All research begins with certain assumptions, many of which will be proved to be wholly or partly wrong as the study proceeds. This chapter is concerned with two such assumptions. The first was that the stay at the refuge would mark a turning point in the women's lives and that after it each woman would either return to her husband or would leave him and make a new life for herself on her own. A second and related assumption was that after they left the re'fuge it would be possible to divide the women into two groups, one containing those who had returned to their husbands and one containing those whose marriages had ended. Both these assumptions proved to be true, but also to be oversimplifications of what actually happened

This chapter will present background information about the women, and about their husbands and children; it will then go on to describe what happened to these forty-two families during the three or four years of the study and to discuss the accounts which the women gave of the decisions which they made on behalf of themselves and their children. The aim of the chapter is to set the scene for the discussion, in the following chapters, of the women's experiences at the refuge and after leaving it and of their attempts to get help from their families and friends and from the statutory and voluntary agencies.