Domestic Violence: Why Women Stay
He pulled a knife on me, spat on me, stepped on me; still, "love" made me stay
As told to Lisa Armstrong
Chris and I met at work. I worked at a company that produced ammunition for the armed services, and I trained Chris when he started. He flirted with me, but I didn’t pay attention—I’d been married before, he’s 10 years younger, and I thought he was too young. But he swept me off my feet, with gifts, with attention. He noticed the smallest things about me—the fact that I parked in the same spot every day, the type of bread I ate, every little thing.
Basically he was watching me, and I didn’t realize it. It just came off as if he was really interested in me. He played me, and I fell for it because all the attention felt good.
Later, when the relationship got bad, he would tell me: “You were easy to trick. All I had to do was watch you.”
We dated for six months and then got married. At first, things were fine, but then, six months after we were married, one day during an argument, he yelled at me.
“You stupid ass!” he shouted.
I can’t even remember what the argument was about, but he had never raised his voice to me before. I didn’t say one word, but I became fearful just from his physical demeanor. He was not the man I had fallen in love with. Later that evening, he did apologize, and it was the apology he would always offer in our years together: “I wouldn’t have said this or done this if you hadn’t done that.” I was always the one who caused him to get angry. He would also buy me gifts to make up—a new outfit with shoes to match, a new diamond ring—the gifts were great, but what I endured to get the gifts wasn’t worth it. He terrorized me.
The physical abuse started about a month after the verbal abuse. It started with him physically holding me down, restraining me until I would start to cry. Then, each time it would escalate, with him actually pulling a knife on me on one occasion.
Sometimes I would leave. I would go to my mother’s house, but I was embarrassed, so I didn’t tell anyone what was going on. I didn’t tell anyone for the first couple years.
I had never been in an abusive relationship. I was always the one to tell other women, “You don’t have to put up with this.” But I was truly in love with him. I had been married twice before, and I didn’t want to fail a third time by getting divorced. Deep down, I was afraid of being alone. And I truly believed that I could help him. We would talk after each fight, and he would say, “I am sorry. I don’t know why I get so angry. I shouldn’t have done that. Forgive me. It will never happen again. I love you, I can’t live without you. I’ll kill myself if I can’t have you.”
But then, when it was bad, he would say, “You’re mine now, I own you.” He meant it in a Christian sense, as with me being a Christian woman, I wasn’t just going to file for divorce. He was the minister of music at our church and was well known in our local Christian community. So we kept up this façade that we were a happily married Christian couple, but it was nothing but pure hell at home. I had to help uphold the façade. I can recall in the first year or two, I would plead with him: “Chris, what can I do to make it better? What did I do wrong?” He became my God.
There were times where my son had to call the police. Once, we had been arguing on the way home from church, and Chris threw my phone in the street. Then we were physically fighting and my son ran to the neighbors, and the police came.
That time, I told the truth. I had lied in the past, and even when my clothes were ripped and there was evidence of abuse, when the police asked, “Are you okay?” I just told them yes.
The police arrested Chris, but his family bailed him out and, like always, I took him back.
We had been married for at least two years before my family found out about the abuse. My son told my mother that Chris hit me and when she asked me, I didn’t deny it. Another time, one of my brothers saw Chris acting as if he was going to hit me with his car. I literally had to beg my brother not to do anything to Chris. I told him that Chris was only trying to scare me and that he wouldn’t hurt me. I had become real good at making excuses for Chris.
I stayed because I loved Chris, but it was also love that made me leave. It was my love as a mother for my sons, who were 10 and 12 at the time.
One day I heard the 12-year-old talking to a little girl. He had just started talking to girls, and I thought it was kind of cute, but the way he was speaking that day was very harsh.
I said, “Joseph, you don’t talk to a little girl like that. Show her some respect.”
My son’s exact response was: “That’s how Chris talks to you.”
A light bulb went off. I was teaching my sons that it was okay to be abusive, and I knew then that I had to leave Chris.
When Chris came home that day, I told him he had to leave. We didn’t really have much of a marriage at that point, with the abuse, and Chris’ infidelity.
Chris cursed. He yelled. Then he started crying. The day he left my home, he broke down. I was prepared to fight, I was prepared for war, but he broke down in tears and told me he didn’t think he could live without me. He said he had watched his father abuse his mother for years.
Chris pulled a knife on me in front of my kids, he spat on me, he stepped on me. He was cruel; he treated me worse than you would treat an animal. But I stayed for five years because I loved him. A woman stays because she is in love with her abuser. Even though it was a dysfunctional, abusive and distorted form of love, it was all I knew, and it was my reality.
The abuse made it so that I had no self esteem, and I had to learn to love myself more than I loved him, more than I wanted the relationship. When you look at Rihanna, for instance, she needs to love herself first; if she did, she would not be with Chris Brown right now. But all you know at the time is that you're getting that attention. You're getting that love. And you think because you're in love that you can help them, that you can change them, that the next time it will be different. But it isn't love. If a man loves you, he won't abuse you.