It's Hard to Leave: 5 Reasons People Stay in Abusive Relationships

couple on the street

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To outsiders looking in on an abusive relationship, the victim's solution may seem obvious: just leave. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. If you've ever heard the phrase "fight or flight," you know that escape is a natural human response to pain, but when it comes to abusive relationships, those two options don't always seem readily available to the victim.

If you have a friend in an abusive relationship, you may not understand their justifications for staying, and that's okay. Abusive relationships are extremely complicated, and although physical or verbal assault is never acceptable, we understand that the victim has to decide to leave on their own. Having emotionally supportive friends will probably help them reach that decision easier and faster.

If you're upset that your friend, someone you seemingly love more than their abusive partner, is taking their abuser's side over their own, we're here to explain why that might be. Explore five reasons why people stay in an abusive relationship. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it offers some of the more common explanations for a person's decision to put up with domestic abuse situations.

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couple on the street

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Like we said, abusive relationships are extremely complicated—partly because they can become so volatile at times. However, one big element that keeps anyone from walking away from their partner—abusive or otherwise—is love. In an abusive relationship, though, the love may be a symptom of emotional manipulation. For example, it's unlikely that the abuser would be violent every day, and during those days of peace, they could be kind and loving, which may convince the victim that they can stomach the abuse. "After all, you have to take the good with the bad, right?" is something they may say as a justification for staying.

If you can relate to this, know that you're right; you do have to take the good with the bad, but if the "bad" means you may die at your spouse's hands, you need to protect yourself. 

02 of 05


Money always makes everything a little more complicated when it comes to splitting up—especially if you're a victim of abuse with no income of your own. If you have a friend who's in an abusive relationship, consider the fact that they may be grappling with this conundrum. Without insulting them, let them know that they have someone in their corner and that they can always count on you.

03 of 05


scared woman

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Even if your abused friend is emotionally strong, they're probably afraid of their abuser. Even though your friend seems totally okay when you see them, they're probably living in a constant state of fear.

Try not to let your anger or frustration at their desire to stay in their relationship drive a wedge between you and your friend who needs you during this difficult time.

Unlike other emotions, fear can brainwash people to do things they don't want to do in order to survive. One example of that is staying in an abusive marriage. The best thing you can do is make sure your friend knows that they have a support system.

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Low Self-Esteem

Abuse can take many forms: physical, psychological, and emotional. Sustained psychological manipulation endured by victims of abuse slowly chips away at their strength and confidence. Eventually, they may believe that they're doing something to deserve the abuse. After all, it takes courage and strength to walk away from an abuser, and if the victim's self-esteem has been stripped away, that courage may not be there. 

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couple arguing

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The only person who should be ashamed is the one performing the abuse. That said, the victim may feel responsible for the abuse they endured. For instance, they may be dying to talk to a friend about what happened but is worried that their friend would judge them for not getting out sooner. Shame can keep them from reaching out and asking for help or telling others what's happening in their marriage.

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