Several months ago I wrote, “Stopping the Violence,” a blog post about a verbally abusive relationship I was in. He and I were together for nine months—longer, if you count the times we got back together. While nine months might not sound like a long period, the emotional injuries I sustained from those months with him were significant. It took me years to recover.

Yes, I stayed. Even after he punched a wooden fence one night in a jealous fit because I’d said hello to an ex-boyfriend. Yes, I stayed. Even after he swung his fist at me, stopping just before making contact with my face.

I definitely have had my issues, some of which I was working out with him. For a long time, I used to think that it was all my fault. If only I had been stronger or tougher, or perhaps less broken. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten involved with him at all.

Then again, some of the strongest and smartest women I know have been in relationships where domestic violence was involved. These are women that if you looked at them you’d think twice before messing with them. These are women that on the outside appear nothing like what you would expect a victim of domestic violence to look.

And like me, it took them a while to realize what was going on. Most of these women didn’t leave right away. One of them is in her abusive relationship still.

At first, I stayed because I didn’t realize that his behavior was abusive. I mistook his jealousy and temper for passion. At that time in my life, nearly twenty years ago, I was numb and out of touch with emotions. The yelling, the torrid makeup sessions would get my adrenaline rushing. The highs and lows created by our dynamic together allowed me to really feel.

I also was under the false impression, thanks to the patriarchal and misogynistic society that I grew up in, that “real” men should want to dominate their woman, “wear the pants.” I found that behavior sexy back then, not offensive and harmful like I do now.  Not to mention that the stereotype disparages and is harmful to men.

When the angry outbursts turned into verbal fists and put-downs, I stayed because by then I was emotionally invested in the relationship. I loved him. And it’s not like I sometimes didn’t give as good as I got.

Maybe he was right. Maybe I really was too sensitive. Maybe I needed to toughen up or get a better sense of humor. And like he said, did I really need to talk to my guy friends anymore now that I had him?

Looking back, I realize that, all my rationalizations, this was the abuse talking through me. Blame the victim until she starts to blame herself.

But I was so deeply involved with him, I couldn’t think or see clearly. I no longer had a handle on the relationship. The abuse was handling me.

In her book The Verbally Abusive Relationship, author Patricia Evans lists the numerous effects of verbal abuse on women, including:

  • A distrust of her spontaneity
  • A growing self-doubt
  • An anxiety or fear of being crazy
  • A desire not to be the way she is, “too sensitive,” etc.
  • A reluctance to come to conclusions
  • A hesitancy to accept her perception
  • A concern that something is wrong with her

I hadn’t understood how abusive his behavior was until I read her book. She described our dynamic, and all my feelings, perfectly.

If I can just make him understand what he is doing, he will want to stop, I thought. But all attempts to explain ended in fights.

I started thinking up reasons I could give him for why we needed to break up. “I want out because you’re abusing me” didn’t feel like it was going to cut it.

I worried about hurting his feelings or making him mad. I felt obligated to give him a reason he would find acceptable. I tried to get him to break up with me instead.

During one of our horrible fights, I gave him an ultimatum that I knew he wouldn’t agree to. I wanted him to think that ending us was his doing.

You’d think I would have been relieved to be done with him. But when he reached out a few months after our break up, I decided to try again. And again. Maybe we just needed time off from one another. Maybe this time will be different. It never was.

After him, I became wary about men who liked to fight. I became wary of most men, really.

Years later, I dated a man who appeared to hate conflict. He would shut down at the hint of an argument. He would spoil me, taking me on trips abroad and showering me with expensive presents.

But over time he’d start to tell these jokes. There was the one about how I needed stop wearing my red high heels because they made me look like a slut. Just kidding, sweetie! Or how when people saw us together they looked at me and immediately thought “mail order bride.” It’s just a joke, honey!

Sometimes, he would imitate me when I smiled. Only, he would scrunch up his eyes and twist his mouth sideways into these grotesque expressions. This is what you look like, sweetie! Then he would lean over and kiss me.

His remarks, cushioned in teasing, affectionate tones would catch me off guard. The “jokes” would usually happen at the most unexpected moments—a romantic dinner at an expensive restaurant, while laughing with friends at a wedding. I’d be feeling happy and relaxed or confident and that was when he’d strike.

Until this man, I had no idea that domestic violence can happen even when there is no yelling or fighting involved. I had no idea that it could be doled out so tenderly or take place in such public, even fancy, settings.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says that approximately 42.4 million women in the U.S. have experienced intimate partner violence. Domestic violence impacts individuals of all ages and from every level of education, economic background, gender, race, and nationality. Often, intimate partner violence happens behind closed doors.

I doubt that NFL player Ray Rice ever thought that anyone would be watching him punch out Janay, his then-fiancé, inside an elevator. She later married him.

Many women are too ashamed or terrified to admit to anyone, including themselves, that their boyfriend/fiancé/husband/wife/the father of their children is abusive. It is not uncommon for a victim of domestic violence to refuse to press charges against her partner.

When a woman is deep in an abusive relationship—which is often when the violence starts—the abuse happens enough times that her tolerance level goes up. Someone going into a rage in the middle of the night for the smallest reason starts to feel like normal, instead of unacceptable, behavior. Leaving him, which would seem like the obvious, logical choice, gradually turns into the last resort.

Maybe a woman has come to depend on her partner financially. Or maybe he is the father of her children. Maybe she is afraid he’ll kill her if she tries to leave. Or maybe she can’t imagine living without him.

I am in no means advocating for anyone to stay in an abusive relationship. Leave immediately, if you can, is my advice. But I do want to honor the many reasons why women stay with their abusers, as evidenced by everyone who tweeted their own reasons under #WhyIStayed.

Their reasons may not make sense to anyone else. Some of their reasons may not even make sense to these women. Then again, nothing about domestic violence makes sense.

Domestic Violence Ribbon

Domestic Violence Ribbon


181 Comments on “#WhyIStayed”

  1. armenia4ever says:

    Regardless of whatever the issue you are facing in a relationship; if you aren’t satisfied and there is going to be no improvement of your grievance, get the hell out. 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      Lucas, I’m with you that if a relationship isn’t making you happy and never will, in the ideal-cased scenario one could/should walk away. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. V says:

    This story is so sad, but necessary to share. There is too much victim-blaming going on.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this deeply personal story. Your willingness to do so may very well give others currently in abusive relationships the insight to recognize what they are up against and the courage to stand up for themselves.

  4. EMMAYI says:

    I can relate to your story somewhat and like you I stayed too and thought that he might realize his mistakes, that he might wake up one day and be a different person, that was all wishful thinking though. At that time I couldn’t tell anyone too, I thought that it was just a matter between the two of us and that I shouldn’t share it with friends or family. Looking back though, I know I was ashamed of what I let myself become. It took me a while to share my experience. With what happened though, I became stronger and it taught me not to back down, at least those were what I got from it. It takes courage to get out of a toxic relationship and you did good Diahann. At a time when you were emotionally and physically drained, you still manage to get out. And it also takes guts to tell your story and share it with the world. I wish you well and hope you heal fully from your experience. 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Emmayi! Same to you about leaving, sharing, shedding your shame and regaining your strength. It still amazes me how this type of dynamic is so common – and, like with so many experiences, it can feel like we are the only one and then we find out that so many others too have gone through the same. I definitely am grateful for all the healing and whole-ing that has happened since. I wish you the same.

  5. rachann12 says:

    Reblogged this on mynewbeginnings2012 and commented:
    Excellent post. Thank you for sharing. I too can relate and it took years to break the cycle. Lundy Bancroft has a good book about abuse as well. Thank you.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you for reblogging. 🙂 Bravo to you for breaking the cycle and emerging on the other side. Tx also for the referral to Lundy. Based on his website he sounds like he does a lot of good work for victims and survivors.

  6. I’m right there with you on this. I spent 13 years with my kids’ father. Did not know the things in our marriage were abuse until 2 years after he kicked me out and divorced me. The proverbial light bulb didn’t flash on until I made a visit to a women’s shelter to find out some information about pursuing full custody of my kids. I was sitting in their waiting area and on the wall was a giant circle that listed behaviours of abusers. I would say 75% of what I read was exactly the previous 13 1/2 years of my life. Just because he never hit me didn’t mean he didn’t abuse me. He was smart enough to know that if he left a mark I would have proof. My self-esteem was so low after the divorce that I am sure it was in the negative range. Years later I am confident, have a college degree, and have been in the same work field for 12 1/2 years. I have stability, and I finally have learned to love myself.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Sarah, thank you for sharing your story here including your emergence on the other side as someone who has rebuilt her life and is stronger and loves herself more than ever. It struck me from reading your thoughts (as well as that of a couple of the other women) that we don’t often hear or read very much about the experiences of women who have come out on the other side…. hopefully what you wrote here will give hope to someone who is wondering if that journey is even possible. Thanks again.

  7. cait1215 says:

    #WhyIStayed is such a moving post stay strong!

  8. mira65 says:

    OMG that was straight from the heart. Dunno why but it touched a chord. You know why. Amazing guts to come out in the open and walk out of such a relationship. Kudos to u girl!

  9. bibianaossai says:

    I think the most important things in any God-given relationship are peace, love and happiness. Once these things are missing, then it was never solid in the first place. Though some people are naturally aggressive, abusive and it’s probably how they grew up and where they grew up but in most cases all they need to know that their are negatively affecting others is truth out of hurt which comes from love. They will be hurt, depressed and even more aggressive but with time and constant prayers for them, they will eventually see the wrong in their doings. Nice post by the way.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Bibiana, I so agree with you about how essential PL & H are to a good, healthy relationship. I really appreciate your faith in the innate goodness of people to change. And thank you for your kind words about my post! (And for reading and commenting.)

  10. Your post is inspiring, i’m on a 10-year relationship and the reason i stayed is that i’m still hoping that he will change. I just posted my story broken, and trusting again. I’m still on the process right now and i just hope for the best.

    • diahannreyes says:

      From your words here and on your blog post, it sounds like you are definitely at a significant crossroads in your relationship and your life. Sending your warm blessings in making your choices. It can be a rough journey for sure and wishing you all the self-love and care in the world.

  11. Faith Simone says:

    Thank you for taking the time to address verbal abuse. It is an often over looked and under estimated aspect of domestic violence. Yet, it’s damage is far reaching and devestating. Having suffered emotional and mental abuse at the hands of my step father growing up, and later repeatedly dating men just like him, I know first hand how much of an effect abuse can have on a person, even if they’ve never been struck. I need to really think about #whyIstayed in my last relationship for almost 5 years, even though I was only happy during the first one. your vulnerability amazes me, and I’m happy that you were able to disconnect from men that treated you poorly. We both deserve better!

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Faith! It is really amazing how much violence creates such a rippling effect. And you are so right, we definitely deserve better than to be treated with disrespect of any kind, especially in our intimate relationships. I’m glad both of us were finally able to move on and forward into better experiences.

  12. Mélanie says:

    such an emotional and vivid article… admiration and respect for your courage, detachment and sincerity… ❤
    * * *
    @"I mistook his jealousy and temper for passion." – NO way, Diahann! jealousy is a disease that "translates" the insecurity, self-esteem and self-trust… frankly speakin', I can't understand people who pretend "to love" their life partner, but… they have NO respect for her/him!!! any human relationship is doomed to failure from the very start if not based upon: true affection, mutual trust and respect… how can certain women continue to live and to survive with violent men who hurt them verbally and physically?!… I just can't figure it out – even though we all have a small dose of masochism(sic!)… I also think of their eventual kids who are exposed to terrible/horrible scenes between their parents… 😦 your positive and sane conclusion-advice:"Leave immediately, if you can, is my advice." is THE only one, may I add: RUN for your life!!!

    my very best, respectful regards and friendly thoughts, Mélanie

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Melanie! Domestic violence is such a strange cycle and when one is swirling in it what may seem logical stops to feel that way for sure. I’m with you about the reverberations that can impact for generations for sure. Breaking the cycle and patterns can feel impossible but to do so can literally save lives. Thank you for your words and presence here.

  13. Wow what an incredible story, we live and learn from past failures and women whom remain in these unhealthy relationships places themselves in a sense if failure. Whom have potential and value, and domestic violence doesn’t fall in these categories. Your courage pulled you through this to help inspire other women. Great article.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you. Our life’s lessons can help us become our best selves yet for sure, which, despite everything, can be that wonderful silver lining waiting for us on the other side of the struggle.

  14. Thank you for sharing this post.. I can relate a lot to this. My ex fiancé was both mentally and physically abusive and once I became emotionally invested into the relationship, things only got worse and I was soon extremely isolated from all of those who I was once close to, especially my family. Luckily I realized it before I wound up marrying him and called it quits for good, and even though I’m now happily married, the invisible scars don’t ever go away 100% I believe. I pray for all the ones who are still in abusive relationships to one day be able to realize they deserve so much more than what they’re being put through and led to believe they’re the crazy ones for feeling how they do and that THEY can surely change their partner for the better.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Candace, I’m really happy to hear you were able to get out and that you are in a happier and healthier relationship. I share the same wish that you do. To me, in an ideal world, all kinds of violence would be eradicated, especially in our intimate and familial relationships. Thank you for beautifully articulating some more reasons for why people stay in abusive relationships.

  15. jillbutcher79 says:

    I love this post. I stay because we moved across the country after my husband returned from Afghanistan and I have no friends or family near here. I stay because he’s wrapped up in depression from being so far away from his family, and stuck on the idea of getting back home. A different person from who I fell in love with and married. Or maybe not? Maybe this is who he is. The conflict avoiding “gentle teaser” who can change moods at the drop of a hat if I say the wrong thing or say something in the wrong tone of voice. I stay for our son, who just met his father when he came home 8 months ago. I know there may come a time when an ultimatum is given. But for now, I have found this. Blogging. It gives me a voice. And for now, that’s also enough for me to stay. Again, I really, really loved this post. Thank you.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Jill, thank you so much for sharing your own WhyIStay reasons here.You so obviously have a really clear and powerful voice with much to say. Congratulations on your new blog!

  16. adventuresofthehdbhippie says:

    Im sorry you went through this. .. it’s so hurtful and I wish noone had to be hurt by someone they cared abt

  17. […] Adoptingjames gives you a couple of reasons. Why would you stay in a violent relationship? Stories from the belly gives you an insight about the why. And to end this on a lighter note: This is a blog which makes […]

  18. I feel so grateful for your brave post and all the responses you got! Its well deserved and encouraging, for you and us your readers. Your sharing is always so spontaneous and seems natural and easy but I am pretty sure that it wasn’t so this time. Or maybe it was?
    Sometimes when we step out of the role of a victim and are in peace within, we are able to share readily and stay authentic to who we are. Sincerity and authenticity are the greatest teachers…
    I think that pretty much all of us were in an abusive relationship at one pount in time, so I totally believe your statistics. I know stayed for a variety of reasons until one time I told my story to myself. Listening to it objectively, as an ousider, it became very clear that that was not what I wanted for my life. Leaving takes a lot of courage and a strong but pure heart, to move on with determination and no regret. Distinguishing between the person and the relationship, it always takes two to have a relationship. I think that true love always brings the best in us (whatever that best may be) and when that best is not there any more it’s time to move on.
    He still has a special place in my heart because I can still see the best in both of us when we are apart 🙂 xox

    • diahannreyes says:

      I was just talking to another friend yesterday about the power of telling yourself a different story and creating something new for oneself. I am glad you were able to move on too and find what sounds like a peaceful closure. Often, these relationships are more complex than any label.

      “I think that pretty much all of us were in an abusive relationship at one point in time” – a powerful reminder that even though it can feel like it we are not (usually never) the only ones.

      Thank you for your kind and supportive words. I too am really glad more people than usual read this, especially because of the topic.

  19. ledrakenoir says:

    Very well written, always interesting following your thought inspiring posts even when it is non-enjoyable topics – the subject here, these stories can’t be told too many times – better10 times too many than one time too little – too much silence about it – the choice to abuse is taken by the abuser and isnot the fault of other people – least of all those who are victims of terror – responsibility is borne solely by the person performing the terrorism.

    But it is something that is very hard to stop – if you manage to pull one free of the clutches of the abuser – so it appears that the person immediately gets a new “volunteer” victim – because warnings dont work or work wrong – it is also seen that some are aware that the abuser is on the wrong track – but just think that they are the right person to get the abuser back on track – to the deviant just need them, so everything is all fine – like running a red light in my eyes.

    Talking about warnings – sometimes the draw is tension and sometimes it’s the sense of security or other motivations at the same time we must of course know a danger to recognize it – naivety is not stupidity or shouldn’t be this – naivety is a key ingredient in being a living human – but in relation to an abuser so is naivety a child’s play for him – so talk talk talk, talk.

    Something that might work is the publication therefore focused on the abusers with full light on without giving the person the opportunity to play the role of victim – no particular help to the real victim but it might open the eyes of potential future victims.

    The times I’ve met in these situations, it has been difficult to get the victim to realize that it was about to throw everything in the hands and get going far away – at the same time it has been the experience that the abusers under the facade has been “tiny little and very very abject and tried playing the victim rule themselves.

    So talk talk talk talk talk..

    • diahannreyes says:

      I so agree, Drake. We have to keep talking about this subject so it’s no longer hidden and people can no longer claim to know that abuse/violence is what they are perpetrating. You bring up some very good points… it does fascinate me how often it is the abusers that see themselves as the innocent victims. More reason to keep talking….

  20. KPS says:

    You’re incredible and so brave…. Thank you for writing this. Your essay has empowered so many readers.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you! It’s really amazing how sometimes the stories that feel scariest to tell get the kind of reception one would least expect. Reading everyone’s comments is a powerful reminder to me how (unfortunately) common this type of DV is and why it’s important to keep talking about it.

  21. I spent four years in a relationship with a verbally abusive man. We broke up and got back together multiple times, just like you did. It’s one of the most difficult situations to remove oneself from. Thank you for posting this.

  22. This is so true and hard for those who haven’t been in this type of situation to understand. I was blessed enough to be able to get away and start over. I still have issues with relationships. I tend to go on a couple of dates and start to pick at the negatives in the guy because I don’t want to get hurt again. I’m still trying though and hope someday I’ll be able to trust completely again.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I can definitely relate to the need to protect oneself after an abusive relationship. For awhile, I was always on alert for signs of that type of behavior from everyone, not just romantic partners. It was hard to tell what was an accurate assessment and what was a triggering of the wounding. Healing is definitely a process that takes time. It sounds like you are on your way.

  23. Jean says:

    Well-written Diana. I don’t quite relate to some of the guys that you dated. What is/was your father like?

    I know this sounds weird of me, but one way for me to assess my partner was to see over a long period and up close how he interacted:

    a) with his mother (they had an excellent son-mother relationship. Respectful and caring. She died @ 93 yrs.)
    b) with his children. He has 2 now adult children from former marriage.
    c) with other members of his family,..his brother, etc. I learned over time,a ton about his family background. And to me, helps assess what shaped him.
    d) how he handled child rearing matters with his ex-wife. (Yes, I’ve met his ex several times and we are distantly at family events where the children are the star..ie. wedding, etc.)
    e) with other women who are acquaintances

    Then of course, how he treats me….but that’s an after thought….or I should say, the end result. If he and I trust, respect each other, that’s just the outcome of a-e.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Jean, I think those are excellent ways to assess how someone is- the way he treats the people in his life including you. I agree w/ you in that in it takes time to know someone and to have them earn that trust. The fairy tales we’ve been bed can make one think otherwise- but over the years I’ve discovered that it really does take time and observation. I do think though that people do change and evolve- so while their histories are important, there present can be more telling- more the exception than the rule. Thanks for your thoughts here.

  24. Thank you for speaking up for me. I sit here in tears, because I never realized I was being abused ubtil my daughter pointed it out to me, July 2013. SO I left my husband, then started dating him again amid promises of I’ll change, I love you. WEll, he moved back in June 2014, qand progressed to scary temper fits and throwing stuff, With my toddler grnadaughter there, it no longer was acceptable. Please God, don;t let me go back.

  25. pollyglotta says:

    A very intense article. Thank you for sharing this – because indeed not only would victims blame themselves, but also would others blame them for staying with their partner. People should know that it’s not as easy as they think from an external perspective.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Polly. I feel that if the world did less blaming and more listening and understanding there would definitely be a little less pain and suffering in the world. And yes, no one can know what anything is like or the nuances involved unless they are actually in the other person’s shoes.

  26. Jueseppi B. says:

    Reblogged this on MrMilitantNegro™.

  27. Jaime says:

    Thank you so much for this post. You are very strong and have done a fantastic this ng here. A lot of people don’t understand why victims stay and I’m glad you put this up. Bravo brave lady

  28. Eliza says:

    Very well written….so good to hear of women who got out…i’m sure just reading this will inspire a lot of women to get out of abusive relationships.

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