“Why Didn’t You Leave Earlier?” Is The Wrong Question To Ask A Woman In An Abusive Marriage

Posted: July 28, 2019

A lot of questions are directed at women who choose to leave abusive marriages. But the primary and somehow most important question still seems to be why didn’t you leave earlier?

“Why didn’t you leave earlier?” A question casually asked by multiple and various sections of the society and family is the wrong question directed at the wrong party.

Why didn’t these women leave abusive marriages? Did they not realize that nothing would change, at the first abuse? Were they enjoying the financial stability that came with it? Were they not self respecting before now?

A lot of questions are directed till today at women who choose to leave abusive marriages. But the primary and somehow more important question still seems to be why didn’t they leave earlier? Of course it’s followed by a train of more insensitive questions, but the question that they could have left earlier seems to be such a given in abusive marriages.

Before reiterating the very obvious, and quite well known to everyone reasons as to why women don’t leave abusive marriage instantly, let me put forth an example of a typical upbringing and marital lifestyle of more than half the women population in India.

The story of Radha, an ordinary Indian woman

Radha is born to a conservative and monetarily restricted family. The education that she receives may/may not be more than matriculate. She is trained from a young age in all the household chores. She is adept in adjusting her lifestyle to the needs of others. She is made to believe she is going to have the same lifestyle as her mother.

Radha sees her mother getting beaten and verbally abused. She sees her mother has no agency. She is vary of voicing oppositions. Her mother consoles Radha that daddy was drunk hence he hit mummy. That daddy loves mummy a lot. Radha has now a justification for abuse in her mind.

Society has failed both Radha and her mother with this.

“This is why I hit her”

Domestic violence is often wrapped by the oppressor as an outcome of another element taking over his/her sanity. Be it alcoholism, rage, work stress, or another related issues. Violence as a consequence is often justified by naming the cause for it. More so, these causes seem to have been normalized over the years.

He was drunk.

He was angry at his boss.

He was stressed with work.

Do we hear of men hitting their bosses out of anger ? No. Then why is the abuse directed only to their wives? Power dynamics. The same reason why he can’t hit his boss is the reason why he hits his wife.

Nobody has ever made the victim realize that nothing justifies the violence done to them. Its seen in our houses and shown in movies. Nobody questions it. Everybody moves on. National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data indicate that over 30% of Indian women have been physically, sexually or emotionally abused by their husbands at some point in their lives.

So why don’t women leave, you ask?

It includes multiple reasons, some of which are primarily these:

1) Children

The primary reason women don’t leave abusive marriages is quite often their children.

Divorces being such a taboo in most brown countries makes it more difficult for women to pick up and leave when they have kids to look out for. Often women are not financially independent which leads to the realization that the kids wouldn’t get a good life.

If however, women are financially independent, they still don’t leave because it has become a belief in Indian society for some reason, that kids would have a better lifestyle even with an abusive parental marriage than with happy separate parents. Which is completely wrong. Children from abusive households often face traumatic growth which leads to either regressive behavior or unidentified isolation. They relate their growing behaviour issues with either the abused or abuser. Either being the wrong upbringing for any child.

2) Financial Stability

Women have traditionally had far lesser education and fewer job opportunities being available. Which essentially puts their financial stability on their husbands who then make it known to the women time and again, that she won’t survive in the world.

This is gaslighting and often done for years by the abuser which convinces the abused that she has no identity or skills to survive. The abuse is then made more tolerable in her mind.

3) Divorce is a taboo

Even in 2019, divorces are frowned upon because marriage is considered sacred; a binding for eternity. The abuse is described as part and parcel of someone’s destiny.

Divorced women face trouble landing jobs, houses and school admissions. They are often ostracised by other married women in their own communities, and the isolation drives women willing to consider divorce not do it.

Second marriage is also easier for divorced men than women.

4) Gaslighting

The abuser often gaslights the abused into believing that it’s her fault that he/she is abusing them. That because she doesn’t behave well or kindly or more motherly she is being abused.

Women often convince themselves that this is true. That if she tries harder and becomes a better wife and mother the abuse would stop. Sadly it doesn’t but she is far from her own sanity. Husbands often when abusing make it a point to manipulate the women into believing that her wrong deeds have “caused him to lose his control”. Women then remain more quiet and henceforth.

5) Romanticizing the abuse

Indian cinema or any other entertainment for that matter have had people believe that a little bit of love after a night of abusive behavior is what it takes to forget everything. The man hits the wife in anger. Brings home flowers the next day. Asks her to sit alongside him and eat. Everything is happy again. Next week he hits her again. Flowers and excuses are all ready again.

Not only do cinema, but often women facilitate this idea among themselves. The mother in laws convince the daughter in laws that if he hits her he also brings her gifts. The good deeds no matter how small have enough power for them to overlook the abusive behaviour. Women then spend years finding the good deed (that often vanish over the years) to justify the constant abuse.

6) Coercion

One of the other primary reason than the abuser uses to not let the abused go is threatening and coercion. He threatens to not let her have a happy life if she leaves him. He threatens to take away the children, he threatens to bad mouth her or get her killed.

As bizarre as it sounds, this is a daily routine for some households to make sure women are reminded why they can’t leave. The constant threats form a reality in her mind which pushes her to keep quiet. Thereby delaying her departure more.

7) No support system

Women aren’t easily supported by their family and peers to leave abusive marriages. If she makes her mind up to leave, it’s often her closest family or friends who remind her of the hardships that leaving would bring, and the encouragement that she seeks is never available from anyone.

What we need to do

After going through all this, if women still decide to leave, they are bombarded with why didn’t you leave earlier from the same people who convinced her why she shouldn’t leave so early.

Whether you leave a marriage or you stay, either of them has a very abhorrent response system from the society.

Domestic violence survivors don’t need your “why didn’t you leave earlier” questions.

They need a “I am here for you” response.

Let’s work towards raising women and being the women who look out for each other more, and who don’t ask why didn’t you leave earlier.

Who ask how can I help you to leave instead.

Image source: a still from the film Provoked

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Tarannum is a feminist who is currently pursuing her CA. She loves to read, write,

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