We Need To Change The Question From 'Why Did She Stay?' To 'Why Did He Abuse Her?'

by Michele Pliner
Originally Published: 
Malte Mueller/Getty Images

Trigger warning: abuse

If the question “Why did she stay?” has ever crossed your mind, check yourself. You’re asking the wrong question.

Try this, instead: “Why did he abuse her?” Go ahead — try it. I’ll wait…


It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it? It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

I mean, it’s so much easier to blame the victim. After all, victims are weak. They had it coming. What did they expect?

“She made bad choices. She could have walked away. I never would have stayed in a relationship like that. I have self-respect. How could she let that happen?”

Let’s try this again: “WHY DID HE ABUSE HER?”

Is it starting to feel more natural? No? It’s ok. We’ll practice again.

In the meantime, let’s talk about abuse. Let’s figure out why we all blame the victim.

According to The Hotline, “Domestic violence (also referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), dating abuse, or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.”

Does it have to be physical? No. Is it sometimes? Yes.

Okay, so let’s work through this together. Since it’s so easy to walk away, let’s see how this plays out.

A girl meets a guy. She’s an attractive woman with a kickass job. He’s an attractive man with a decent job. They get together.

He always plans the most thoughtful dates. They spend more and more time together. He sends flowers to her office just to let her know he’s thinking about her. He plans weekend getaways. He’s so sweet — always looking for ways to surprise her. They both love the same things and have so much fun together. They spend more and more time together.

She’s finally found someone who’s not a jerk. This might actually be love. She’s not sure she’s ever felt this before. She’s pretty independent and assumed she would be on her own for the rest of her life, but he’s different. They’re completely compatible.

There’s this weird thing, though. Sometimes he walks in front of her instead of beside her. And he never holds the door open for her.

But those are just little things. Why let that bother? He only does those things because he never learned differently. It’s no big deal.

They move in together. She stops seeing her friends, but that’s just because they’re spending so much time together — there’s just no extra time to hang out with friends.

They get engaged. Things are moving quickly, but he’s definitely The One. They’re totally compatible in every way. Of course he’s The One.

They move and get married. She gets a new awesome job. He can’t seem to find a job.

I wonder what he does all day…

She wants to go out with friends. Every time she tries, he claims she’s not spending enough time with him.

I guess that makes sense. I mean, she’s been at work all day so they haven’t really seen each other. And he’s been stuck at home with no job and that must be so discouraging. Sure, they can spend more time together.

He finally gets a job. He doesn’t have to do much, but it pays well. There’s finally some stability. Maybe they can start thinking about a family.

He works from home, so he’s still always at home. She still wants to spend time with friends, but he just wants to spend time with her. She wants to call friends, but there’s never any privacy.

It’s fine. They can spend more time together. They have fun together. He must just get jealous when she goes out with other people. She’s not the super jealous type, but a lot of people get jealous. This must be normal. It’s nice that he wants to be together.

She gets pregnant. He’s the best partner any woman could ask for. He’s attentive and thoughtful and caring. He’ll make a great dad.

The baby is born. She looks just like him. She is colicky. She cries all the time, but he refuses to let her hold the baby for more than a few minutes before he snatches her away. “You’re a terrible mother. You didn’t get the mom gene,” he says.

Wait, what?

He goes on a trip for work for a few days. The baby doesn’t seem colicky anymore. The baby seems fine.

She goes back to work after maternity leave. He still works from home and is home with the baby. They hire a part-time babysitter. Then another. Then another. He fires them all, saying they’re incompetent.

When she comes home from work, he screams at her about how she doesn’t do anything around the house.

That’s fair. I mean, it is hard trying to juggle work and a baby. Maybe she’s being selfish by going to work. She hates being away from the baby, so maybe it’s a win-win if she quits.

So she quits her job to work from home. But he sabotages every work-from-home job she gets, so she freelances when she can to make extra money.

But even though he makes good money and she makes some money, they never seem to actually have any money. She’s not sure where it goes.

They have another baby. He mostly ignores her. She doesn’t look like him.

They sell one of their cars to save money. He leaves the house in their only car whenever he feels like it without asking. He just gets up and walks out.

It’s a good thing they live in a walkable neighborhood.

He takes the car out more and more often with no explanation. He comes home angry. “Why didn’t you go grocery shopping? Why don’t you ever go grocery shopping?”

He must be working really hard. He seems like he’s under a lot of stress.

He starts spending weeks at a time ignoring her. When she tries to speak to him, he doesn’t even look at her, let alone answer.

On days that they actually sit down at a meal together — all four of them — he brings his phone to the table. He’s always on his phone. She decides she’ll try to talk to him about it.

The kids go to bed and she musters up enough courage to discuss the phone.

He doesn’t take it well. “YOU FUCKING CUNT. All you do is sit around all day while I work my ass off. I’ll bring the phone wherever I fucking want, you ungrateful bitch.”

That’s what always happens. She shouldn’t have brought it up. It’s not worth it.

She wants to go to couples therapy. He agrees and they schedule an appointment. They start walking to the car to go to the appointment and he turns around and walks back into the house.

She wants to go to couples therapy. They go, and he yells at the therapist and walks out.

She can’t do this anymore. She doesn’t know how to fix this.

She buys a car and hires a divorce lawyer, but she can’t get anything out of the house because he has cameras everywhere.

He doesn’t know she hired a divorce lawyer, but he feels her pulling away. So he declares one day that they can go to couples therapy now. Her hope is renewed … briefly. I mean, this has to help, right? They go a few times, then stop.

They get home. He puts his headphones on and pretends to work. She can see his screen. He’s playing fantasy football. He pretends he can’t hear anyone. The kids want his attention. He ignores them. They still want his attention. He finally looks down, slides his headphones off his ears, and yells “What the hell is wrong with you? Can’t you see I’m working?” Then he puts his headphones back on. He goes back to “working.”

This has to end. Her girls can’t grow up thinking it’s okay to talk to people like that. They can’t grow up thinking it’s okay to be talked to like that. They can’t grow up believing this is what a relationship should look like.

But how is she supposed to leave? She has nothing.

She files for divorce. He tries to get her to settle without lawyers. She doesn’t trust him so she keeps her lawyer.

He says he’ll continue to pay for necessities for her and the kids until the divorce is final. They have a shared bank account. She goes to the grocery store. He decides she spent too much and withdraws all the remaining money (which has to last her through her next trip to the grocery store).

She begs him to put it back. He does.

She goes to a big-box store for toiletries because it’s cheaper. He decides she spent too much money. He withdraws all the money and cuts off her cell phone.

Then he cuts off her internet.

He never puts money back into the account that pays for food for her and the kids.

He demands that she reimburse him for “expenses.”

He drags out the divorce. He “loses” his job to avoid child support. He claims the kids on his taxes without her permission, then steals their stimulus checks during COVID.

Meanwhile, he tells the kids that “Mommy stole all of his money.”

50/50 custody is the default in many states. So even though the only time he paid attention to the kids was in public where people were watching so he could get high fives for being a “great dad,” he gets to abuse them 50% of the time.

And she gives up everything else just to make the torture end.

But it will never end, because he has young malleable minds to shape.

Maybe getting divorced was a mistake.

At least while they were together, she got to see her kids all day every day. At least she could provide some level of filter for them. At least they could experience love and kindness from at least one person every day.

Back to you, though. Yeah, you — the one who is reading all of this.

Are you still asking “why did she stay”?

Think about yourself for a moment. Pretend for a minute that you’re her. Pretend that you have nothing. You’re completely isolated. You have no money and no full-time job to support your family. You have no transportation. You have to make an emergency bag for yourself and your kids and find ways to sneak out one thing at a time because there are cameras everywhere and he’s always watching. You know you could lose your kids to the abuser. You know that if you leave, you’re in more danger than if you stayed. You’ve already been sleeping with one eye open for a long time. Do you risk leaving? Could you do it? Could you live with the consequences?

Maybe now you’re finally starting to wonder… Why should anyone ever have to make these earth-shattering decisions? She did nothing wrong. Her kids did nothing wrong. Why is she the one who has to uproot her life just to keep her kids safe? SHE DID NOTHING WRONG!

See, you’re finally getting it.

So the next time you hear someone ask “why did she stay?” — correct them. Because now you know better and that’s your responsibility as an enlightened human.

This shift in perspective takes practice — I get it. So let’s work on this together:




You’re doing great.

Now, my enlightened friend, you are out of excuses. You have a responsibility to change the narrative. When you know better, do better.

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