The friends and loved ones of a battered woman often wonder why she stays in the abusive relationship. The psychological state of an abuse victim is complex, and abuse is often cyclical. There are a number of possible reasons for staying with an abuser, and each situation is different. Understanding why women stay in these situations is the first step toward helping a loved one get the help she needs.
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Abuse often occurs in cycles. After a violent episode, the abusive partner may be extremely apologetic and often swears that the abuse will never happen again. For a while, the abuser is on his best behavior. Most abusers are charming and manipulative. Women in these types of relationships may convince themselves that the partner “didn’t mean it” and experience denial about their partner’s abusive tendencies.
One reason some women stay with abusive men is that they believe the relationship is normal. In many cases, they grew up with an abusive parent, typically the father or other male figure. These women may have watched their own mothers weather years of abuse, and this leads them to believe that women are expected to tolerate this behavior.
One major reason women stay in abusive relationships is fear of what will happen if they try to leave. Often, the spouse convinces the woman that he will kill or injure her, her children, her pets or her loved ones if she leaves. She may also fear being stalked or harassed at work. Alternately, the abuser may threaten to kill himself if she leaves. Many women in abusive relationships are also afraid to be on their own. They may have transitioned from one relationship to another with little alone time in between, or they may have been in their current relationship so long that they feel it is too late to “start over.”
Lack of Resources
Abused women often stay because logistically, it is easier than leaving. Many abusers withhold money and resources from their spouses, and some refuse to let the woman work outside the home. These women feel they have no place to go, especially if they have children.
Some abused women genuinely feel that their partners are good people who have occasional bad episodes. The woman may truly love her partner and feel that she must stay in the relationship in order to “fix” the abuser.
One hallmark of an abusive partner is that he convinces the woman she is worthless or undesirable and that no one else would ever want her. The abuser often convinces the woman that the abuse is her fault, claiming that her behavior caused the abuser to react violently. Many abused women also feel ashamed of their situation. They fear the social stigma of the “battered wife” image and try to maintain a façade of normalcy, even if this means staying with the abuser.