Why do people stay in abusive relationships?

People who don’t know what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship often ask, “why don’t you leave?” For those who don’t know what it’s like, this sort of response might seem logical. Just throw the deuces up and move on with your life – right? But here’s the thing – when it comes to relationship abuse, it’s never as easy as “just leaving.” Breaking up can be more complicated than it seems.

There are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships.

Fear: Fear of what will happen if they decide to leave the relationship.

Believing Abuse is Normal: Some don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, they may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy.

Embarrassment: It’s probably hard to admit that they’ve been abused. They may feel they’ve done something wrong by becoming involved with an abusive partner. They may also worry that their friends and family will judge them.

Low Self-esteem: If a person is constantly put down and is blamed for the abuse, it can be easy to believe those statements and think that the abuse is their fault.

Love: They may stay in an abusive relationship hoping that their abuser will change. Think about it — if a person you love tells you they’ll change, you want to believe them. You may only want the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely.

Cultural/Religious Reasons: Traditional gender roles can make it difficult for young women to admit to being sexually active and for young men to admit to being abused. Also, culture or religion may influence them to stay rather than end the relationship for fear of bringing shame upon their family.

Pregnancy/Parenting: They may feel pressure to raise their children with both parents together, even if that means staying in an abusive relationship. Also, the abusive partner may threaten to take or harm the children if your friend leaves.

Lack of Money: Your friend may have become financially dependent on their abusive partner. Without money, it can seem impossible for them to leave the relationship.

Nowhere to Go: Even if they could leave, your friend may think that they have nowhere to go or no one to turn to once they’ve ended the relationship. This feeling of helplessness can be especially strong if the person lives with their abusive partner.

Emotional abuse: Oftentimes, people in emotionally abusive relationships may not understand that they are being abused because there’s no violence involved. Also, many will dismiss or downplay emotional abuse because they don’t think it’s as bad as physical abuse. It’s hard for those in abusive relationships to leave their partners after they’ve continuously been made to feel worthless and like there’s no better option for themselves.

Denying responsibility: After a conflict, an abuser will turn the situation around and make their partner feel guilty or as though they are somehow at fault. 

Sticking it out: A lot of people in abusive relationships stay in them because they love their partner and think that things will change. They might also believe their partner’s behavior is due to tough times or feel as though they can change their partner if they are a better partner themselves. Never stay in a relationship in which you count on someone to change their behavior for the better.

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