We often hear about abusive situations that are obvious. Someone has a black eye that never seems to go away. Someone covers their body as much as possible even when appropriate to wear less clothing. That is physical abuse. There are other kinds of abuse that play with our psyche. There are other kinds of abuse that can be harmful too. Emotional abuse, being neglected or abandoned, holding finances over someone as well as sexual abuse that does exist within marriages.

How do you know if you are being abused? Have you ever questioned your relationship isn’t right but you can’t pinpoint it? Are you so busy trying to overcompensate for what is missing that to others you try to appear the perfect spouse, parent, and family.

There are some people prone to abuse based on personality, childhood, etc. The thing with abuse it that it could happen to anyone. Sometimes you don’t realize it is happening to you until you are aware you lost your sense of self. You could be hardworking, great parent and everyone in the community loves you. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you.

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever done something you know isn’t good for you? This could be speaking to someone you know will leave you hurt or going somewhere you know will have consequences. Just because something sounds like the best thing to do doesn’t mean that will be the choice you make. This could be due to wanting to remain in your comfort zone.

Being in an unhealthy intimate relationship could have different components to it. Often, when someone visualizes what would happen if they left, the plan could be realistic although difficult. Without outside support, and even more so with children, the idea of leaving could seem impossible. With or without support, many questions are raised. The fear of the unknown is there.

The fear of the unknown prevents us from doing many things. There are situations we will never know how decisions will impact us until after the fact. We could choose to take a chance or stay where we are. But if you are unhappy in the situation you are in, how much worse could the other way be? Sometimes someone will leave an abusive situation and then return because of their attachment to their abuser. Even within the abuse, there is a comfort of knowing what to expect. You are already part of a drill. You are made to feel you won’t be able to make it on your own and you need your abuser to survive. That is part of the cycle but that means that you are giving them a lot of control over you.

We all make decisions based on familiarity; staying in jobs we are unhappy with, staying in relationships with family or friends which you know are unhealthy. Staying in an unhealthy intimate relationship is not that different than the other examples. Each shares an unsatisfying relationship where there is something keeping them committed to it.

If, unfortunately you are in an abusive situation, close your eyes for a minute and think about leaving being a real possibility. It is very easy to deny abuse happening to you because you’re not that kind of person it happens to. If you don’t acknowledge it is real, then you don’t need to deal with it. The thought of it not being real sounds nice. It sounds nicer than telling your family and friends why you want to leave. It may sound nicer than breaking up a family. It sounds nicer than dealing with questions and gossip. It sounds nicer than worrying how it will impact your children. It sounds less overwhelming then needing to figure things out after you make the decision.

There are shelters and organizations who prioritize victims of abuse. With that, once leaving will be tough. You may have some support from family and friends but it may not be consistent or as often as you need it to be. Ultimately, your number one support will be yourself. There will be better moments and worse moments. It won’t always be okay but sometimes it is okay to not be okay. During those times you are struggling more, it is important to focus on the big picture.

It will be during those moments you feel lonely, overwhelmed or scared that you will most likely want to return to your abuser. You may have different difficulties there but at least you know what to expect. If you are leaving with children, you may have questions such as if anyone will ever want to be with you again? How will leaving effect the children? They may have changes in behavior; becoming clingy or acting out. You may feel better going back so the children won’t have these behaviors. Part of looking at the bigger picture is that by staying in the relationship, children are also picking up on what is going on. They may not understand but they feel. Those feelings will affect their emotional health, including feeling safe. You will need outside help. It is true that sometimes it is easier to get help for children. Schools have social workers. You may have never worked before and need to start now. There are vouchers for day cares. Not every problem will have a solution, or the one you want but eventually things will fall into place.

Sometimes you need to choose the better of the two evils. With that, is there more of a chance of things changing if you stay or if you leave. What happens if your spouse threatens you? They may have done this before. Once you are out, you can get help that will have legal ramifications for them. Again, there are programs specifically to keep victims safe. It isn’t foolproof but nothing is.  This is about looking at doing the most you could in your control.

You may have never felt in control of your life and you may have been stripped of it during your relationship. Making a choice to leave is very powerful. It is your first step towards a future that you choose. Everyone likes to share their opinions of what they feel is best for you. You need to set up your support system with those you choose and stay with them, otherwise you may become confused and lose control again. There is a difference between people giving you advice which you can tell them you don’t want, to making the choices for you.

I focused on intimate partner relationships in here but that is one kind of an abusive relationship. There are others as well. Look for signs of behavior in others as well as changes in yours. It is tough to be in an abusive situation. There are many others going through the same experience. Many of those have also been able to create a new life for themselves. There is always hope!


Zahavah Fishfeld, LMHC is a licensed therapist who focuses on relationships, self-esteem and self growth. She offers a phone consultation as well as sessions in person and through video. Her offices are located in Flatbush and Crown Heights.  She can be reached at 845-596-1321 and  zahavahsel@gmail.com.