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Managing the Pain of Abusive Relationships

How many times have you said, 'I didn't have a choice?' This is a phrase that is uttered by many to justify their behavior or complain about their life circumstances. Surely, we can continue to believe there are no choices, but it is my belief that kind of thinking is what greatly contributes to our frustration and limits the strength and amount of personal power we experience.

Whenever you are in a situation where you believe there is 'no choice', remember that there are always at least three choices. Every situation has at least these three possible solutions: you can leave it, change it, or accept it. Each option will look different in every situation.

Let's examine the options of a woman in an abusive relationship. I am concerned that women in abusive relationships have no safe place to seek help or to talk about their issues. There is an embarrassment about sharing what is happening in their lives. An abuser will convince his victim that she is in some way to blame for his abuse. This, often, will cause a person in an abusive relationship to suffer in silence. I want to provide a safe place forum for women needing to share and to learn that they are not alone.

I, in no way, mean to imply that there are no men living in abusive relationships. This can create a seriously demoralizing situation for a man. How does a man explain to his friends that his wife or girlfriend beats him up or is constantly verbally and emotionally abusive? I believe there are many more men in such relationships than we think. Because they carry a special stigma if they admit what is happening in their lives, most stay silent. There can also be domestic violence in same sex relationships. However, for the purpose of this article, I am writing as if the perpetrator is a male and the victim is a female.

The first choice in a situation such as this is to attempt to change the situation. Many women will try to have everything perfect for their spouse or partner. They walk around on egg shells, believing that if only they are better, more loving, more submissive, quieter, more invisible, then their man will not hurt them. Many women in abusive relationships are willing to put in a lifetime attempting to change their partner's behavior. Of course this is a futile attempt because people do not change for someone else. They change when their current behavior stops working for them and sometimes not even then. I might ask a woman, 'How long are you willing to wait for him to change? You've already spent 10 years, are you willing to spend 10 more?' This is a question only the woman can answer because she may be willing to wait her entire life. It is not for me or anyone else to decide what is best for another person. After all, we are not in her skin. We can only presume what we may do in the same situation but the right answer for us may not be the right answer for the person going through it.

The second possible outcome is to leave it. In an abusive relationship, this would mean ending the relationship. Many women in abusive relationships are afraid to leave because they believe their partner will hunt them down and possibly kill them or at least claim their 'property' and force the woman to return. Statistics tell us that more women are killed in abusive relationships who remain in the relationship than who leave but tell that to the family of the one woman who left and was killed by her husband. Statistics don't do much then. Again, it is easy for us to decide it would be best for a woman to leave her current situation but do we really know what's best for another person? Do you want to be the one carrying that responsibility? Leaving is definitely a viable option but it should only be made by the woman who is in the relationship. There are organizations set up to help victims of domestic violence escape the violence of their situation but the laws become very tricky when there are children and custody situations involved. Some women stay because they won't leave their children. Many stay because they are committed to their wedding vows that said, 'In sickness and in health. Till death do us part.' No one can decide for another person that she must forsake her vows if keeping them is her highest value. I might ask a woman if she has considered all of her options and thought of the consequences of each choice. Then, I would ask if she believes that leaving is the best option and is she willing to pay the possible consequences of that choice. Is paying the possible consequence of leaving preferable to staying in the current situation? Is the risk worth it? For some, it definitely is.

The final choice is to accept it. Accepting it is different from the other two options. In the first two choices, the woman is changing external circumstances. When she is attempting to change it, she is trying to change her partner's behavior. When she is leaving it, she is changing her circumstances. But acceptance involves staying in the situation and understanding and accepting that the other person will not change and finding a way to be all right with that. The woman in an abusive situation would decide that she is not going to leave and realizes that her husband may never change but decides to stay anyway. This may, for some, actually be their best option.

For those of us who love the woman in this situation, we have the same three choices to go through. We can leave it---this would most likely mean ending our relationship with the woman because we can't stand to see her in an abusive situation. We can attempt to change it by trying to convince her to leave the man. This is what many friends and family do and sometimes the woman decides to leave you. She may decide she can't live with your disapproval, either stated outright or silently. Out of loyalty to her partner, she may decide it's not right to listen to your statements against him anymore. What she needs is your support, not judgments and coercion to get her to leave someone she may love. Or the third choice, we can accept it. This means we come to realize that this woman has her own life decisions to make and that she will do the best she can with the choices that are available to her. You will be her friend and support her and her decisions, realizing that you can't change her or him, for that matter.

If you or someone you care about is involved in domestic violence, please come to There are safe ways there to discuss the situation and some are f-r-e-e. Email Kim Olver at, enter her chat room during scheduled chat times, which are posted on her events calendar or call her at

About the Author
Kim Olver is a licensed professional counselor and a life/relationship coach. She helps people unleash their personal power by living from the inside out, focusing their time and energy on only those things they can control. She also helps people improve the quality of their relationships with the people in their lives. For further information about Kim visit her website at or contact her at
(708) 957-6047.

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