“Why Do They Stay?”
Friends and family of an abused woman often ask why she remains in the abusive relationship. The mental state of an abused woman is complex and the abuse occurs in cycles. Each situation is unique and there are a number of reasons they stay. The first step toward helping an abused person is to understand why.
DENIAL Abuse may occur in cycles. Following a violent episode, the abuser can be extremely apologetic and may promise it will never happen again. He will be on his best behavior for a while, being charming and manipulative. Women may convince themselves that their partner “didn’t mean it” and may deny their partner’s abusive behavior.
PERSONAL HISTORY An abused woman may remain in this type of relationship because they believe this is normal. Many times, they were raised in a home with an abusive parent, typically the father. They observed their mother weather years of abuse and this leads them to believe that women are expected to tolerate this behavior.
FEAR One common reason women stay is the fear of what will happen if they attempt to leave. Often, the abuser convinces her that he will kill or injure her, her children, pets or loved ones if she leaves. She may fear being stalked or harassed at work. The abuser may threaten to kill himself if she leaves. Many are afraid of being on their own. They may have transitioned from one relationship to another with little time in between or they may have been in this relationship for so long they are afraid it is too late to “start over.”
LACK OF RESOURCES Many times, abused women stay because logistically, it is easier than leaving. Their partner may withhold money and resources from them and some refuse to allow them to work. These women feel they have no place to go, especially if they have children. Her abuser may have been so successful in isolating her from her family and friends, that when she does decide to leave, she feels she has nowhere to go.
FAMILY AND CHURCH A woman with strong religious convictions may feel tremendous guilt if she leaves her marriage. Additionally, her family may refuse to believe the abuse has occurred. Her church may tell her to remain in the marriage because of her vows. Fortunately, these attitudes and beliefs are beginning to change with the understanding of the horrible effects of abuse.
LOVE There are abused women who feel that their partners are good people who have occasional bad episodes. They may truly love their partner and believe they must stay in order to “fix” him.
PSYCHOLOGICAL The abusive partner convinces the woman she is worthless or undesirable and that no one else would want her. He makes her believe that the abuse is her fault, claiming that her behavior is why he reacted violently. Abused women are ashamed of their situation. They fear the social humiliation of the “battered wife” image and attempt to keep a façade of normalcy, even if this means staying with him.
CHILDREN Women stay because the abusive father has a good relationship with their children, or she may feel guilty about “breaking-up” the family, or because he may threaten to keep her away from the children. When the mother realizes her children are being adversely affected by living in an abusive home, she often decides it is time to leave.
A word to friends and family Deciding what to do about an abusive relationship is quite difficult. Try to understand the many complications involved in deciding to leave the relationship. Avoid pressuring the victim, and instead, express you concern and offer your support in any manner needed. Most important, do not try to intervene during a violent incident; call law enforcement. This is one of the most dangerous times, even for trained law enforcement officers.
Finally, please do not ask, “Why do they stay?” Most advocates will tell you that this places the blame and guilt on the victim. Instead, try to understand why they cannot leave. They are all good reasons.