Leaving an Abusive Partner or Spouse: What All Women Need

“Why doesn’t she just leave?”  There’s no question that will infuriate a survivor of domestic violence more than this one.

Most domestic violence murders take place when she leaves.

This morning, I was reflecting on an article in the August 23, 2009 issue of New York Times Magazine by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  They wrote Half the Sky:  Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide which is currently on the NYT best seller list.  I was also reflecting on how Jenny Sanford so graciously left her marriage.

I realized that women everywhere are less likely to be abused and have more freedom to leave if they have four essential factors in place:  financial self-sufficiency, accountability, forgiveness, and safe havens.

Financial Self-Sufficiency

Virginia Woolf was right.  Every woman needs a room of her own and enough money to be financially self-sufficient.  Jenny Sanford was able to bid her cheating husband ado because she is an heiress.  Women in Third World countries similarly become free from oppression when they leverage micro-loans to become the family’s primary breadwinner.

Women who lack economic parity with their partners or husbands are far more vulnerable to abuse.  Why?  He knows she doesn’t have the money to leave.  She’s trapped.


In too many cases, abusive people are not held accountable.  Society gives bad boys a pass and blames the victim.  Sadly, it is rare to find someone with the courage and strength of character to stand up to a bully.  I find this odd because most bullies are cowards in disguise.

Most abused children similarly never receive the gift of an Enlightened Witness to tell them the abuse they experienced is wrong.  They live each day in terror wishing someone would protect them.

Accountability is about accepting responsibility for bad behavior.  Accountability does not mean revenge.


We have a very hard time forgiving ourselves for loving someone who abuses us.  And, we have an equally hard time deciding if it is appropriate to forgive the person who abused us.  Will the forgiving cause us to forget and leave us vulnerable to further abuse?  Has the person who abused us repented and modified his/her behavior to insure it won’t happen again?

Forgiveness without accountability is naive.  Forgiveness coupled with accountability allows us to let go and move on.

Safe Havens

At the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the need for safety and security.  Nobody can aspire to be all they can be unless this basic need is met.  I cannot express enough the importance of living and working in environments that nurture our spirits and protect us from harm.  This, of course, includes the people who are in our lives.

When we have these four things firmly in place, it is safe for us to leave.  We will survive.  We will thrive.  And, we will find joy.

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