Feeling bemused about helping women abused by male partners – Stage 2

Speakoutloud.net Stage 2 Clare Murphy PhDDuring the contemplation stage of women coming to terms with the abuse and control by their male partner, women begin to accept that there is a problem that is not resolving itself. Dienemann and colleagues (2007) call stage 2 a time when women continue to be committed to the relationship but begin to question it.

At this time women waiver between talking about and then not talking about the abuse. They start to consider advantages and disadvantages of making change and considering a different future.

Because women are still committed they may sacrifice themselves in order to maintain the relationship. Our society stresses the idea that it is a woman’s role to make relationships work. However at this stage she may begin to question whether she is to blame and ask her partner to get help. Therefore she will continue to seek answers to the logic underpinning his behaviours.

Coping with physical violence compared with psychological abuse and control

For women who are experiencing physical violence they may begin to fear for their lives and admit to not feeling safe. For women who never experience physical violence, but are being abused and controlled psychologically, there is no visible evidence of abuse. Outsiders might see bruises on women who are beaten, but psychological abuse is far more private – hence the abuser seems innocent. There is a move in our society to oppose violence against women – this helps women start to name the man’s violence as wrong and to push for him to get help. It is much more difficult to begin to label tactics of psychological abuse and control as wrong because our society avoids defining it and talking about it as a public issue.

In my work with women over the years I have observed the same distinctions as Valerie Chang has in her bookI Just Lost Myself: Psychological Abuse of Women in Marriage.  Women who experience physical violence (and other forms of abuse and control) respond differently compared with women who are psychologically abused and controlled independent of physical violence. Women who are psychologically abused (but never physically hit) detach emotionally before separating and usually don’t attempt to reconcile after the relationship ends. These women are very hesitant to commit to another relationship because psychological abuse and control is a pattern over time, is confusing, insidious and very difficult to detect the warning signs. Whereas women who are physically hit may separate for the first time while they are still emotionally attached. Women who experience physical violence (compared with abused and controlled women who do not) are more likely to make many attempts to reconcile and they are optimistic about future relationships. Of course this is not always the case, however, as a friend or family member who is trying to help, it is important to understand some of the nuances.

Stage 2 is all about exploring pros and cons

Ultimately, stage 2 means women may start to explore options but are not ready to end the relationship. Women may feel trapped, may be desperate to make the relationship work for the sake of the children, will not want to humiliate her partner by calling the police, or by making the abuse too public. Many women believe their partner is insecure and needs their loving. At this stage women are not ready to give up trying and are very willing to give their partner another chance. Therefore some women may reverse or withdraw protection orders.

Women will likely seek information, some might leave at this stage, but don’t be surprised if they return. They are not stupid and they do not like or want to be abused. They want their relationship to work and they want to feel safe and carry out their commitment to be in relationship “for better or worse”. This requires incredible strength and resourcefulness. On the other hand women at this time may feel a lack of trust in themselves, their partner and people in general and believe that no one can help.

What can you do to help?

  • Help the woman talk through costs and benefits of the relationship – now and in the future
  • Discuss her fears of leaving, e.g. lack of resources – money, accommodation, social support, not wanting to be alone, shame, feelings of failure
  • Ask for her views of danger to her, her children, to others – whether she stays or leaves (Remember there is an increased chance of a woman being murdered after she leaves a man who has a history of being controlling)
  • Affirm that what she is experiencing is abusive and that she does not deserve it, nor is she to blame
  • Ask her for all the ways she (and her children) are being affected – psychologically, ability to function at work, ability to pursue dreams
  • Help her make a safety plan
  • Respect her decisions


  • Burman, Sondra. (2003). Battered women: Stages of change and other treatment models that instigate and sustain leaving. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 3, 83-98.
  • Burnett, Lynn Barkley and; Adler, Jonathan. (2008). Domestic violence.
  • Chang, Valerie Nash. (1996). I Just Lost Myself: Psychological Abuse of Women in Marriage. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • Dienemann, Jacqueline A., Glass, Nancy, Hanson, Ginger and; Lunsford, Kathleen. (2007). The domestic violence survivor assessment (DVSA): A tool for individual counselling with women experiencing intimate partner violence. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 28, 913-925.
  • Kramer, Alice. (2007). Stages of change: Surviving intimate partner violence during and after pregnancy. Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing, 21, 285-295.
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Meet the Author

Clare Murphy PhD is the founder of SpeakOutLoud. Her website is dedicated to providing in-depth research about coercive control and psychological abuse. Clare mentors, supervises and trains professionals to recognise and work safely with domestic violence. She offers one-on-one counselling and consultation to those who are ready to make sense of coercive control and abuse, and to Grow and Flourish Beyond Trauma.