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Why women stay in abusive marriages

By Kemi Olatunde


Mariam Ajakaiye lives in a remote village somewhere in the south western part of Nigeria. She is married to a farmer who gets provoked easily and does not hesitate to hit her whenever he feels like.

According to the 37-year-old housewife, she was tired of the physical and mental abuse and would have loved to take a break from the suffering.

However, she told The Hope that her love for her husband has made it impossible for her to leave the marriage.

Her words:  “I met my husband over fifteen years ago and I was deflowered by him. Even though he was not my first boyfriend, my love for him is second to none. Our early years in marriage could be best described as heaven on earth until we had our fourth child. The once happy relationship between us took another form as he began to dwell on my mistakes.

“He took on a new form and became a stranger to me. Satan took away my husband and gave me a monster to live with. He beats me at every provocation either at home or outside the home. In spite of his misbehavior, I still love him and I will still live with him over and over again. I have no choice but to love him because we are one. I will continue to endure because I know that one day, he will be delivered from his strange behavior,” she vowed.

Also sharing her experience with The Hope, a 42-year-old trader who simply identified herself as Mummy Gift said that women have been created to be submissive to their husbands and should endure whatever they go through in marriage.

According to her; “Most women have one challenge or the other in marriage but this should not stop them from being submissive to their husbands. It is not something new that the man beats the wife as it is to bring the wife to her senses. My husband before now used to beat me but at a stage in my marriage, I woke up at the middle of the night to ask him why he was like that and also to know how to make amends so that he can stop ill treating me.

He pointed out my mistakes and since then, I haven’t experienced such again. During those days, I endured because I believe he would change, I love him, he is my first love,” she added.

“My mother had seven children for my father and growing up for me was traumatizing because on countless occasions, my father abused my mother through merciless beatings and ensuring she sleep outside the compound anytime she failed to return early from an outing not necessarily social function. “Till date, I still recollect those awful moments and each time this happens, tears flow ceaselessly from my eyes. To say the least, she really suffered in that regard.”

The above are the words of a 52-year-old trader, who doesn’t want her name in print in one of the rural communities in Ondo State who berated marital abuse especially on women as she managed to fight back tear drops while speaking with The Hope.

Nigerians will not in a hurry forget the late  Gospel Artiste, Osinachi Nwachukwu  who died on April 8, 2022 at the age of 43 leaving behind four children. She achieved popularity through the single “Ekwueme” featuring Prospa Ochimana. Her death was alleged to be as a result of domestic violence. Her husband, Peter Nwachukwu, was arrested in connection with her death.

According to reports, elder sister to late Osinachi Nwachukwu, Ms Favour Madu,  claimed that her sister might not have died of cancer but complications from domestic violence.

She also alleged that her sister went through domestic violence, which resulted in her getting a kick on the chest by her husband.

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According to her, it was that kick that led to the cluster of blood in her chest, which a doctor allegedly confessed led to her death.

 Experts opinion

Marriage is an intimate union and partnership between a man and a woman. It acts as a social and legal contract that gives a partner someone to rely on, brings a greater degree of intimacy and emotional security.

It is the dream of everybody to enjoy marriage and not have to endure it.

Based on this, every individual ensure that he/she finds a partner that will make his/her dream come true by possessing a reasonable percentage of the desired qualities of a partner be it husband or wife, hence it is not so uncommon to hear men especially at the inception of marriage describe their wives as their dream come true, love, heartbeat, etc. Some are fond of saying that the woman is the most precious of all creatures on earth. With these words, the woman is rest assured of true love from the man but at some points, in the journey of marriage, the music stops for some women and even at this, they prefer to endure the marriage due to so many factors.

According to a marriage counselor, love can be an incredibly powerful reason why people remain in an abusive relationship, why they don’t feel they can leave, or why they leave and then return. And it is, perhaps, one of the hardest reasons to understand.

Research shows that survivors themselves become frustrated that their love, concern and care for the abuser has kept them ensnared.

According to a Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy, Jason B. Whiting women stay in abusive marriage due to the following reasons;

 Distorted thoughts: Being controlled and hurt is traumatizing, and this leads to confusion, doubts, and even self-blame. Perpetrators harass and accuse victims, which wears them down and causes despair and guilt.

 Damaged self-worth: Damage to self which is the result of degrading treatment.

Fear: The threat of bodily and emotional harm is powerful, and abusers use this to control and keep women trapped. Female victims of violence are much more likely than male victims to be terrorized and traumatized.

 Wanting to be a saviour: Desire to help, or love their partners with the hope that they could change them: “I believed I could love the abuse out of him.” Others described internal values or commitments to the marriage or partner, with tweets like: “I thought I would be the strong one who would never leave him and show him loyalty. I would fix him and teach him love.” Others had pity and put their partner’s needs above their own: “His father died, he became an alcoholic and said that God wouldn’t want me to leave him because he needed me to make him better.”

Children: Some women also put their children first, sacrificing their own safety: “I was afraid if he wasn’t beating me, he would beat his kids. And I value their lives more than my own.” And, “I stayed for 20 years while I protected our children, all the while I was being abused.” Others mentioned staying to benefit the children: “I wanted my son to have a father.”

 Family expectations and experiences: Many posted descriptions of how past experiences with violence distorted their sense of self or of healthy relationships: “I watched my dad beat my mom. Then I found someone just like dad,” or, “Because you were raised by animals, you partner with wolves.” Some mentioned family and religious pressures: “My mother told me God would disown me if I broke my marriage.”

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Financial constraints: Many referred to financial limitations, and these were often connected to caring for children: “I had no family, two young children, no money, and guilt because he had brain damage from a car accident.” Others were unable to keep jobs because of the abuser’s control or their injuries, and others were used financially by their abuser: “[My] ex racked up thousands of debt in my name.”

Isolation: A common tactic of manipulative partners is to separate their victim from family and friends. Sometimes this is physical, as one woman experienced: “I was literally trapped in the backwoods of WV, and he would use my little boy to keep me close.” Other times isolation is emotional, as one woman was told: “You can either have friends and family or you can have me.”

Although these eight reasons for staying are common, they do not describe every victim and situation. Women can also be perpetrators, and there are many patterns of violence.

 Conspiracy of silence between victims and families

According to him, another reason many victims hesitate to speak up is because they are afraid of being judged and pressured by friends and professionals. If more people responded to victims’ stories of abuse with concern and compassion, instead of with criticism, more victims might speak up and find the support they need to live a life free of abuse.

Gender and Family mediation Specialist who craved anonymity noted that a lot of women who are abused are economically challenged adding that cultural beliefs contribute in no small measure to it.

Speaking further, she identified knowledge gap as one of the factors stating that a lot if women don’t even know that they are being abused and don’t know that they should seek help.

She called on women to gain more knowledge and understanding, mind the kind of information they share online adding that government should do more in terms of employment of vulnerable persons.

A civil Servant who doesn’t want her name in print explained that a good number of women go through emotional abuse in their relationship noting that they are dying in silence.

“My neighbor is always moody but the husband on the other hand is the cheerful type and as such the man has so many people flocking around him while the wife is always left to her fate.

“There was a time that I took my time to get close to her and I observed that she decided to withdraw from people because of inferiority complex. She opened up and told me that her husband criticize all she does and never for once encourage her. To her, women should depend on men for everything. She dare not play with her man at home. Infact, she is not expected to make sexual advances towards the man, it is that terrible.

“To her, marriage isn’t for anyone who cannot submit to the leadership of the man.”

A hairdresser, Mrs Bola Anthony described old age as a time when nemesis will catch up with the man as the main reason women endure abusive marriage stating that love fades with time.

Her words; “For some people in their family, their mothers might have had several husbands which she had adverse effect on them and as such the children make up their mind never to leave their home irrespective of their encounter in it.

“Secondly some don’t want to be tagged negatively by the society and as such prefer to prevent shame by holding on to the marriage. Some want to witness the last stage of a man’s life; the old age which is the most important in the life of men. A man isn’t productive at that age, the society doesn’t really value them at that age and that is why it is important for men to take care of their wife in order to enjoy that stage.  A man who dealt badly with his wife while building the marriage reaps his deeds and vice versa. Some men do say that children take of their mother at old age hence refuse to take responsibility of such children and this is wrong.

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“A woman was set ablaze in my area recently, she is close to me and she revealed to me that she didn’t want to jump from one husband to the other as the trait is in her extended family and this led to her untimely death. There is no unfortunate woman, a woman who is well taken care off will pray for the man and also increase their love.

I lecture my boy that he should make his future wife his friend and lover. Mothers in law too must take the daughter in law as her daughter too and also help her son care for his wife. She should not be in support of her son maltreating his wife.  The more men take care of their wife, the more prosperity they enjoy. Men are too jealous, they don’t want their wife to prosper forgetting the fact that it is for their benefit. Men should take care of their wives so that they can enjoy God’s blessings.”

Patience, perseverance identified as solutions to spousal abuse

A Chartered Accountant with a private firm who craved anonymity described children as the main reason for enduring abusive relationship. She noted that things were not rosy for our aged parents, adding that women should learn from them.

She said; “There is no amount of maltreatment by my husband that will make me leave my home. I have lovely children of both sexes and I know what I went through to have them. I can’t imagine my children growing under the roof of a single parent. I want them to be well raised.

“Also, an adage says ‘the devil you know is better than the Angel you don’t know’ if a woman leaves a marriage for another, she isn’t sure of what will befall her there so it is better to endure it.

“Our aged mothers endured a lot in their marriages because they didn’t want another person to play their role in the lives of their children.”

A medical doctor, Dr. Victor Adefesoye while speaking with The Hope described abuse as a physical and psychological maltreatment whereby a woman is put under oppression either directly or indirectly from the husband.

According to him, women endure abusive marriage due to culture and tradition, religion, psycho-social aspect and economic reasons.

He said; “Many women want their children rooted in the family of the husband. Also, some people (women) are so religious to the extent of quoting the Biblical aspects that says ‘ what God has joined together, let no man put asunder’. A woman who is well respected in the society will never imagine herself leaving her husband’s house for another place due to shame. Moreover, if the husband is the breadwinner, the woman will shy away from the abusive aspect of the man since he provides her needs and if on the other hand the husband is well respected in the society, the wife may not want to disgrace her husband, hence ensuring the marriage.”

He advised couple to plan well for the future of their children and also work out their differences if need be rather than giving in to abuse.

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