We all have that friend, family member, colleague, or loved one who is dating a jerk, and you constantly ask yourself, rolling your eyes,

why doesn’t she leave him?

He humiliates her in public, he controls her life, she shares with you that he berates her all the time, and she’s always crying at home. Maybe he shows up at the office unexpectedly or calls 20 times a day, and y’all wonder why she doesn’t just leave?  You know that she deserves better so why does she stay?


It is National Rebuild Your Life Month, and I thought I would share with you why she doesn’t leave, which ties in very nicely with why this month is so important to victims of domestic violence  You see, victims of domestic violence don’t think that it is going to be possible to leave and survive.  They think that they’re going to struggle forever.

Barriers to Escaping Domestic Violence

So, why don’t victims leave?

  1. Housing:  Well, number one, where are they going to go? If you live in a really nice neighborhood and her, let’s just say her name, is on the mortgage, and she doesn’t have a high-paying job, she’s not going to qualify. She won’t have the credit capacity to take on a rental. Shelters are often stuffed to the gills and only have space for those who are physically beaten. And so where is she going to go? When I was escaping domestic violence, this was my big question: where was I gonna find a place to live?
  2. She doesn’t have the money!  And then how is she going to afford it? Usually, as in my case, I had spent a tremendous amount of money trying to make him happy, showing him I was all into the relationship and not taking advantage of him. I also had spent so much time being available because that’s what he told me that he wanted, that I wasn’t building my business correctly, and so my business wasn’t bringing in the revenue I needed. So she may have a lower-paying job. How is she going to pay for it to be on her own? He probably controls most of the money and maybe only gives her an allowance. So that’s a problem.
  3. She is scared to tell him she is leaving. She also doesn’t want to have the conversations with him that are going to be required for her to leave. You just don’t disappear in the middle of the night usually, and then he doesn’t bother you again. There’s going to have to be conversations going forward—those I was scared to death of.
  4. She is embarrassed. She’s horrified by what’s going on. For me, it was going to be a second divorce. I was terrified that people would think, what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I make a marriage work?  He had also berated me to the point of believing that I was a bad wife and that I couldn’t make him happy.
  5. Culture: You hear often, “This doesn’t happen in my culture.”  Women were either strong or subservient. In my case, everyone was in 50-year marriages in my family all of my elders and in my peer group, everybody was hitting the 20-year mark in their marriages. And here I was, getting divorced again. I was mortified.
  6. Kids and Pets: If there are minor children involved or pets she is going to have to face that her abuser has rights to both quickly.  And now, the children and pets are going to have to spend time with the abuser…alone.  She can protect them a little if she’s in the house.  But once that door closes on his custody time, those kids are toast.

She Is Trauma Bonded To Him

More than likely, your victim feels addicted to her abuser.  She loves the idea of them together and feels responsible for all of the rage.  How is that possible?  Well, it’s called a trauma bond. When you’re trauma-bonded to someone, they convince you that all the problems in their life are your fault and they also have a whole list of things that you can do better to make them happy, which is your job.  You don’t see a way to reason and logic because the relationship wasn’t always like this.  In fact, in the beginning, it was damn near perfect.  Romantic getaways filled with nothing but, “Oh my gosh, we have found each other. We are so lucky.” But then, over time, he slowly started to drip in abuse. Every once in a while, he would get back to one of these highs. But they were never quite as high as the original.  I started to live on those scraps of love, trying to make him happy as he was dragging me into his abuser’s playground on purpose.

My Trauma Bond

What I realized as I was escaping is that this cycle of abuse was his MO. This is where he wanted me, and he had gotten me addicted to the fact that I could make him happy and all those good moments could be mine.  It was so scary when we were in those lowest moments of the relationship, where he was screaming and berating me for everything that I had done wrong, where I was sobbing on the floor, trying to apologize, not having any idea what I was apologizing for, I just wanted it to end. it was chaos…it was abuse.   That’s what he wanted.

Breaking that trauma bond, though, well, broke my heart.

And so when you’re helping someone escape and then rebuild her life again, remember it is National Rebuild Your Life Month, you’ll have to realize how hard that will be for her. She is all in on the relationship, especially with that Trauma Bond. I was all in on this relationship. And so she is going to need help rebuilding that financial piece, finding a place to live, having those tough conversations with him, and the support she’s going to need afterward as she struggles with her embarrassment and shame, attempts to live a normal life, break that trauma bond, and then finally move on.


I recently shared a story at Mission Story Slam in Philadelphia, answering the question, “Why doesn’t she just leave.”  Here it is!