This is a seemingly simple question, but the answer is complicated. There are a number of reasons why a survivor may stay in, or go back to, an abusive relationship. Leaving an abusive relationship is extremely hard and is very dangerous. On average, a survivor will leave an abusive relationship 8 times before they leave for good.
It is also important to note that when a survivor chooses to leave, this is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship and when most homicides happen. This is because the abusive partner is losing control and may escalate the violence in order to keep the status quo. Abusers will use any means of control they can to keep the survivor in the relationship.
So, why do survivors stay?
Someone might stay because they:
- Love or appreciate their partner and simply want the abuse to stop
- Believe their children are better off with two parents
- Are afraid of losing custody of their children
- Are afraid their children will be harmed
- Are afraid of possible police involvement
- Know their partner has threatened family or friends
- Are afraid their partner will kill themselves
- May have no job skills or have been out of the workforce for some time
- Will become homeless if they leave
- Are worried their partner will sabotage their job
- Don’t want to leave their pets behind
- Are afraid their possessions might be destroyed
- No longer feel confident or have strong self-esteem
- Have depression, PTSD, or traumatic brain injury
- Have a disability and will be losing their caretaker
- Don’t have legal immigration status, so can’t legally work or access certain public benefits
- Fear deportation
- Have become dependent on drugs or alcohol
- No longer have a support system
- Are being pressured by family to stay
- Are facing religious or cultural pressures to stay
- Are afraid their partner will kill them
Survivors choose to stay in their relationship for many reasons, but there are usually ways to reduce the harm. No matter what their decision, all survivors deserve our support. Call our 24-hour Helpline to learn ways you can help.
Remember, the most important questions we should be asking are:
Why do people abuse?
How can we prevent people from becoming abusive?
How can we help abusive people change their behavior?