When I wrote Sharing Hailey, I also happened to be researching domestic violence. Not because I wanted it to be part of the book but because I have friends who are married to or dating abusive men. At the time, I couldn’t understand why they stayed with them. I wanted to help them get out of those relationships, but I didn’t know how. The books I read not only taught me how to support my friends but also helped me understand why they stayed. And in the process, Hailey became a battered woman.
Let me preface this by saying that some women are batterers, but the incidence of female batterers is lower than male batterers. Domestic violence also occurs in the LGBTQ community. For simplicity, I’ll stick with straight relationships for my examples, but the pattern is similar in same sex relationships with a few differences. For more information, see the links at the end of this post.
The latest statistics tell us that “one in three women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner.” There are twenty-one contributors to the Contemporary Romance Café, which means seven of us have been the victim of domestic abuse. Because no woman is immune. It doesn’t matter if we have a PhD, were raised in loving and safe homes, or if we have income in the millions of dollars. It doesn’t matter if we’re doctors, lawyers, writers, teachers, waitresses or stay-at-home moms.
It begins so subtly. Men who batter are charming, considerate and generous. They “love” with every cell of their body. They’re protective. They worry for our safety. They want to know where we are every minute of the day, and they check in with us frequently just to assure themselves that we’re okay or because they just want to talk to us. They can’t get enough of us. They tell us how perfect we are—how beautiful, how smart.
But then they begin to notice the imperfections. If you’d just lose a few pounds. That’s great news honey, but if you’d done this instead… And then the compliments stop and it’s all about the criticism. You missed a spot. Can’t you do anything right? So you think you’re a big shot because you got a promotion? We believe them because, hey, he’s always so sweet, so charming, so reasonable; it must be me. Everyone loves him; it must be me. He’s the president of that domestic abuse prevention board; it must be me. The criticism chips away at our confidence bit by bit. Yeah, go ahead and divorce me. You’ll be living on the streets. You can’t make it without me. No one else will have you.
Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me? Women who are abused say the physical abuse isn’t the worst part of the relationship. It’s the emotional and psychological abuse. Makes sense. How can she speak up for herself if she doesn’t believe she’s worth speaking up for? How can a woman leave a man if she believes she’s worthless? And in some cases she actually is safer with the abuser than on her own. Because the most dangerous time for a battered woman is after she leaves her abuser.
Add to that the cyclical nature of abuse. Beat the shit out of a woman then spend the next few days, weeks or months (frequency increases over time) making up for it. He’s back to his charming, generous and considerate self—the man she fell in love with…until he isn’t.
What did I learn about supporting the women I love who are battered? I learned that telling her she needs to leave her abuser can cause her to dig in and hunker down. She’s already got an abuser telling her what to do, how to live her life. She doesn’t need me trying to do the same. She needs me to remind her of her strengths, her intelligence, her worthiness. And if she makes the decision to leave, she may need me to help her research and execute a safe exit plan.
My research gave me a whole new outlook on domestic violence and taught me how to be a friend to my friends. I learned that abusers are Jeckyls and Hydes. Their public personae are so different from their private ones that even close friends are unwilling to believe these men are batterers. They just don’t see it.
After Sharing Hailey was published, I received quite a few emails from battered women telling me I got it right. One was worried that I was involved with a man from whom she’d escaped because he had the same name as Hailey’s batterer and he lived in Albuquerque, Hailey’s hometown. I assured her that was merely coincidence. But it could happen to me. It could happen to any of us.
If you’d like more information on domestic abuse, I highly recommend Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. Do you need help or information? Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224. They also provide help and information for victims in the LGBTQ community. Safety Alert: Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Do not use your computer to make contact.