Why Do People Stay?
If your friend is in an abusive relationship, your first thought may be to tell that person to "get out." Although you may be concerned about their safety, there are many valid reasons why a survivor may choose to stay in an abusive relationship.
Leaving an abusive relationship is about readiness. A survivor of abuse has to be ready to leave the relationship- we cannot and should not push our friend into make a decision that she/he is not comfortable with.
In order to be a supportive friend, it's important to understand why your friend may not choose to leave the abusive relationship right away. Breaking up is often more difficult and complicated than it seems. Here are some reasons why someone may choose to stay in an abusive relationship.
Fear / Threats
Fear is a valid reason why many survivors choose to stay in an abusive relationship.
Some abusers threaten their partner. They may threaten to kill their partner or to kill themselves, threaten to "out" their partner in a LGBTQ relationship, etc. Many survivors also fear the abuser will hurt or kill their loved ones, including children, family members, or pets.
Love / Hope For Change
Abuse does not occur 24/7. In many abusive relationships, there may be abusive incidents and then a period of calmness. In addition, abuse doesn't happen right away in a relationship. Like all relationships, abusive relationships start off seemingly well. Even the most abusive relationship likely started out with some positive, healthy qualities.
Unfortunately, we cannot always predict how a relationship will evolve over time, or know whether or not our dating partner will continue to treat us right.
This is why some survivors still love or have strong feelings for their partner. As a relationship grows, so do the feelings. Sometimes, a survivor believes he/she is capable of "fixing" an abuser, or that their relationship may return to better days when the relationship was based on love, care, and respect.
It's important to remember that a friend or family member's feelings of love and hope are valid. It's not our place to judge or criticize someone's decision to stay in a relationship. As a friend, our job is to offer support and encouragement.
Both female and male victims of dating abuse may feel embarrassed or shame.
For males, this often has to do with society's expectations to be controlling, tough, strong, dominant, and never admit to vulnerability (we call these expectations gender roles). In addition, some people falsely believe that males cannot be victims of dating abuse. This can make it especially hard for male victims to seek help.
For women, the gender roles or stereotypes may look different, but this doesn't change the feelings of embarrassment, shame, or disbelief that survivors feel.
No Support / Isolation
Many victims of dating abuse report becoming isolated, meaning they are cut off from their friends, family, and support systems. Isolation is a tactic that some abusers use to gain/maintain power and control over their partner. With no one to turn to, survivors do not have the support they need to leave the abusive relationship.
If someone you care about seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth and you suspect they have become isolated due to an abusive or unhealthy relationship, make an effort to spend time with them. Call or send a text to let her/him know that you care and are concerned. They will be grateful that you're a supportive friend that they can turn to.
Family / Kids
Some survivors of dating violence have children with their abuser and choose to stay in the relationship to keep the family together. Others are encouraged by family members to stay in the relationship, especially if their religious or cultural values oppose divorce or separation.
Financial / Money Reasons
Survivors of dating violence may not have enough money to leave the relationship. This may may be due to financial abuse, in which their partner attempts to control them with money.
Financial abuse can occur if if a victim is not allowed to work, is only given a tiny allowance to live on, or is not allowed to have or spend money.
Without financial security, it can be difficult to leave a relationship. The cost of moving, living independently, possible need to hire an attorney, and many other factors can make it extremely expensive to leave an abusive relationship.
Status can refer to many things, including the status someone gets by being in a relationship, as well as an individual's status as a citizen of a country.
For teens, there is sometimes a certain status that comes from being in a relationship. For example, being in a relationship may allow someone to form new friendships or increase their popularity. If the relationship turns abusive and the survivor chooses to leave, they may face the risk of losing these new friendships and popularity. This can also mean ridicule and humiliation if rumors are spread.
When it comes to immigration status, abusers may threaten to have their partner deported or reported to scare him/her into staying in the relationship.
Someone who is being abused may be told that the abuse is their fault, by both their partner and others.
If someone's partner is constantly telling them that the abuse is their fault, it is possible that they will start to believe it. While we know that abuse is never the victim's fault, someone who is being abused may start to take responsibility for their abusive partner's actions.
Unfortunately, victim blaming by other people is also common. We often hear "What did she do to make him so angry?" or "I don't understand why he just doesn't leave the relationship." Rather than blaming the abuse on the actual perpetrator, society all too often asks questions that imply the victim somehow deserved the abuse. Being blamed for the abuse (or fear of being blamed for the abuse) are very valid reasons why some survivors are not ready to leave abusive relationship.