Abusive relationships are a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual or physical and can include threats, isolation, and intimidation. – Center For Relationship Abuse Awareness

“Why don’t you leave?”

People who’ve experienced domestic abuse are often asked this question. No matter the context or tone in which it’s asked, “Why don’t you leave?” is a futile inquiry.

Let’s think about this question a moment, shall we?

Human beings have evolved to be social creatures. We survived by forming groups, sharing resources, and establishing bonds. We’re uniquely capable of reciprocating love and care while sacrificing ourselves for the good of others.

Abuse, of any kind, goes against the fabric of our very design. As with all things our brain encounters that are foreign and aggressive, abused individuals are prone to mental disturbances.

The Mental Effects

Kathryn Patricelli, a psychologist and grief counselor, writes:

“Victimized people commonly develop emotional or psychological problems secondary to their abuse, including anxiety disorders and various forms of depression, (substance abuse disorders), or posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD].”

When our mental faculties are severely affected, it’s difficult to make any decision. It’s difficult to summon the capacity to do anything. So, how hard must it be, then, for someone who’s being abused to think her way out of an abusive situation?

The mental effects of abuse leave a marked impact on a person’s mind. These effects also help explain common reasons given by people who stay in abusive relationships. Fear is a byproduct of abuse, and it’s a tremendously powerful one.

This article discusses some of the reasons why people stay in an abusive relationship. You’ll undoubtedly notice that “choice” isn’t something that applies. Finally, we’ll provide some resources that may help someone in an abusive situation.

Here are the reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, according to experts:

Conflicting Emotions

A person betrays their partner’s trust the moment they become abusive. However, this betrayal (naturally) is not enough for most people to stop feeling love for their partner. The abused, initially, will warn their partner of the consequences if they continue the behavior. Sometimes, the abuser apologizes and promises to change. Unfortunately, they often don’t, and the abused becomes trapped in a “But I love them” situation.

Sometimes, the abused is very close to the abuser’s family or friends – this further complicates the situation. The thought of losing people they’ve come to love is dreadful.

Feeling Obligated

A person may feel obligated or pressured to stay in an abusive relationship.

Having children, of course, is sometimes enough for a person to stay around. This situation is challenging, particularly when children aren’t privy to the abuse, or if they “side with” the abusive parent.

Finally, there are religious or cultural pressures with which some must contend. In the Philippines, for example, divorce is illegal; restricted to annulment or legal separation. In some predominantly Muslim countries, physical separation from a spouse is punishable by law regardless of the reasons given. Extreme gender inequality, e.g. laws and regulations that overwhelmingly favor men, are common.

Lack of Resources

Finances can also get in the way of exiting an abusive relationship. If the abused is financially dependent on their partner, it may seem impossible for them to leave. Indeed, without some source of funds, it’s easy to contemplate why one would feel this way.

The abused may also think they have nowhere to go. For some, finding shelter may be a phone call or two away. Others either don’t have a support network or don’t want to depend on someone else’s help (something that is strongly encouraged.)

Absent money or a support system, the last option is to reach out for public assistance. Again, the abused may or may not have access to such resources, not want to use them, or is unsure how to go about seeking help.

Finally, they may feel fearful of their partner discovering their intentions. This fear can feel so overwhelming as to “paralyze” the abused from taking any action.


First, it is important to understand that abuse is not the victim’s fault. Abusers can be very manipulative in this way. The ability to shed the burden of responsibility often makes the difference between seeking out help or not.

Second, most states and jurisdictions have stringent laws against abuse. The legal actions one can take depends on their situation, but authorities could issue a restraining order  – barring the abuser from contact lest they incur substantial penalties.

Lastly, there are good people waiting to help. If you’re uncertain what to do or what your options are, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or visit their website at www.thehotline.org. A chat option is also available.

Canadian citizens have a plethora of options available through various institutions. Please see www.dawncanada.net for more details.

There are community-based domestic violence programs in every U.S. state. Some states offer temporary financial assistance. A counselor at the National Domestic Violence Hotline will provide specifics on resources available in your state.

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