Maria is a 65-year-old Hispanic woman who transformed her life with the support of Safe Harbor’s adult counseling program.
Maria relocated to Virginia six months ago to flee her abusive husband of 18 years. She came to Richmond to live with family, and a nonprofit domestic violence agency from her home state connected her with a Spanish-speaking counselor at Safe Harbor. Maria felt unsure about separating from her husband, and she contemplated returning to her home state several times. Her counselor worked to help educate her about the nature of domestic violence, and of abusers.
The counselor provided Maria with unconditional support surrounding her confusion about her abusive relationship, and she challenged Maria to continually ask herself, “How do you want to spend the next phase of your life?” Did she want to continue living the same way she had lived the last 18 years, or did she want her life to be different?
Maria clearly communicated each time that she wanted her life to be different, and that she wanted to feel important and loved. Her counselor continually provided her with the validation that she was an important person who deserved to be loved, first and foremost, by her own self. For several months, Maria’s counselor supported her in finding ways to love herself and put her needs first.
Through this process, Maria started to experience what it felt like to live a life free from abuse. However, her husband continually pressured her to return to home. At times she cycled from feeling empowered to end her marriage, to feeling confused and incapable of leaving. Maria continually attended weekly counseling sessions to gain the ongoing support she needed, and an important parallel process began to unfold.
A few months ago, Maria arrived at a counseling session and proudly announced, “I’m done, I’ve made a decision, I’m leaving him. He is never going to change.” Her counselor processed her feelings with her and provided her with the resources to pursue a divorce. She returned the following week with all of the forms, signed by both her and her abusive husband.
Maria felt free and excited for her future. After 18 years of enduring physical, verbal, emotional and economic abuse, she felt free from it all. Her story of success is rare because it is not typical for women in their sixties to leave abusive relationships after decades of marriage.
Maria’s counselor continued to work with her to process her trauma from the abuse, and to ensure she could confidently continue to put herself first. Maria recently shared with her counselor:
“You never told me what to do. Instead, you helped me to understand how much the abuse affected my health, my life, and that I had every right to show myself love and respect and be happy.”
Maria’s story is still unfolding, and her new life does not involve the man who repeatedly abused her. Instead, she is surrounded by family and friends who cheer her on as she builds her new life, free from abuse.
*Maria agreed to share her story and her name has been changed to protect her identity
Director of Counseling and Advocacy