Why People Stay in Abusive Relationships

It may seem confusing to us, looking from the outside in, when strangers or people we know stay in relationships where there is obvious domestic violence. (For signs and symptoms refer to my earlier blog post of October 3).

The reasons are varied and complex. Here are a few:

1. Financial dependence

2. Low self-esteem

3. Feeling the abuse is deserved (connected to the above)

4. A family history of abuse (including sexual abuse)

5. Loyalty

6. Hope that things will get better

7. Hope that the abuser will change

8. Shame

and last but certainly not least FEAR. Fear of retribution, reprisals, escalated violence, death, worse behavior directed towards children and extended family and so on.

Many of the concerns listed above are very real. Partners who leave those they are financially dependent upon often suffer consequences. One of the signs of abuse is abuser tight-fisted (excuse the pun!) control of the finances, in order to keep the partner dependent. It can be daunting to thinking about starting over with virtually nothing.

There are two important messages here:

1. There is help available in the form of housing, financial assistance, counseling, legal protection, self-defense classes and peer support. This is just a partial list. It is also important to keep in mind that many of the shot-term fears are minor in comparison to being dead or physically injured for life. Starting over is hard but suffering is harder.

2. It is very important for those aware of the violence in a relationship to offer support without judgement. It is often hard for those on the outside (and if it isn’t happening to you regardless of the relationship you are on the outside) to understand inaction. All you can really do is offer assistance in the form of resources, moral support, perhaps even a temporary place to stay, financial help, information and a deep expression of concern. The individual involved must take action if and when he/she is ready. This, of course, doesn’t apply if there are children involved (see my blog post of October 5).

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