Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships

Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships


From the outside, breaking free of an abusive relationship may seem simple. If you’re unhappy, just go! But it’s not at all simple when it’s happening to you.

There are many reasons why people choose to stay in abusive relationships, even those that are very abusive.

An individual’s reasons may be complex and deeply rooted in private and cultural patterns or it may simply be that they know of no practical alternative.


A quick look at Partner Abuse: A Concise Overview of Domestic Violence, Emotional Abuse, and the 5 Other Forms of Partner Abuse in Straight and LGBTQ Relationships

14 Reasons Why People Don't Just Leave an Abusive Relationship

The following reasons are answers to the questions: Why do people stay in abusive relationships? Why don't they just leave?

A person may remain in an abusive relationship for one primary reason, or for a combination of reasons.


1. Hope that things will be better

If the abuse comes and goes in cycles, lulls in the abuse or promises of change keep reigniting hope that the abuse is finished.


The partner abuse cycle



2. Love for the abusive partner

An individual may love their partner’s non-abusive qualities, behaviors, and attitudes displayed at an earlier phase of the relationship, or positive personality traits that show up currently in cycles.


3. Denial

People often find it difficult to admit to themselves that they are abused.

This is especially true for male targets of abuse by women and LGBTQ targets because there is widespread cultural denial of partner abuse in any configuration other than male-to-female.

Additionally, LGBTQ partners may be drawn to denial as a protection against cultural negativity about their relationships.


4. Over emphases on certain qualities

The abusive partner may use the abuse target’s attachment to positive qualities (i.e. commitment, patience, compassion, perseverance, forgiveness…) against them. For example, a person may feign illness or helplessness to trap a compassionate responsible partner into providing all the financial support for the family.


5. Guilt

Abusers may blame their partner for the abuse, or virtually everything, leading the target of the abuse to become conditioned to accept blame.


6. Shame

An abused partner may stay to avoid feeling shame connected to giving up or failing.


7. Fear

An individual may fear losing their children, losing their place in society, being ostracized by their community or group, being alone, the unknown, retaliation, or a myriad of other negative outcomes if the relationship ends.

Repeated experiences of there being a “price to pay” when the abusive partner feels challenged, or direct threats of consequences, can increase fear of a breakup.

Straight men and LGBTQ targets of partner abuse may fear public ridicule if they talk about their experiences. Closeted LGBTQ targets may fear being outed by a jilted partner or by others if they seek help.


8. Economics

Worry over the cost of a separate household or the cost of ending the relationship may keep someone from calling it quits. They may be concerned about the financial impact on themselves, children, and/or even their partner.


9. Isolation

Abuse is isolating. A manipulative partner may work at isolating the target of their abuse from friends and family. The shame of being the target of abuse can also be isolating.

On top of all that, the Don’t Talk rule of man-law and desire to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination adds more isolation for male and LGBTQ targets of abuse.


10. Pressure to stay

Social or philosophical pressure to stay in an abusive relationship may be exerted by an individual’s culture, family, job, religion, community, or other sources. The pressure may be against ending any committed relationship or it may be against ending a relationship with this particular partner.


11. Lack of support

A common abusive tactic is to undermine relationships so that the target of abuse is isolated from a support system.

Additionally, some targets of abuse don’t feel represented in the bulk of information about partner abuse or by organizations set up to help “victims of domestic violence.” Male and LGBTQ targets of abuse may fear not being believed or taken seriously because their experience goes against society’s prominent view that partner abuse is sourced in patriarchy and is about male dominance over women.


12. Benefits of the relationship

An individual may put up with an abusive partner because they are attached to, or blinded by, the benefits of being with the partner. Benefits could include access to sex, the partner’s income or position, prestige, having a partner (any partner), or potential for having children.


13. Confusion

Abuse is very confusing. It can drain abuse targets and leave them immobilized. It can throw them into a foggy trance. There may be confusion about what’s happening and confusion about what to do about it.


14. Low self-confidence

Abuse undermines the target’s sense that they are an OK person and that they can manage on their own. Being berated, criticized, and told in so many ways that you are not good enough often makes a person feel not good enough: not good enough to manage on their own, get another partner, or be OK.


More Partner Abuse Information and Resources

A quick look at Partner Abuse: A Concise Overview of Domestic Violence, Emotional Abuse, and the 5 Other Forms of Partner Abuse in Straight and LGBTQ Relationships


A quick look at Abuse OF Men BY Women: A Concise Overview of Domestic Violence, Emotional Abuse, and the 5 Other Forms of Female on Male Spousal Abuse


Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It Hurts, and It's Time to Get Real About It

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  • Ann Silvers
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