Confused about helping women abused by male partners? Stage 3 Stage 3 Clare Murphy PhDWhen women start to develop a determination to prepare for seeking change it does not mean it becomes easy for friends and family to know how to support her. At this third stage in women’s process of making sense of one-sided power and control by a male partner, Dienemann and colleagues (2007) suggest women are considering change and looking at their options.

Confusion is really starting to set in for women at this stage

Being confused means women may stop blaming themselves, while at the same time still make excuses for their partner’s abuse, but start to realise he is choosing to do this to her as she has given him many opportunities to change and stop. Confusion may entail a desire to be loyal to her partner, whilst admitting that she feels abused and that what he is doing is unjust. She might continue to hope he will change, yet at the same time be riddled with thoughts of revenge or even murder. She may want to leave, but feel guilty about doing so.

The fact he continues to abuse and control her adds to her increasing commitment to seek change for herself. But many women do not want to lose what might be a fulfilling sexual relationship. Many women don’t want to lose all the material things they have created – their house, investments, car – and for some – holiday homes. Women do not want to leave their neighbourhoods where children attend school and have their friends. Women I’ve known also find it extremely difficult to contemplate losing their dreams of a happy-ever-after-marriage. Making choices that lead to these losses leads to a sense of failure and shame for many women. Women do not have to leave for a relationship to end – some countries have provision for court orders to be made so the abusive partner leaves the house.

The psychological toll starts to become unbearable. She may feel she has lost confidence, self-esteem and lost herself. She may feel incredibly anxious, traumatised, stressed and overwhelmed.

At this stage women may start to seek out other women victims for validation, understanding and support. There are group programmes and/or support groups in many large towns and cities for women who are victims of intimate partner abuse and control. Some of these programmes are free, some charge fees. Providing women with information about such programmes can be extremely useful at this time.

Women at this stage need a great deal of understanding and validation as they struggle to find their lost selves. They will hesitate and falter at this stage, perhaps leave their partner, then return. It is not easy staying and trying to work out how to survive emotionally and physically, nor is it easy deciding to leave. Although they may talk about seeking some sort of change, that change may be to find the strength to know she is worthwhile – without rocking the boat in the relationship.

How you can support women at this confusing time:

  • Providing information and resources are key ways to help at this stage
  • Provide information about the dynamics of one-sided power and control and find names of counsellors known to understand the dynamics
  • Find out information about the costs and benefits of getting a protection order and how to get one
  • Make available names of lawyers, or contact details for community legal services
  • Give women contact details of local support groups – face-to-face or online
  • Help her set goals of her choice (remember she still wants the relationship to work at this stage)
  • Offer accommodation, or help her find free or affordable accommodation if she wants to trial a separation
  • Find out if your state or country provides legal assistance for women victims to stay in their home and male perpetrators to leave
  • Any help should always consider the woman’s (and her children’s) safety
  • Help her make a safety plan and provide support in using it
  • Affirm her worthiness


  • 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.
  • 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.