Domestic Violence and Relationships: Is Love Enough?

Single rose on granite--Sepia toned photoOctober is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time when the spotlight is on the ever-present issue of intimate partner and family violence—though awareness of, and efforts to end, IPV are unceasing.

Do you remember the first time you became aware of domestic violence? Was it a guest speaker at school, perhaps? Hearing the term on television? Witnessing it at home?

I remember being a teenager at a friend’s house when she pulled me into a room and told me that her boyfriend had just punched her in the stomach. Then she spent the rest of the evening with him. I was startled and confused. Should I say something? Should I call my mom? Should I leave? I was 15, scared, and unsure. Those feelings must have been a fraction of what she was experiencing.

Fast forward 20 years and I found myself in a similar situation. A friend told me that her husband was being abusive. She described the internal struggle she was grappling with. She didn’t want to be in a violent relationship. She did not want her children to be without a father. She did not want to be alone. And she loved her husband. She didn’t want to leave him.

It is the violence, not the person, that people want to leave. When people consider ending relationships, they don’t just consider leaving the violence and abuse; they also consider leaving what they enjoy about the person and the relationship. While ending the relationship may mean leaving the abuse, it also means leaving the person you love. And it’s hard to leave someone you love.

As outsiders it can be easy to forget that people who are violent in intimate partnerships are generally not always violent. There can be times when they are kind, fun, and loving. There can be times when the partners truly enjoy themselves and each other. People who abuse, just like people who are abused, are whole, complex human beings.

What Can You Do When the Person You Love Is Hurting You?

Statistics show that there is a greater risk of violence and even death when leaving a violent relationship. The decision and plan to leave a relationship, home, or family situation is very difficult. For some people, it can feel easier to stay, especially when you love the person.

The character Samantha Jones in Sex and the City ends a relationship by saying, “I love you … but I love me more.” It’s such an inspiring and powerful sentiment—and one that many people don’t feel. If your love for another person is greater than your love for yourself, the idea of ending a relationship for your own sake is nonsensical.

But there are other choices. Making a change in a relationship is often a process that occurs over time, not overnight. Sometimes both people in the relationship are willing and able to make changes to improve the relationship. Other times, only one person is willing to change. Whenever contemplating a change, it’s useful to outline the various risks and benefits of the situation.

Ask yourself:

  • What will I gain by making this change?
  • What do I risk losing?
  • Who will be hurt if I stay?
  • Who will be hurt if I leave?
  • Is it possible to stay without being hurt?
  • Who can I discuss this with?

The last point, finding someone to talk to, is critical. Decisions about relationships and safety and your well-being do not need to occur in isolation. It is useful to talk through your thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Sometimes, you just need someone to listen. Other times, you will want input and perspective. A nonjudgmental and listening ear—the ear of a compassionate therapist, perhaps—can support you during the process.

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  • elsie

    October 23rd, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    Love is not enough because how in the world is that going to protect you from being hit and form all of the psychologcali damage that that can do? It is even worse to love someone who is hitting you like that because that just totally turns it upside down as to how you think a relationship should be like. Unless they are willing to do something with that love and commit to counseling or treatment, then I would have to say that you must cut this person loose from your life.

  • Letitia

    October 23rd, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    LOve alone may not be enough to save the relationship but it is a good start.
    If there is love there on both sides, and one would presume that in many cases there is, then that can be the glue that holds the two of you together regardless of the fact that there is something inherently wrong in the relationship.
    It is at least a starting point that you can work from, but if the love is not there then what is the point of even trying to save things?

  • Jazzi

    October 24th, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    my mom always taught me that real men don’t hit so if they do that then I am outta there

  • ernieB

    October 24th, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    There are a lot of men who will say things like they only hit their spouse because they love them so much and they are so hurt by what they have done.

    ladies this is just a bunch of BS. I love my wife and certainly she has made me mad from time to time but never to the point where I have hit or physically hurt her and I think that you know deep down inside that if someone loves you then they would never in their life dream of treating you this way.

    It could be a scary thing to think about leaving a relationship and this could be the first time that you have ever been alone but it sure beats the alternative of worrying about your safety or that of your kids.

  • Ronald

    October 24th, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    If this was my own daughter in an abusive relationship like this, I would yank her right back home. I didn’t raise her to be abused at the hands of some sicko, and I sure as the devil wouldn’t let her stay somewhere if she is in harms way day and night.

  • Joanne

    October 25th, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    there will always be the pros and cons associated with the should I stay or should I go question
    you have to weigh it all out and if there are more pros to staying, then I think that maybe it will be a relationship that is worth fighting for.
    once you see the cons you should think long and hard about whether it will be worth staying or if it will ever balance out to be in your best interest
    if you still find yourself leaning away, then you most likely have the answer that you may know is the right thing but that you may not be willing to admit to yet

  • Iris

    October 26th, 2014 at 8:48 AM

    Unfortunately there aren’t enough Samantha Jones’ in the world :(

  • Tonya

    October 26th, 2014 at 6:03 PM

    Love is good and important foundation to relationships but I agree that it’s not enough to sustain it.

    Well said Iris!

  • maisie

    October 28th, 2014 at 4:08 PM

    It is very difficult to walk away as you can blame yourself and start rationalising why it happened. U make excuses for them.

  • maru

    October 28th, 2014 at 4:52 PM

    I really think it is difficult to leave an abuser, they make you feel worthless and unlovable. I remember my ex saying no one will want you, your repulsive fat and ugly. I will keep you though until you find someone else. Then it was a constant twist, manipulation.
    I really think it takes a lot of courage, once you start loving yourself, you won’t tolerate anything less than happiness

  • deb

    December 5th, 2014 at 7:56 PM

    My spouse is a passive aggressive which makes it even more worse. besides his domestic violence, he blames me, never accepts what he does. he says and does things and then a few seconds/minutes later denies saying and doing it. you cant say anything to him without him blowing up. He has physically abused me, cheated on me, committed fraud and felony’s, yet he blames me, when I know I did not do anything, but he always blames everyone else. he has never taken the blame and changed his behavior or actions.

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