One of the major concerns when it comes to mental, emotional, and physical safety is intimate partner violence or domestic violence. When you hear someone being in an abusive relationship, you might wonder, “Why?”, why are they in the relationship if their partner is abusive?
However, when you look at it, it’s not easy to leave an abusive relationship and move on while keeping one’s mental and emotional health or sense of safety intact. In this article, we shall discuss reasons why it can be difficult to leave an abusive relationship.
It’s hard to leave an abusive relationship. The idea of stepping away from a partner who’s used to violence is hard, scary, and frankly, overwhelming. It’s not like the one being abused doesn’t want to leave, but it’s just not that simple. They might have even tried, several times, to step away from the abusive relationship before they finally managed to leave.
Reasons Why It Can Be Hard to Leave
These are some of the reasons why someone may find it difficult to leave an unhealthy relationship:
- Hoping things will get better: The person may still care about their partner or have hope that things will get better. Their partner may have promised them that they’ll change and asked them for another chance. Abuse can often be cyclical and an abusive phase may be followed by a honeymoon phase where everything seems amazing.2 However, the honeymoon phase can be deceptive and may lead to another episode of abuse.
- Experiencing past trauma: People who have endured a lifetime of trauma or abuse may experience a freeze or dissociative response, where they are numb and unable to process what’s happening. This can make it more difficult to be responsive when abuse happens.
- Being manipulated or gaslighted: The person may feel confused, question their reality, wonder whether they are responsible for their abuse, and feel unable to make it on their own after their abuser may have made them feel helpless, worthless, and powerless. This makes it difficult for them to muster the confidence to leave.3
- Having health conditions: The person may have injuries or health conditions—sometimes due to abuse—that can make it difficult for them to leave.
- Feeling isolated: Abusers often isolate their partners from their friends and family members, so the person may feel like they have nowhere to go. It can be hard to take a step like this without a support system.
- Having children together: Leaving a co-parent can be difficult because the person may not want to disrupt the children’s lives, break up the family, and take them away from their other parent. This can be especially hard if the person is a good parent but an abusive partner. They may also be afraid of losing their children, particularly if the other parent threatened them or suggested they could take the children away.
- Being financially dependent: The person may not have an income or savings, or their partner may have control of their finances. They may not have access to cash, cards, or bank accounts.
- Facing threats: The person’s abuser may have threatened to harm them if they try to leave. The threats may even extend to their family members, friends, or pets.
- Being in danger: Abusive relationships can in fact be dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five homicides is by intimate partners. The CDC also notes that over half of the female homicide victims in the United States are killed by former or current intimate partners.
- Not recognizing abuse: It can sometimes be hard for people to recognize that they’re being abused, particularly if they’ve lived with it for many years.
If they haven’t been in healthy, respectful relationships, they may not realize that their partner’s actions are not acceptable. This is especially true in relationships that involve emotional abuse but not physical or sexual abuse.
- Facing pressure to stay together: Society tends to encourage people not to give up on relationships and to stick it out no matter what. Divorce often attracts social stigma and even break-ups are considered personal failures. There is a lot of pressure to be in a perfect relationship.
- Not wanting to admit to being abused: Someone who has been abused may be scared, ashamed, or embarrassed to admit it to others. The fact that victims are often blamed for being abused doesn’t help. It may be even harder for the person to name their abuser if their abuser is a powerful person or happens to be well-liked in the community.
- Experiencing legal difficulties: The person may have tried to ask for help, but the authorities may have dismissed it as a domestic dispute. Or, the person may be legally compromised in some way, which can make it difficult for them to ask the authorities for help. For instance, their partner may have filed a false complaint against them, or they may be an immigrant who fears deportation.
Making the Decision to Leave
If you are in an abusive relationship and are thinking about leaving, these are some factors to keep in mind:1
- It’s not your fault: Your partner may have convinced you that you are somehow responsible for the situation or that you deserved it in some way. You may think that it is up to you to fix things or that everything will be fine if you are able to be a better partner somehow. Remember that it’s not your fault, and you’re not responsible for your abuser’s actions.
- Abuse is not love: Your partner may convince you that the abuse, jealousy, or attempts to control you are their way of showing you their love or passion. However, an abusive relationship is neither healthy nor normal. Love requires mutual care and respect.
- Abuse often escalates: Intimate partner violence often escalates and gets worse. Even if it starts out as emotional abuse, it may progress to physical abuse that gets worse with each episode. You need to leave the situation as soon as you are safely able to do so.
- You’re not responsible for your abuser: If you care about your abuser, you may try to convince them to get help or think that you need to stay with them if they’re trying to be better. Abusers sometimes manipulate their partners into staying by making threats of hurting themselves or making their partners feel like they cannot make it on their own. However, you don’t owe them anything, and you need to prioritize your safety and well-being over theirs.
In summary, if you or a loved one are in an abusive situation, leaving may not be as easy as people may think. It can be a process that can take weeks or months, sometimes even years. However, creating a safety plan and working toward it is important. Several organizations can help provide the shelter and support you need.
I hope you find this article helpful as well as interesting.