13 Reasons Why People Stay In Abusive Relationships

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This article discusses domestic violence, how it affects people from all walks of life, and how to identify it. If any of this is triggering for you, or if you would like more information, please use the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800)799-7233, or visit The Hotline.

Being in an abusive relationship can be something that is really traumatizing to go through. Whether it's an emotionally abusive or a physically abusive one, abusers use love against their partners to manipulate them and control every aspect of their personality.

But why do people stay in abusive relationships?

Sometimes, people truly don’t recognize they are in an abusive relationship. Other times, they are fully aware of the ramifications of their relationship, but due to the circumstances, it’s near impossible or even dangerous for them to leave.

After reviewing the responses of in-depth interviews with women about their experiences for a study published in 2022,[1] researchers found the reasons women stay in abusive relationships typically fall into one or more of three common themes: investment (including "subthemes of marriage, pregnancy, and keeping the family together"), entrapment (including "subthemes of economic dependence, physical entrapment/social isolation, learned helplessness/coping mechanisms, and religious/cultural beliefs"), and love (including no subthemes).

Those same researchers also identified three themes among the reasons women left abusive relationships: external support, (including "subthemes of professional support and informal support"), fear of harm, (including "subthemes of fear for negative effects on mental health and fear of physical harm"), and protecting the children (including no subthemes).

RELATED: 21 Warning Signs Of Emotional Abuse In Relationships

It’s no one's place for them to judge the decisions of anyone who might be stuck in an unhealthy or abusive relationship — it’s not their fault, but it's imperative to recognize the signs.

It's also important to be aware that anyone — regardless of gender or sexuality — can end up in an abusive relationship and feel stuck for reasons that are equally valid and also shouldn't be subject to judgment from an outsider's perspective.

Being aware of the signs and offering compassion is the best and most constructive way to respond to someone who can't seem to find their way out of an unhealthy relationship.

13 Reasons Why People Stay In Abusive Relationships

1. They feel like this is a normal part of every relationship.

If the actions within the relationship have been going on for a long time, or if this is the first serious relationship for someone, a person being abused may not know that what is happening to them can count as abuse.

If they don’t know any better, they may be more inclined to disregard warning signs or comments from loved ones and friends and brush them off as being overly protective.

We've all heard there's supposed to be compromise in every successful, long-term relationship, but it shouldn't be at the cost of your emotional — or physical — health.

2. They feel ashamed or embarrassed.

It’s often difficult for someone to admit they’ve been abused.

They may feel as though it will reflect badly upon them; for example, "a negative outcome of disclosure could be the victim feeling responsible for the abuse and becoming convinced that nothing will change," according to a study published in 2021.[2] The study also reported that, in a clinical healthcare setting, "The most feared consequence of disclosing was the fear that their children would be taken away." They may also worry that their friends and family will judge them for not leaving sooner.

People who have been abused put on a brave face for the world while enduring abuse, or they subject themselves to "living a lie," while feeling "shame or denial, lack of trust in others or fear of repercussions such as the perpetrator finding out or family members seeking revenge" say researchers of a study published in 2015.[3] This painful reality is especially true for those who have "a past history of abuse in the family and poor previous experiences of help‐seeking."

3. They suffer from low self-esteem.

When in an abusive relationship, the abuser will target all of their partner's insecurities to make them reliant on them for validation.

It slowly becomes easy for them to believe the abuser's comments about their looks, their intelligence, and their behavior, and they may start to think they can’t get anything better than the relationship they’re currently in.

They fear facing the world of dating and find it overwhelmingly daunting, now that they're depleted of self-worth and self-esteem, and they would rather "settle" on the person they're with, whether or not it means putting up with abuse.

RELATED: How To Leave An Abusive Relationship: A Step-By-Step Plan For Fleeing Domestic Violence

4. There could be cultural or religious reasons.

There can be a lot of cultural and religious reasons for not being able to leave an abusive relationship.

Cultures with very strict gender roles can make it a very dangerous situation if they try to leave. Some religions also don’t allow any divorces or separations, and this can cause a lot of issues if victims try to leave as well.

5. They feel stuck due to a lack of money or helpful resources.

Abusive relationships can sometimes see financial abuse. This is when the abuser has full control of their partner’s finances, making it impossible for them to have access to their own accounts or have their own cards.

It could be impossible for them to stash money for when they leave, making them feel like they will have nowhere to turn if they move out.

RELATED: 8 Brutal Truths Domestic Violence Victims Wish They Could Tell You

6. They fear leaving.

The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the partner decides to leave.

On average, a partner will try to leave an abusive relationship seven times before they leave for good.[4] When deciding to leave, this may put the abuser in an emotionally volatile and unstable place, which can put the partner in danger as a result.

Maybe their partner is afraid the abuser will follow them, no matter what, so they don't feel safe anywhere.

While there are shelters in some places that will even accommodate the person being abused and children caught in the crossfire, it's usually only in metropolitan areas with more resources than most other areas of the country.

7. Their abuser is threatening to blackmail them.

In an intimate relationship, people make themselves vulnerable, often sharing secrets or parts of themselves they would otherwise never reveal to someone else.

Abusers may take advantage of this situation by weaponizing information about their partner to blackmail them if their partner ever crosses a line or goes so far as to try to leave altogether.

They may use deep, long-kept secrets; photos, videos, or any other type of revenge porn; among other things their partner doesn't (or can't) want to share with anyone else.

Abusers may also intimidate their partners by threatening them with violence — verbal and physical.

8. Their abuser is warning they'll extort them by outing them.

For partners who are part of the LGBTQ+ community but have not publicly "come out" to everyone around them (or even anyone else, for that matter). This could be due to their work environment, the area in which they live, fear of rejection — and even being ostracized — from family and friends, among many others.

Everyone's situation is unique and personal to them, and if their abuser holds outing their partner over their partner's head, this is a serious threat that could completely turn their life upside down.

So it's understandable why someone would want to protect their sexual orientation at any cost — even at the cost of continuing to endure the pain inflicted by their abuser.

9. They're afraid of how violent their abuser could become.

Their abuser may already be verbally abusive, and if he's gotten physical, chances are he's likely both verbally and physically abusive.

Maybe it's tolerable right now. Or, upon steeping in rationalization after rationalization, it simply becomes tolerable — and even excusable. Too frequently, victims of abuse actually feel as though they deserve the mistreatment from their abuser.

Regardless, the partner may feel as though they will be punished tenfold if they try to leave because their abuser will "teach them a lesson." Too often, it works.

A study on risk factors in heterosexual abusive relationships that resulted in fatalities of female partners[5] showed that, after a period of being separated, the risk of being killed by their abuser was tripled, and even nine times higher if the abuser had a tendency to be controlling in the relationship.

RELATED: Why Gabby Petito's Official Cause Of Death Was Tragically Predictable

10. Their citizenship status restricts them.

If their partner is an immigrant and their status isn't legal, for whatever reason, they know they can't as easily get a job and sign a lease for a new place, following a basic background check for both.

They may fear that someone will find out that they aren't legal residents (or haven't completed the process) and they will be deported, potentially to another dangerous environment.

Note: If you haven't begun applying for citizenship and are stuck in a situation involving domestic violence, you can now file a petition for a green card if you're a spouse, parent, or child,[6] now that they've made an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act[7].

11. Their health prevents them from having the independence to leave.

If someone has a health condition where they may depend on their abuser to take care of them in one way or another, they'll inevitably feel trapped, because they don't have a support system outside their relationship.

They may be disabled and not receive enough financial aid to live on their own and take care of themselves under a roof with food, water, and electricity, let alone anything left over for anything else.

With no one else to give them their shot, help them up and down stairs, or get their medications from the pharmacy (imagine how long this list could really be), they might be terrified by the thought of leaving, and have no feasible way of doing so, they may feel resigned to their relationship in perpetuity.

12. They've invested too much to walk away.

People may feel as though they just need to continue investing themselves in the relationship to "make it work" because our culture stresses that relationships are, indeed, work. Not everyone interprets what kind of work is involved, however.

Further, there could be pregnancy or children involved, or a lifestyle they've simply gotten used to after a long period of time. This is especially likely if their abuser has uprooted them from their prior life, including their job and support system, making them dependent on their abuser in the process. They may not know anyone where they now live, or feel as though there is no one they can talk to about their situation.

Patterns, being dependent on one's abuser, and a number of other factors are difficult things to change for any human being.

13. They love their abuser.

At the end of the day, they may be blinded by their love for their partner, so much so that they negate any warning signs about their relationship. They may have children with them and want to maintain their family.

Abusive people can often be charming, especially at the beginning of a relationship, and the victim may hope their partner will go back to being that person. They may only want the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely.

Familiarity can feel comfortable, even if it's painful and chaotic, if that's all someone knows.

Despite the inherent danger they know exists on a rational level, somewhere deep down inside, they prefer the comfort of what they know.

A risky, unpredictable change — with consequences that could potentially destroy what's left of their life — is terrifying and nearly incomprehensible, especially over time.

And for some people, maybe even at certain times in their lives, the devil they know is all they can withstand, over the one they don't.

RELATED: Yes, You Can Get PTSD From Staying In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Kayla Baptista is a writer who covers astrology, pop culture, and relationships.