Why Do Women Stay in Abusive Relationships?

July 13, 2012
Why Do Women Stay in Abusive Relationships?

We’ve all known them. Women who put up with verbal abuse and sometimes even physical abuse. We wonder why they don’t respect themselves more. And with every new barb that we witness, we wonder why they don’t leave.

Abusive relationships are very complicated, to say the least. Women often enter them because in some crazy way, they feel comfortable.

For instance, some women interpret jealousy as “caring.” If he is vigilant about where she is and who she’s talking to, some women think he must really love her.

Here’s the bad news:

About one-third of American women have suffered some sort of childhood abuse — either physical, sexual or emotional. And that abuse likely came at the hand of someone they loved.

So as adult women, they grow up to know this familiar world of warm fuzzies and cold prickles. This feels normal to them, and indeed, these are often the kind of relationships they seek out.

But what about relationships that get increasingly worse?

Why do women still stay, even when their life might be in danger? The answer is that the longer they stay, the longer they are likely to stay.

The relationship becomes the thing they know they can survive. Being single and on-her-own can feel like a terrifying, unknown place. There may be children involved, extended families that will suffer from a breakup, and fond memories of good times.

So with each instance of abuse, the victim focuses on the good times she knows will come back. And the good times often come right away.

For example, with physical violence, many offenders follow up their bad behavior with a honeymoon phase fueled by their guilt. They wine, dine, shop for and express their love for their victim. And that reseals the relationship.

The key to help exit an abusive relationship is self-esteem.

Getting an education, a new job, or even a weight loss can be a great catalyst to help a woman become strong enough to leave the relationship and create a better life on her own.

Interventions from friends that offer support rather than abandonment can be helpful, too. My best advice: Don’t tell her she’s bad for staying. Tell her what a great partner she is and that she deserves much better love.

Dr. Wendy Walsh is the author of "The 30-Day Love Detox"" (April 2013). Connect with her on Google+.

Related Topics:
Breakups Commitment Forgiveness

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