Abusive Relationships: Devil You Know vs. The Devil You Don’t

February 3, 2014 Kellie Jo Holly

In abusive relationships, the devil you know seems better than the devil you don't. We go back and forth over leaving our abusive mate, wobbling between fear of them and fear of the unknown. It's a tricky balancing act, especially when our partner seems to know just when to put on their nice mask. The sweet phases of an abusive relationship add to the confusion and indecision about just what kind of devil we know.

What kind of devil can be so sweet one minute and so nasty the next? And why can they act kind for long stretches and then turn back into monsters over meaningless situations or words? Why do they hurt us? Why do we stay? Will this relationship hurt the children? Can this relationship last? Should I stay to see if it gets better? Should I run and not look back?

Unfortunately, I am incapable of giving you those answers. And honestly, the longer you take contemplating what those answers could be, the longer you'll be stuck with the devil you know.

It is natural for our brain to contemplate why the abuser is either nice or mean. Our brain likes comparisons. It likes weighing two things against one another, making a choice and learning from that decision. But don't let your brain fool you into thinking the abusive person is part nice and part mean. Don't allow you brain to divide the behaviors because they're both part of the same devil; the flip-flopping, sour then sweet abuser is only one person. The idea that such a monster could hold true kindness is laughable when you think about it.

The Devil You Know

Take 90 seconds and watch the trailer for Maleficent. Pay attention to Maleficent's beauty, her strength, her confidence ... and her wicked, wicked smile. Angelina Jolie plays the part so well I felt ice daggers piercing my much beauty hiding the ability to produce so much pain.

That 90 second video sums up the devil you know. In the trailer, we see about two seconds of Maleficent seeming innocent, even sad perhaps. But when it comes to your abuser, the innocence, sweetness and caring is the mask. Underneath every smile and soft word lies the venom of a cobra. Your partner CAN be so sweet. They can woo you back time after time. But the sweetness does not give evidence to a dual personality or even a mental illness (about 10% of abusers have those, the same rate as the general population).

No, your special breed of devil only pretends to be loving. At least Maleficent removes her mask - we can see her for the wicked person she is. Your abuser offers no such honesty.

Your abusive partner will lie to you when there's no reason to lie. They will give you the moon and then take it back as punishment, all the while believing the moon is theirs to give. The abuser kisses like a vampire, one second so deliciously your legs waver unsteadily, the next second as vicious a bite as you've ever known. You know this devil. It is not angelic and then evil. This devil is evil dressed in angel's garb.

The Devil You Don't

Thinking of leaving an abusive relationship can be scarier than staying in it. The devil you know is better than the devil you don't...or so we think.The devil you do not know remains unknowable until you step into it. Leaving abuse behind offers the sweet mystery of life and broadens your mind and reopens your heart even if fear remains. You will find the space to breathe, to think, to decide and to do. No one tells you not to do anything. No one tells you what to do.

The freedom you'll feel is tempered by great responsibility. You may have children to protect and teach. You might need to take a job for the first time in your life. Or you may need to live on your own, alone, without feeling lonely and empty inside. It is your responsibility to take care of you, and you will finally understand why taking care of yourself first is not selfish.

You will discover the devil you didn't know is you. The unknowable devil that filled you with dread is only you. In the abuse, you did not grasp how strong you are or how quickly you can rebound from failure or pain.

It is scary and exhilarating to get to know yourself again. One moment you feel tiny like a speck of dirt batted about by a breeze, and the next moment you feel happy to be like a mighty boulder rolling down a hill - unstoppable and unafraid.

In reality, you, the devil you didn't know, is both a speck of dirt and a boulder. You are both courageous and afraid. You are strong and weak, happy and sad, free and burdened. But this is okay. YOU are capable of living on the continuum between any opposites. YOU are able to re-balance yourself as needed. It is okay to feel how you feel.

It is okay to be who you are.

Please, be who you are.


Dear Readers,

Thank you for helping me to feel like the mighty boulder, unstoppable and brave. I appreciate the platform has given me, yet it is time for the next phase of my journey to begin. This is my last post for, but not the end of my advocacy for abuse survivors. I'll be here, on the web, all the time.

My website: Verbal Abuse Journals

Twitter: @abuse_journals

Facebook: Verbal Abuse Journals

Facebook: The Emergency Fund For Survivors of Domestic Violence and Abuse, Inc.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2014, February 3). Abusive Relationships: Devil You Know vs. The Devil You Don’t, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

Sharon Taddei
August, 25 2018 at 10:45 pm

U confirmed every thought I have on domestic violence. I was physically abused protecting my mother from my father who was the worst devil. I married at a young teen because I was pregnant. I again spent 60 years suffering with a verbally abusive husband who has been a father or a husband. He is bipolar,a con and narcissistic. He also is an alcoholic, oxy addict who consistently lies, brags & bribes family & “friends.” There is no social life it’s verbal abuse, daily sports on TV or participation. He has tried to have made sexual advances with friends at 5pm (bedtime) right in my sight publicly, on the phone etc iwithout any signs of regret or understanding of his behavior. Spends $’s without budgeting on a daily basis to appear wealthy.. I’ve been in counseling but he cons daughter into attending sessions with lists of offensive grievances where the blame is reversed to me. I have a MSW degree w/gestalt post graduate work! I rest my case! Although he is the “winner” I the looser I will continue to persevere as I have no $’s no place to go.

May, 25 2016 at 3:30 pm

Years ago I'll tell you two of my experiences. The first have you ever seen a karate poster that shows all the punching points if so I had every punch on my body. Of course not my head. The second they were angry because I smoked a cigarette and he fought me and grabbed a pillow and was smothering me with it. I played dead until he calmed down.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
May, 26 2016 at 9:22 am

I pretended to be unconscious during the first attack. Don't they say the damndest things when they think you can't hear?

September, 27 2015 at 6:05 pm

I have been ina relationship with someone I feel is a Narcissist/Socio/Psycho/PATH. He has stolen, sold, threw away and god only knows what else with my money, phones, clithing hell anything thats not nailed down. I have finally leftbut now I dont have any shoes, coats, or money for anything. I dont want to go back bu I might have too. Help me figure out how to deal with this. Thank you

May, 29 2015 at 6:06 am

Thank you so much for this article. I need the encouragement about life after leaving an abusive marriage. Thank you.

September, 17 2014 at 8:22 am

I've been married 15 yrs. in counseling for more than five. We have a beautiful two year old boy. We just started marriage counseling, and recently met with the counselor on my own. I've been close to tears since then because after telling my stories he asked if he hits me. No. Sexually abusive? No. So the abuse is just verbal? Yes. Verbal or emotional. He never yells or swears or calls me names. So it's more subtle? Yes.
I'm kind of freaking out and will probably have to leave my church because our denomination doesn't support divorce for any reason but I can't live like this for another 15 years and I doubt he can change. I'm so sad and so scared.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
September, 22 2014 at 9:43 am

Find another church, and visit Cindy Burrell writes about domestic abuse and violence from a Christian perspective. I think you'll relate to her well.

Danica Gale
August, 26 2014 at 4:14 am

Love your website! Such a relief to know others have (unfortunately) gone through the same things I have. I started my blog about leaving a narcissist for the same reasons as you have started yours, I think. Healing comes from getting it out and finding solutions to what we CAN. It's not easy! Thanks for your work!

Lorri Bertram
July, 30 2014 at 4:35 pm

What an amazing was great!!

July, 21 2014 at 1:58 am

Oh no, I just found you and you left :(

June, 27 2014 at 6:12 am

Thank you for your blogs. I pray for the strength and courage to break ties, while praying that my daughter is affected as little as possible by her father's verbal abuse toward me and his resentment against her. Some days I look at this 10-year old and am totally amazed by her strength and maturity. Love her to the moon and back.

June, 17 2014 at 6:32 am

Sorry to see you go!

April, 11 2014 at 4:36 pm

This is a very good site. I find it to be helpful to me as I am in an abusive relationship and have been for years. I want to say that I have been married for 20+ years but really feel like it hasn't been a marriage at all. Being repeatedly accused of sleeping around, being called a whore, being sweared at and questioned for getting groceries after dropping my son off to basketball camp and on and on. I could tell countless stories of the hell I have lived with this man who professes to a man of God in the public's eye. I have decided to get out of it. It seems so hard because of the unknown. I keep telling myself staying will only encourage him to continue sinning against us. I recently visited a lawyer to find out about my legal rights. Now I have to work on the next step which is confronting him with the fact that this is going to happen. I need to end it. I feel as if I am wasting away on the inside because of hurt and anguish I have experienced. I am glad that I found your site.

March, 17 2014 at 9:49 am

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. When in a relationship it's so important to know yourself, who you are and what you want from what you don't want? You have to know you are worthy of love and happiness and you have to have a long term perspetive on what really makes you happy.

February, 10 2014 at 3:49 pm

Hello, in your blog you assume that all abusers are male? mine happens to be female, I think She is bypolar, She is sweet and charming and very agresive the next second, and the verbal abuse keeps on comming.

February, 9 2014 at 3:14 am

Thank you <3

February, 8 2014 at 1:16 pm

This made me cry! It always feels as if nobody understands me at all. This is exactly how I feel. I have never read anything else about life after abuse that has touched me so. You get it. Thank you.

February, 5 2014 at 9:31 pm

Have read all your posts here and learnt so much. Heading over to your website to start on the archives there.

Leave a reply