Hope can be the enemy of the abused woman and her abuser drip-feeds it to her. We all know it’s better to keep hope alive and to not give in to despair even in the worst of circumstances. It’s not particularly helpful though in an abusive relationship if it’s based on a longing or desire rather than reality. At the same time, it’s natural for an abused woman to hope for a better future just as there are innumerable reasons for her to hold the relationship together with attachment being part of that. There may be genuine fears that he may harm or destroy her, there may be children to consider, significant financial and housing concerns, fear of being a single parent and managing alone along with emotional factors such as shame, exhaustion, anxiety or depression weighing her down. Her abusive husband may even be a good father, which makes it hard to separate the children from him.
Anyone who has had an abusive husband or partner will know how difficult it is to actually leave the relationship. Many times the abused woman will be poised to leave only to change her mind when her abuser slips into his ‘good guy’ persona. Her hope for a happier life is rekindled but after a while his behaviour deteriorates, abuse resumes and once again she slips into a miserable space of hopelessness. Her only way to cope under these difficult and stressful circumstances is to hang onto the hope that one day the good guy will return and the bad guy will disappear for good.
What is actually going on? The abusive husband knows her well and when he has pushed the envelope too far in a negative direction he will change course and give her what she wants and yearns for – consideration, love, helpfulness and spoiling. It is not his intention to lose her and whether it is done consciously or unconsciously he will behave in a benign and loving way to win her back again.
To help the abused woman to hold onto a more realistic goal she needs to be encouraged to hold in her mind, at all times, the reason she wanted to get away. At the same time, if her abusive husband is not physically violent towards her she can take time to build up her resources - financial, emotional and otherwise - until she feels ready to leave. But she must resist building her future on the seeds of hope that he sprinkles around. False hope will keep her glued to the relationship. His promises to change have a use by date – a date that she, herself, can set.
But, if her abuser is willingly and earnestly seeking help to change his abusive attitudes and behaviours, is curtailing or ceasing his alcohol or drug use and is demonstrating a genuine effort to change then hope has its place. It’s not what the abuser says but what he does that will determine whether or not she is holding onto false hope or hope that is realistic, life affirming and something to build on.