Why don’t people leave an abusive relationship immediately?
When people learn that a person is in an abusive relationship, the first question that comes up is often: “Why don’t they just leave?” If you have never experienced abuse in a relationship, this response may seem logical. But the fact is that it’s not easy to “just leave” an abusive relationship.
Here are nine common reasons why:
- Normalizing of unhealthy behaviour. Society has normalized unhealthy or violent behaviour, for example being in a “stormy relationship” or having a “controlling” partner. People often don’t know the signs of abuse and simply don’t realize that they are being abused in the relationship and therefore they don’t seek help.
- Lack of self-confidence. Emotional abuse breaks down people’s self-confidence so that the thought of leaving and building a new life from scratch can seem overwhelming. It can be very difficult to leave a partner after being told repeatedly that you are worthless and that there are no better options available. People who experience emotional abuse often don’t realise it or don’t think it is as serious as physical abuse.
- The cycle of abuse. Domestic abuse often follows a pattern of three stages. First, tension builds, then there is an emotional or physical attack, and finally there is the “honeymoon phase” where the abuser is full of regret, puts their best foot forward, and promises to never do it again. The third stage is considered the main reason that people do not leave a partner who is abusive.
- Difficult to escape the control. It is common that people in an abusive relationship attempt to leave the relationship a few times before they succeed in doing so once and for all.
- Gaslighting. After a fight, the abuser flips everything that happened upside down and makes their partner feel guilty or believe that what happened was their fault. By denying the facts and the person’s feelings, they undermine their experience in order to gain control. This is called gaslighting.
- A belief that the partner will change. A lot of people who live with abuse in a relationship continue to do so because they love their partner and believe that the situation will improve. They may blame their partner’s behaviour on difficult circumstances or believe that they can change their partner by improving themselves. Never stay in a relationship where you rely on the other person changing for the better.
- Fear of what others will think. People who are being abused in a relationship often don’t dare to acknowledge that their partner is abusing them for fear of not being believed, being blamed for the abuse, being pitied, or being looked down on.
- Shared ties. Marriage, children, and shared finances are often reasons why people don’t leave abusive relationships. These ties become even more difficult to break when there is a power imbalance in the relationship. Younger people also often have difficulty leaving mutual friends or housing.
- It is dangerous to leave. Leaving an abusive relationship is not just emotionally difficult, it can also be dangerous. The abuse can magnify around a divorce or breakup. In order to prepare yourself for ending an abusive relationship, it is important to look out for your online safety and prepare a safety plan.
People who are abused in a relationship often need help getting out of it. No one should ever be blamed for experiencing abuse. Although it isn’t wise to stay in an unhealthy or dangerous situation, that doesn’t mean that the person is responsible for it nor does it justify the abuse. Abuse is never justifiable.