Newswise — When an emotionally abused woman, living apart from her mate, moves back in with him she may actually be deep into the process of leaving him.
That's one finding from interviews by University of Denver researchers with women who ended emotionally abusive relationships.
"Leaving an abusive relationship is often characterized by breaking up and getting back together several times before terminating the relationship for good," says Barbara Vollmer, director of the Counseling and Educational Service Clinic in the College of Education at the University of Denver. "In fact, the 'getting back together' is an important piece of the process in which many women test out the relationship and themselves to discern if the choice is a good one."
Vollmer and seven of her students presented a paper on their research at the American Psychological Association convention in Honolulu in late July. They conducted in-depth interviews with ten women who successfully ended emotionally abusive relationships to learn more about the process. These relationships did not involve physical abuse.
They urged therapists who counsel emotionally abused women in relationships to be aware that leaving an abusive relationship is a process. Typical steps include women becoming less tolerant of their partner's behavior, a conversation or incident with their mate that serves as a turning point, new social involvements, and creation or strengthening of social support systems.
They noted that most of the women interviewed saw their mothers as sources of strength. Oddly, however, few shared with their mothers anything at all about their partner's mistreatment.
The emotionally abused women also chose carefully the time to leave.
"Most women knew that they planned to leave well before they actually left," says Vollmer, "sometimes years before they left. Most wanted to leave on their own terms and when the time was right for them."
After leaving their abusive partners, most of the women had to resist attempts by their partner to return and some had to deal with stalking behavior. Most blamed themselves for staying too long in the relationship and felt they had learned important lessons about what constitutes a healthy relationship.
One of the surprises for the researchers was how quickly subtle shaming and manipulation can immerse women into an abusive relationship.
"Women often report that they found themselves farther into an abusive relationship than they realized in a short amount of time," says Vollmer. "It's important for counselors to understand that."