief about men and their behaviors, impacts the choices women will make when faced with marital challenges. There are many women, accomplished women who are not dependent on their mate emotionally nor financially and yet they remain in abusive marriages. There are marriages that to an outsider looking in, one would think the wife would kick their man to the curb as they are accomplished in their own right. Being an accomplished women is not necessarily an indicator as to whether they do or do not press charges. There are accomplished women who do remain in abusive relationships who do not press charges. Why? It has to do with her philosophical belief about men. Specifically there are women who believe that any man ultimately will do something that hurts them because of their belief that “all men are flawed”. In particular, it is these very same women that believe that men who have the capability to be in power (athlete, politician, doctor . . . ) and can rise to that level, must have inadequacies that run deep that with an understanding woman by their side that man will soar. “All great leaders/strong and powerful men have illness, challenges, will make bad choices, will make mistakes” is the thinking mentality of some women. There are women who marry men who they believe are powerful, and believe that the type of man who goes for what he wants, will ultimately get himself in trouble at times. “It is this assertiveness of certain male types that at times plays out as impulsiveness and over-reaction” – it is this very thinking that keeps women with men who are abusive.