For many years people have asked me ‘why didn’t you leave your ex-husband sooner?’ Or ‘If there were signs of control before you got married why did you marry him?’ These are genuine questions that really bother people who have not been in an abusive relationship. Even though I understand why people ask these questions, it is frustrating to hear it. I felt that it almost put the blame of the abuse on me. It was as if people were saying ‘you kept putting yourself into the situation, or you should have known better’. I often said that to myself, I would take the blame, maybe I should have known better.
It was not as if I set out to get abused. I had high hopes for a good, respectful relationship, then one day I realised, I was in ‘that kind’ of relationship. It was a slow process that you don’t see coming, even though you see the odd sign here and there. I honestly thought that he would change when we got married and as he grew older. That didn’t happen. The problem with the abuser is that they always see themselves as right and everyone else as wrong. No one is as clever as they are. Even professionals didn’t know as much as he did. They are good at manipulating a situation to make you feel stupid if you aren’t compliant. I didn’t see it clearly, not for what it was anyway.
The reason people don’t leave abusive relationships vary from one person to another but for me, the fear of the unknown was stronger than the fear of him. Let me explain that a little further: I knew my enemy, my boundaries with him. If I left, what would he do, how would he react? Could I live on my own? He had diminished my confidence so much, I wasn’t sure I was able too. But then one day when the fear of him outweighed the fear of the unknown. I got to the stage where I was so frightened of him that I didn’t care what he might do if I left - anything was better than living like that. What was the worst that could happen? Would he kill me? If he did kill me then I’d be free anyway. That was one of my biggest fears because he’d threatened it so many times throughout my life with him. He didn’t kill me - I survived and I’m free and living my life to the fullest.
I have to say that the first steps where the hardest. I felt like I was in a prison cell and the door was so heavy. But, as I started opening the door the weight of the door became its own momentum and then one day I woke up and realised I was in control and not him.
If you see someone in an unhealthy relationship, please don’t ask, ‘why aren’t you leaving them?’ Don’t ask anything that might make them feel condemned, or that might diminish their confidence anymore.
Ask what you can do to help them. Support them in their journey and when the do eventually leave be a supportive friend. They may need practical help or they may need emotional. But just be prepared to listen.
If you would like to know more about my journey, you can pre-order my book, Broken To Be Beautiful at https://www.xeniaschembri.com/online-store/Broken-To-Be-Beautiful-Pre-Sale-Price-p127440815