Question of the week: Why do abused women go back to the abuser and what can we do to help?


Recently I was ministering to a lady that was new to our area. She was from another state and had just moved here. She said she had to get out of an abusive marriage so she came to live with a relative. She wanted a safe place for her and her child. She also said she needed some peace and quiet while she sorted out her thoughts.

I always favor trying to save a marriage. Unless the children are in an unsafe environment and the mom’s (or dad’s) safety is at risk, then I will mention the possibility of saving a marriage. As per my normal questions, I asked if there was any hope her marriage could be saved. She shouted, “NO! I’ll never go back! Not after what he has put me through.” It was clear that, in her mind and heart, the abuse had reached an irreparable level.

I asked her about her plans, her boundaries and what she would do if he followed her to our area. She had no plans. She had no boundaries, and I knew right then and there that she would go back to him. Without plans she would fail. I’ve seen it happen many times. That’s the wrong kind of reconciliation. Going back to an abusive relationship is not healthy– it’s destructive and could even result in physical harm or death to the abused spouse and/or children.

What I want you to understand is that a person who is being physically abused needs help in developing a plan that has two goals:

  1. The physical protection of the abused spouse and children
  2. How they will handle contact from the abuser
  3. A mechanism for healthy reconciliation if the abuser is repentant

This discussion is NOT a strategy on how to initiate a divorce. Divorce is a profound decision that ultimately must be made by the abused person, with the help of godly, biblical counsel. It should be reached over a period of time. I also understand that there are strong theological positions over whether or not abuse is grounds for divorce. That’s beyond the point and scope of this post.

I simply what to help families in crisis stay safe in the middle of what could otherwise end in violence and tragedy.

What happens without a “safety plan?”

There are serious implications if a person has not thought about how they will handle a potential encounter with the abusing spouse. When the other person, in this case the abusive husband, does show up, the victim of abuse is clueless as to what to do. The person’s brain reverts back to the surviving mode. They can’t think long term or even about tomorrow.

Sure enough, within a couple of weeks the man showed up in our area. He called her several times a day, texted her even more, and asked to see their toddler and to see her. He got a job and a place to live. And, you guessed it– she went back to him.

Other reasons they go back to the abuser

  • Pattern – this has been their life sometimes for years. They can’t imagine any other life. It is the pattern in their brain.
  • Fear – they have been trained to be scared. Many times the abuser has used controlling tactics to keep the other person afraid of what will happen if they cross the abuser.
  • Finances – many women have no means of financial support. If they have worked the money has been controlled by the other person. They wonder how they will feed their children and provide for them.

How can you help parents who come to you in this situation?

  • First of all pray with them.
    • Pray for their physical safety.
    • Pray for their eyes to be opened to the dangers ahead.
    • Pray they calm down and turn to the Lord.
  • Make sure they are safe, comfortable and have someone to call upon if needed.
  • Keep regular tabs on the single parent who might be struggling to find their boundaries. It sounds simple and you might be saying to yourself, “I just wouldn’t stick around for someone to abuse me – emotionally or physically.” But really, until you are in the situation and have lived in the situation for some time, you don’t know what you would say or do.
  • Empathize with this person. They need for you to feel what they are feeling.
  • Help them develop a plan so that they will be mentally and physically prepared in the event the abuser comes after them.
  • Encourage them to actually write out their plan and check on them to see what you can do to help them succeed.

One single mom told me she left nine different times from her physically abusive husband. When you’ve been beaten down and feel worthless and the person keeps telling you over and over how worthless and unlovable you are, then you might tend to start believing the lies.

While I’d like to say if you do this and this then the person will be set free, it doesn’t always work out that way. We lose some along the way. Like the mom who went back nine times before she found herself and her way out, some will wander back into the unhealthy relationship. Sometimes it is not safe for us to even contact them. All we can do in those situations is pray for the victim. And contact your state’s children and family services if you think it is a dangerous situation for the children.

When children are involved

If children are involved, and there is any possibility they will

  • Be abused
  • Watch the abuse or
  • Hear any domestic violence

Then you should call the child abuse hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

Some states have “In the presence of a child” law or decree. That means if the child is present, even if the child is asleep when domestic violence take place, an arrest can be made. The state of Utah explains it pretty explicitly. “Depending on the facts, domestic violence in the presence of a child can be charged as a 3rd degree felony or a class B misdemeanor”.

Make sure you know your church’s policies in this area. Make sure your senior pastor knows about the situation.

If you suspect child abuse see this article.

2 thoughts on “Question of the week: Why do abused women go back to the abuser and what can we do to help?

  1. Abusers always SEEM to be repentant. That is part of the cycle. We must be extremely careful when we tell women to try to reconcile a relationship with the abuser is repentant.

    And the questions we should really be asking is not “why did she stay?” rather we should be asking “why did he abuse her?” We as Christians must get out of the habit of blaming the victim and asking this very harming question.

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