According to the CDC, one in three women and one in four men have been victims of physical abuse. For one in five women and one in seven men the abuse is severe, yet many take a long time to or simply refuse to leave an abusive partner. Here are four reasons why it's so hard to leave an abusive relationship.
1. They Believe The Last Time Will Be The Last Time
Abuse often follows a revolving cycle of these four stages:
- Tension Building - you can feel the storm brewing on the horizon. You're likely on your best behavior, trying to head arguments off at the pass.
- Acting Out - this is when the abuse happens. It may be verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, financial, spiritual, or any combination or all three.
- Honeymoon - this stage is what often keeps victims trapped. The abuser is very sorry and promises it will never happen again.
- Calm - you feel safe, like maybe you can actually believe your partner this time. Unfortunately, this cycle almost always repeats itself.
2. They Have Conflicting Emotions
Many abusers are charming. We fell in love with them for a reason. If someone promises to change, we really want to believe them. Low-self esteem and childhood traumas may also be at play here. Many times, people either believe the abuse is his or her fault or they think abuse is a normal part of all relationships.
Above all, many people stay in abusive relationships because they are afraid, deathly afraid of:
- Being further harmed by the abuser
- Authority figures especially if substance use is involved
- Being deported if the person is undocumented or doesn't speak English
- Losing friends and family. Abusers often play the part of loving partner in public.
- Being outted if they are in a LGBTQ relationship
- Being disowned due to strict religious or cultural beliefs
3. They're Pressured To Stay In Abusive Relationship
Being forced to stay in an abusive relationship is another form of abuse. When children are involved, leaving an abusive partner is especially difficult. In some cases, the abuser may threaten to harm the children or take them away. In others, the person might feel extreme guilt about breaking up the family.
Teens and young adults face different types of pressures. Young girls who are sexually assaulted might feel pressure to keep quiet because of shame over being sexually active. Likewise, young men facing physical abuse also face the pressure of age-old stereotypes. They also risk being dismissed because they are "too young" to know about real love, abuse, and other grown-up problems.
4. They Depend On The Abuser
Without money or an alternate place to live, getting out of an abusive situation seems hopeless. This feeling of helplessness can be especially strong if the person lives with an abusive partner or if he or she has a disability.
How You Can Help
You might be the only person who knows about the abuse. How you react can be instrumental in supporting your friend. From loveisrespect.org, here are ways you can help:
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend who you think needs help. Tell them you’re concerned for their safety and want to help.
- Be supportive and listen patiently. Acknowledge their feelings and be respectful of their decisions.
- Help your friend recognize that the abuse is not “normal” and is NOT their fault. Everyone deserves a healthy, non-violent relationship.
- Focus on your friend or family member, not the abusive partner. Even if your loved one stays with their partner, it’s important they still feel comfortable talking to you about it.
- Connect your friend to resources in their community that can give them information and guidance. Remember, www.loveisrespect.org can help.
- Help them develop a safety plan.
- If they break up with the abusive partner, continue to be supportive after the relationship is over.
- Even when you feel like there’s nothing you can do, don’t forget that by being supportive and caring, you’re already doing a lot.
- Don’t contact their abuser or publicly post negative things about them online. It’ll only worsen the situation for your friend.
If you push your friend too hard to leave, you may alienate him or her. The most important thing you can do is be supportive.