Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships
A person who is being abused may endure the abuse for a long time before seeking support. Some victims never tell anyone about the abuse. A person who is being abused may be reluctant or unable to talk about or report abuse for many different reasons. No one deserves to be abused and you don’t have to put up with it. There are a number of things you can do if you are experiencing violence and abuse from a partner or ex-partner. However none of these will be easy and none provides a complete or immediate end to the abuse. Getting free from abuse is a long process: most women seek help from a number of sources, and may leave and return several times before they are able to make the final break.
If you haven’t been in this situation yourself, leaving may seem the obvious answer. Although the idea of walking away from a relationship seems easy enough, it isn’t for a victim of domestic violence. There are many reasons why women stay with their abusers – and it is also important to know that leaving does not always end the abuse (and sometimes, at least for a time, it may get worse). The questions that are often asked to why women stay in the abusive relationship are: (a) “Why didn’t you leave?” or (b) “Why did you stay so long?”
It is hard for an outsider to understand exactly what the victim feels is going through or why they feel they must stay. Here are a few reasons that women feel they need to stay:
- Childhood experiences – If a child is raised in an abusive environment, they are more likely to have tolerance of that behaviour then someone who hasn’t. Children that were raised to believe in domestic violence as a means of resolution, they will learn that domestic violence is a means of resolution in general. Children in violent households are equally more likely to become abusers, and to allow themselves to become abused.
- Economic dependence – Quite often, the abuser is the primary money maker, leaving the victim without a means of financial dependence. Leaving is near impossible if there is no money to fund that escape, so the victim’s only option is to stay.
- Emotionally attached to the abusive partner or have strong beliefs about keeping their relationship or family together.
- Fear is a common emotion expressed in an abusive relationship. If attempts are made to remove themselves from that situation, the retaliation from their abuser can be horrible. So, instead of trying to change things and risk being hurt more, the only option left is to stay. That the abuser may retaliate against them or their loved ones or they may fear being stigmatized by others.
- Frequency and severity of the abuse – The victim knows how to fuel an attack, and they also know how to help prevent making the attack worse than it has to be. If the victim knows that showing signs of a potential departure would cause an attack on the part of their abuser, then their only option is to stay.
- Isolation – An important tactic used by an abuser is isolation. Turning the victim against their friends and/or family makes them an easier target. If the victim has no one to turn to for help, then their only option is to stay. They may live in an isolated area, or be socially isolated from others. They may face communications, language or cultural barriers.
- Maybe their confidence has been undermined so badly that they believe they couldn’t cope alone, and lack the confidence to leave.
- They are terrified of the consequences
- The abuser may threaten to harm or even kill his partner or the children if they leave
- They may feel that it is best for the children if they stay and try to make their relationship work.
- They may be worried about practical issues:
- Where can they go?
- Will they make themselves homeless?
- Where will they get money? They may be worried about loneliness – particularly if their partners have isolated them from friends and family
- They may feel ashamed or powerless and lack access to information, resources and support.
- Victims may be reluctant to involve authorities because they:
- Do not believe that the criminal justice system can help or protect them.
- Do not believe that involving the criminal justice system will stop the abuse, or they
- Do not want the abuser to be removed from the home, go to jail or have a criminal record
- Women may worry about losing their children
- Women stay with their abusers because they still love them
Why Women Stay
- Economic dependence
- Fear of greater physical danger to themselves and their children if they attempt to leave
- Fear of retaliation, of being hunted down and suffering a worse beating than before
- Fear of emotional damage to the children
- Fear of losing custody of the children
- Lack of alternative housing, nowhere to go
- Lack of job skills
- Social isolation resulting in lack of support from family or friends and lack of information regarding alternatives
- Fear of involvement of the court process
- Fear of the unknown
- “Acceptable violence.” Violence escalates slowly over time. Living with constant abuse numbs the victim so that she is unable to recognize that she is involved in a set pattern of abuse
- Fear of loneliness
- Belief that the violence in caused from her own inadequacy (she is often told this)
- feels as if she deserves it
- Feels as though she only needs to meet some set of nebulous expectations in order to earn the abuser’s approval
- Insecurity over potential independence and lack of emotional support
- Guilt about failure of marriage/relationship
- Fear that the abuser is not able to survive alone
- Belief/hope abuser will change
- Ambivalence and fear over making formidable life changes
- Ties to her home/belongings
- Love — especially during the “honeymoon” stage when she remembers what the abuser used to be like
- Belief that marriage is forever
- Belief that violence is the way all partners relate (often this woman has come from a violent childhood)
- Religious and cultural beliefs
- She wants her children to have a father