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Why Do People Stay In Abusive Relationships?

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

People who have never been abused often wonder why a person wouldn't just leave an abusive or toxic relationship. 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, one of the ways you can support them is by first trying to understand why they may choose not to leave immediately.

Listed below are a few reasons why most people rarely leave an abusive relationship:

1. Uncertainty; 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. Believe Abuse is Normal; If the victim grew up or was exposed to an abusive environment when growing up, 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. Children/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 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. For example, the victim may be financially dependent on the abusive partner and without money, it can seem impossible for them to leave the relationship.

12. Nowhere to go: Even if the victim could leave, they may think that they have nowhere to go or no one to turn to without feeling like a burden once they've ended the relationship. This feeling of helplessness can be especially strong if the victim lives with their abusive partner.

13. Disability; If the victim has a disability of some kind; it may make them feel like they will not be able to find someone else easily. As such this thought pattern could heavily influence his or her decision to stay in an abusive relationship.

How Can You Help?

If you have friends or family members who are in unhealthy or abusive relationships, the most important thing you can do is:

  1. Be supportive and listen to them.

  2. Don't judge them, understand that living in an unhealthy relationship is not easy.

  3. Try and find out the possible reason they stick around and then seek ways to help the victim from the relationship.

  4. Let the victim know that they have options without coming out forceful.


This post was written by Ronke Ojeikere-ikoroh in ZAHARA Women Foundation. We appreciate her contribution in creating more content girls can use to be safer.

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