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Why Do Women Stay in Abusive Relationships?

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Why Do Women Stay in Abusive Relationships?

One of the most heartbreaking and difficult to understand situations is when a woman remains in an abusive relationship. From the outside looking in, it seems like an obvious decision to leave for one’s own safety and well-being.

However, the reality is far more complex, with layers of psychological, emotional, and financial factors that make leaving an abusive partner an incredibly difficult process.

In this post, we will explore the complex psychology of abuse and control, examine common reasons cited by domestic violence experts for why women may find it difficult to leave, and offer insights and resources for anyone experiencing intimate partner violence.

Let’s dive in.

The Cycle of Abuse and trauma Bonding

A critical factor that keeps women from leaving abusive relationships is known as the “cycle of abuse.” Domestic violence experts define this as the pattern of tension building, an acute explosive incident, followed by a period of reconciliation and calm.

During the tension building phase, small abusive behaviors like insults, criticism, and domination begin to escalate. This leads to an acute explosive incident of violence like physical or sexual assault.

After the incident, the abuser enters a honeymoon phase where they apologize, promise change, and lavish their partner with attention and gifts. This cycle works to erode the victim’s will to leave over time as they are psychologically manipulated to believe that the abuser will reform.

Adding to the psychological complexity is the phenomenon known as “trauma bonding.” Experiencing chronic violence and fear triggers the same primal survival instincts that facilitated early human bonding between caregiver and infant.

The brain literally becomes conditioned to suspect that it can only find safety, comfort, and love from the source of fear—the abusive partner. Leaving would mean loss of this attachment and source of security, no matter how unstable and unsafe it has actually become.

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Given these psychological factors, it is unsurprising that the average victim may try to leave an abusive relationship seven times before fully detaching.

Loss of Self-Esteem and Decision Making Ability

Prolonged cycles of abuse take a drastic toll on the victim’s self-esteem and confidence in their own decision making ability. Abusers use techniques like gaslighting, criticism, and isolation to systematically dismantle their partner’s sense of identity, competency, and worth.

The victim starts to internalize their partners’ negative messages and blaming, questioning their own perceptions and validity. Additionally, constant control, monitoring, and domination erode an individual’s autonomy over simple daily choices and tasks.

Making a complex life-changing decision like leaving feels impossible without the sense of self, independence, and validity that have been deliberately stripped away. Rebuilding these vital resources take time and external support that many victims do not have access to in the moment of crisis.

Fear for Safety and Retaliation

One of the most chilling barriers to leaving is plausible fear for one’s safety or children’s safety should they attempt to do so. Abusers who have already proven their willingness to physically and emotionally harm their partners are also at their most dangerous state during a separation or pending divorce.

Some abusers explicitly threaten further violence, while others hint at potential harm in more subtle ways. Statistics also show that the period immediately after leaving carries significant risks of domestic homicide or fatal assault. Many women delay leaving out of necessity, quietly making safety plans until feelings of vulnerability decrease.

Lack of Resources and Support Systems

Even with the courage and readiness to leave, many victims lack the financial independence and social support systems required to safely transition out of an abusive home life. Economic abuse including restricted access to joint accounts and sabotaged jobs cuts them off from building savings or credit.

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Friends and family may be intentionally isolated by the abuser as well. Public domestic violence shelters have limited space and many require leaving children and pets behind.

The stress of suddenly becoming solely responsible for housing, food, transportation, healthcare and childcare feels too overwhelming alone. Staying remains the safer short term option until long term alternatives can gradually be put into place.

Hope for Change and Rationalization

Despite the abuse suffered, some part of the victim still hopes or believes that their partner can change for the better with help, therapy, maturity or a willingness to reform. Loved ones often encourage this hope as well, not wanting to give up on the relationship.

Additionally, some victims feel compelled to stay as they have invested years into the relationship, shared life experiences, a home, children or retirement plans together. Leaving feels like admitting failure or a waste.

There is also the human tendency to rationalize or minimize abusive behaviors through excuses like stress, past trauma, mental illness or substance use—all reasons to believe positive change is possible if properly addressed. This hope blinds them from accepting the harsh reality of repeated abusive patterns.

Lack of Alternatives and Independence

For some women in highly patriarchal societies, cultural or religious norms discourage women from financially providing for themselves or living independently from men.

Leaving an unhappy marriage carries immense stigma without familial support or societal acceptance. These women see few empowering opportunities for alternative lifestyles or sustaining themselves without a male partner.

Staying in the abusive relationship sadly seems preferable to immense and unfamiliar consequences like poverty, homelessness, moral judgment or even “honor” violence from family members disgraced by divorce.

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True autonomy and self-sufficiency are required precursors to safely leaving in these repressive contexts.

Breaking the Cycle: Support and Resources

While the complex reasons for staying seem endless, there is hope. With community support, education on healthy relationships, and empowering resources, victims can begin disentangling from the bonds of abuse.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers 24/7 crisis intervention and a live chat support system to help safety plan. Local women’s shelters provide emergency housing, counseling, legal advocacy, and support groups.

Therapists experienced in domestic violence psychology help rebuild self-esteem and independent thinking through validated techniques. Friends can help by believing women, validating feelings non-judgmentally, sharing resources discreetly, and creating a safe exit plan together.

Employers too have a role through providing paid sick/safe days, flexible schedules and connecting women confidentially with local aid programs. With patience and compassion from community, meaningful alternatives can be put in place empowering women to freely choose safety and fulfillment without fear or dependence on abuse.

Conclusion

Overall, it is important to remember that the choice to stay is rarely simple cowardice or lack of will, but rather a combination of deeply entrenched psychological, emotional, financial and safety barriers erected systematically by the abusive partner over time.

Removing victim-blaming attitudes and seeking to understand the complex dynamics at play with empathy, care and a willingness to help without condemnation is key.

Providing accessible support systems, education on healthy relationships, economic resources, safe housing, and restoration of self worth in a non-judgmental way enables victims to begin reclaiming autonomy and freedom from violence on their own timeline and terms.

With compassionate community aid, no woman need remain trapped in a cycle of intimate partner abuse long term again.

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