We hear from many people who are in abusive relationships, and even those who have left relationships, but say that they love their abusive partner. They wonder, “Why do I love someone who has hurt me so much?” It can feel strange, confusing and even wrong to love someone who has chosen to be abusive.
While these feelings can be difficult to understand, they aren’t strange and they aren’t wrong. Love isn’t something that just disappears overnight. It’s a connection and emotional attachment that you create with another person. Love comes with a lot of investment of time, energy and trust. It’s not easy to just let go of a life you’ve built with someone, whether they’re abusive toward you or not.
If you’re struggling with feelings of love for an abusive partner, it could be for a number of reasons:
You Remember the “Good Times”
Abuse typically doesn’t happen right away in a relationship, and it tends to escalate over time as an abusive partner becomes more controlling. You may remember the beginning of the relationship when your partner was charming and thoughtful. You may see good qualities in your partner; they might be a great parent or contribute to their community. It’s not shameful to love someone for who they could be, or for the person they led you to believe they were.
After hurtful or destructive behavior reaches a peak, there may be periods of “calm” in your relationship when your partner makes apologies and promises that the abuse will never happen again. During calmer periods, it might seem like your partner is back to being their “old self” – the wonderful person they were at the beginning of the relationship. You might feel that if you could just do or say the “right” things, the person you fell in love with would stay and the abuse would end. But, there is nothing you could do or say to prevent the abuse, because the abuse is not your fault. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the choices your partner makes. Those periods of calm are often a tactic that an abusive partner uses to further confuse and control their partner.
Your Partner Has Experienced Their Own Trauma
Abusive partners are human beings who are complex, like everyone else. They may be dealing with their own traumas, past or present. As their partner, you care about them, and maybe you hoped you could help or “fix” them. But whether they’re dealing with a mental illness, addiction or an abusive childhood, there is NO excuse for them to abuse their partner in the present. Abuse is always a choice and is never okay. The truth is, even though you love your partner, you can’t “fix” another person. It’s up to them to get help addressing their own trauma and their abusive behavior.
Love Can Be a Survival Technique
For many victims, feelings of love for an abusive partner can also be a survival technique. It is very difficult for a non-abusive person to understand how someone they love, and who claims to love them, could harm or mistreat them. To cope, they detach from their pain or terror by subconsciously beginning to see things from the abusive partner’s view. This process can intensify when an abusive partner uses gaslighting techniques to control or manipulate their partner. The victim begins to agree with the abuser, and certain aspects of the victim’s own personality and perspective fade over time. By doing this, the victim learns how to “appease” the abusive partner, which may temporarily keep them from being hurt. The need to survive may be compounded if a victim depends on their abusive partner financially, physically or in some other way.
You might want to believe your partner when they say that things will change and get better because you love them, and they say they love you. It’s okay to feel that love and want to believe your partner. But it’s important to consider your own safety and that what your partner is giving you isn’t actually love. Love is something that is safe, supportive, trusting and respectful. Abuse is not any of these things; it’s about power and control. It IS possible to love someone and, at the same time, realize that they aren’t a safe or healthy person to be around. You deserve to be safe, respected and truly loved at all times.
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