Why People Stay
It's not as easy as simply walking away.
Abusive relationships are extremely complex situations and it takes a lot of courage to leave. Abuse is about power and control. When a survivor leaves their abusive relationship, they threaten the power and control their partner has established over the survivor’s agency, which may cause the partner to retaliate in harmful ways.
As a result, leaving is often the most dangerous period of time for survivors of abuse.
Beyond the physical risks of leaving an abusive situation, there are countless other reasons why people stay in their relationships.
No matter the circumstances, survivors deserve to be supported in their decision-making and empowered to reclaim control over their own lives. Common reasons why people stay in abusive relationships include:
A person will likely be afraid of the consequences if they decide to leave their relationship, either out of fear of their partner’s actions or concern over their own ability to be independent.
If someone grew up in an environment where abuse was common, they may not know what healthy relationships look like. As a result, they may not recognize that their partner’s behaviors are unhealthy or abusive.
It can be difficult for someone to admit that they’ve been or are being abused. They may feel that they’ve done something wrong, that they deserve the abuse, or that experiencing abuse is a sign of weakness. Remember that blame-shifting is a common tactic that their partner may use and can reinforce a sense of responsibility for their partner’s abusive behaviors.
A survivor may be intimidated into staying in a relationship by verbal or physical threats, or threats to spread information, including secrets or confidential details (i.e. revenge porn etc). For LGBTQ+ people who haven’t come out yet, threats to out someone may be an opportunity for abusive partners to exert control.
After experiencing verbal abuse or blame for physical abuse, it can be easy for survivors to believe those sentiments and believe that they’re at fault for their partner’s abusive behaviors.
Lack of resources
Survivors may be financially dependent on their abusive partner or have previously been denied opportunities to work, a place to sleep on their own, language assistance, or a network to turn to during moments of crisis. These factors can make it seem impossible for someone to leave an abusive situation.
If someone depends on other people for physical support, they may feel that their well-being is directly tied to their relationship; a lack of visible alternatives for support can heavily influence someone’s decision to stay in an abusive relationship if they have a disability.
People who are undocumented may fear that reporting abuse will affect their immigration status. If they have limited English proficiency, these concerns can be amplified by a confusing and convoluted legal system and an inability to express their circumstances to others.
Traditional customs or beliefs may influence someone’s decision to stay in an abusive situation, whether held by the survivor or by their family and community. Learn more about abuse in different cultural contexts.
Many survivors may feel guilty or responsible for disrupting their familial unit. Keeping the family together may not only be something that a survivor may value, but may also be used as a tactic by their partner used to guilt a survivor into staying.
Experiencing abuse and feeling genuine care for a partner who is causing harm are not mutually exclusive. Survivors often still have strong, intimate feelings for their abusive partner. They may have children together, want to maintain their family, or the person abusing them may simply be charming (especially at the beginning of a relationship) and the survivor may hope that their partner will return to being that person.
No matter the reason, leaving any relationship can be difficult; doing so in an abusive situation can feel impossible without the right access to support.
Know what to look for.
Understanding the various ways that abuse appears and intersects can prepare you to respond to situations safely for yourself and others.