The longer someone stays with an abusive partner, the more difficult it can be to leave. Over time, victims lose confidence in their own abilities, judgement, and self-worth.
Below is a list of some of the reasons victims (and survivors) stay in abusive relationships.
Feelings for the abusive partner
- Love – Victims may sincerely care about their partners, even if they hate some of their behaviors.
- Confusing dangerous or controlling behaviors with love. Some victims incorrectly identify jealousy or constant togetherness as a sign of caring. This is especially common for victims raised around unhealthy or abusive relationships.
- Denial – “It could be worse,” or “He might _____, but he would never _____.”
- Belief that the abuser is trying to change or wants to change.
Loss of confidence in their own judgement, abilities, or self-worth
- Shame or guilt – Some victims are convinced the violent behavior is their fault. Abusers often blame them for the escalation (ex. “If you hadn’t been late again…”). Sometimes they react to the violence with negative behavior of their own, and view the abuse as mutual.
- Emotional dependence – Victims may be emotionally dependent on their partner for their own happiness.
- Low self-esteem – Victims begin to (wrongly) believe that they deserve to be in a violent and abusive relationship, or that they are not worthy of better treatment.
- Isolation – Victims isolate themselves because they are ashamed to admit they are in an unhealthy relationship. Their abusive partner encourages a victim’s feelings of isolation in order to hold on to the power and control.
- Peer or family pressure – The pressure to have and keep a partner can be extreme. Non-supportive comments from family or friends can make the situation worse by convincing the victim that they are the ones who need to fix the situation. (Ex. “Marriage takes work.”)
Fear for one’s safety and other negative outcomes
- Fear of retaliation or harm – Victims may be afraid their partner will hurt them, their loved ones, and/or him/herself if they try to leave.
- Economic dependence – Victims may have no control over or access to the household finances. Or the victim may worry about the loss of income and how to afford their own or their children’s basic necessities.
- Losing custody of minor children -Some victims worry that they will lose their children if they have to fight for custody after leaving.
- Fear of being “outed” – In same-sex relationships, victims do not want to have their sexual orientation exposed.
- Lack of information/resources – Victims in abusive relationships often do not know how to access resources or information that could help them leave the relationship.
Note: Our intention is to provide the above information as a guide to understanding domestic violence in context. Because every situation is different, and the spectrum of domestic violence is broad, not all of these examples or theories apply to everyone.