My ministry often has me working with women in violent marriages. People ask me all the time, "Why doesn't she leave?" It's good question I suppose, but it makes my skin crawl most of the time because the question is asked in frustration, with a kind of arrogant contempt for the poor woman involved. I'd like to take a minute to set the record straight.
First, it is important to know that a woman may be staying because it's the safest choice for her and her children. That may seem like a contradiction but it is statistically true. Women have a 50 percent greater survival rate staying in a violent marriage than leaving a violent marriage.
A woman who stays in a hurtful marriage, stays because she is a woman of integrity. She made a vow and she meant it. She loves her children and wants to protect them. She works hard to love her husband and to fix what is broken in her marriage. Divorce carries with it a deep sense of failure for any woman of integrity no matter what brought her to that choice.
There is more to the story. We were never created to experience evil. This world full of violence we live in was not God's original intent for us. But at the same time knowing what we would do with our free will, God build into us the ability to survive terrible pain. Our brains include a mechanism that "forgets" trauma. Whether it is the pain and chaos of a car accident, the birth of a child or violence in the home, our brains will help us cope by minimizing our experiential understanding of the pain. That gives us the ability to drive again, it sets the stage for siblings, but it also makes the violence in domestic violence get lost in the fog.
If you want to help, start by understanding the complexity of this woman's dilemma. Love her with no expectations. Give up on the idea that you know better or would make better choices and simply offer comfort and support. If you know a woman in a violent marriage, please, respect her integrity, pray for her safety, respect the love she has for her husband and let her know she has a choice to stay or to go and that she is loved no matter what she chooses.