"On average, a woman will leave her abuser eight times before finally ending their relationship," said Namey, who describes abusers as often charming and difficult to leave. "[These victims] fell in love with somebody, and it's not easy for anyone to let go of those kinds of hopes and dreams."
For these reasons, critics of victims who return to their batterers should take heed. "Anyone that condemns or judges doesn't understand these exceedingly strong or narcotic relationships," said Smullens. "The majority of these situations involve very dependent women—women who don't like themselves enough and men who prey on them for exceedingly complicated reasons."
According to the NNEDV, it's difficult to morph an abusive relationship into a healthy one with equal power and compromise. Though the physical violence may end, emotional, sexual or financial dominance can continue, all equally devastating to victims. "It isn't always a slap, a push or a kick," Smullens said. "It can be just a slow demeaning process so that you no longer have confidence in who you are."
The late Whitney Houston spoke to this dependency to Oprah Winfrey during a 2009 interview about her drug-filled and at-times, violent, marriage to Bobby Brown: "I was so weak to him. I was so weak to the love. He was my drug." Though Brown was charged with misdemeanor battery in 2003 for hitting and threatening Houston, the superstar stayed in the marriage until the couple finally divorced in 2007. If Brown has battered fiancee Alicia Etheridge, it's been kept out of the public eye. 5 Celebs Who Overcame Domestic Violence
So how do you know if an abuser has really changed? The Texas Council on Family Violence says signs of progress include an end to violent or threatening behavior toward the victim and others, an acknowledgement that abusive behavior is wrong, an understanding that the abuser doesn't have the right to control or dominate the victim, and an end to the fear a victim may feel.