By Ronke Ojeikere-ikoroh in ZAHARA Women Foundation.

Abuse can be either verbal, emotional and physical.
People who have never been abused often wonder why a person wouldn't just leave. They don't understand that breaking up can be more complicated than it seems.

There are many reasons why both men and women stay in abusive relationships. If you have a friend in an unhealthy relationship, support them by understanding why they may choose not to leave immediately:

  1. CONFLICTING EMOTIONS / FEAR: Fear about what will happen once they decide to leave the relationship. If the victim is threatened by their partner, family or friends, they may not feel safe leaving.
  2. BELIEVING ABUSE IS NORMAL: If the victim doesn't know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, they may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy.
  3. EMBARRASSMENT: It's probably hard for a victim to admit they've been abused. They may feel they've done something wrong by becoming involved with an abusive partner. They may also worry that their friends, colleagues and family will judge them.
  4. LOW SELF ESTEEM: If the victim's partner constantly puts them down and blames them for the abuse, it can be easy for the victim to believe those statements and think that the abuse is their fault.
  5. LOVE: Victims may stay in an abusive relationship hoping their abuser will change. Think about it -- if a person you love tells you they'll change, you want to believe them. The victim may only want for the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely.
  6. SOCIAL PRESSURE / PEER PRESSURE: If the abuser is popular, it can be hard for the victim to tell their friends for fear that no one will believe them or that everyone will take the abuser's side.
  7. CULTURAL / RELIGIOUS REASONS: Traditional gender roles can make it difficult for young women to admit being sexually active and for young men to admit being abused. Also, the victims culture or religion may influence them to stay rather than end the relationship for fear of bringing shame upon the family.
  8. PREGNANCY / PARENTING: The victim may feel pressure to raise their children with both parents together, even if that means staying in an abusive relationship. Also, the abusive partner may threaten to take or harm the children if the victim parent leaves.
  9. DISTRUST OF ADULTS OR AUTHORITY PUPPY-LOVE PHENOMENA: Adults often don't believe that teens really experience love. So if something goes wrong in the relationship, the victim may feel like they have no adults to turn to or that no one will take them seriously.
  10. DISTRUST OF POLICE: Many feel that the police cannot or will not help them, so they don't report the abuse.
  11. RELIANCE ON THE ABUSIVE PARTNER: The victim may find it hard to live especially if they feel they cannot survive without the support of their abusive partner.
  12. LACK OF MONEY: The victim may have become financially dependent on the abusive partner. Without money, it can seem impossible for them to leave the relationship.
  13. NOWHERE TO GO: Even if the victim could leave, they may think that they have nowhere to go or no one to turn to once they've ended the relationship. This feeling of helplessness can be especially strong if the victim lives with their abusive partner.
  14. DISABILITY: If the victim is physically dependent on their abusive partner, they can feel that their well-being is connected to the relationship. This dependency could heavily influence his or her decision to stay in an abusive relationship.

If you have friends or family members who are in unhealthy or abusive relationships, the most important thing you should do is:
  • Be supportive and listen to them.
  • Don't judge them. Understand living in an unhealthy relationship is not easy.
  • Seek ways to help the victim from the abusive relationship.
  • Let the victim know that they have options.

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