Why do people in abusive relationships stay?

woman in cafe - iStock_000014696028XSmallChances are, aside from the curiosity about the title of this article, you are reading this because you know at least one person that is in an abusive relationship and it blows your mind that they don’t “just” leave…or maybe you ARE that person…this is your life. You are in a relationship that you KNOW is abusive. This is for you too. If you don’t belong to either one of these groups…still read this. In fact, have it for dinner…because you might be in an abusive relationship and not even know it.I seem to have gotten lot of inquires and clients lately who are dealing with this. So I have decided to write this piece to hopefully give you the loving observer some understanding that may help you help your loved one but even more importantly, I write this for you…who may be living through this, that hopefully, you get some answers and find strength to have a better experience out of life.

So…here are a few things to think about or remember about abusive relationships:

1) The signs are not easy to tell at the beginning: Nobody wears a sign on their head saying “Hey …date/marry me and I’ll be sure to abuse you in the future!” The fact is that many relationships that are abusive, didn’t start that way. On the contrary, they started out great. Often time though…they start out almost too good to be true. I once read of a couple where he was so in love with her that he decided to marry her. He asked her parents for her hand in marriage and that’s where the first seed of abuse was planted. The girl’s family exploited him. They did it with his dowry and did not care that he was not in the best financial position. They accounted for every penny of clothes, school fees and other costs of “raising” this prized possession of a daughter. He was nearly financially wiped out by the time the wedding took place.  Too embarrassed to say anything, he shut his mouth and got through it. A few months later…still unable to recover from the financial plummet, he started falling into depression, frustration and of course anger. One day, he asked his new wife to make him a sandwich or something. Her response wasn’t favorable…and he beat her. Explaining to her that he paid with his life’s savings to buy her from parents who acted as if they were selling property, not sending a daughter off to happiness. In this case who was abused? They BOTH were. Him by her parents and her by him. So here is the take away from this one…someone can BECOME abusive that wasn’t before.

2) It’s not just the “Violence”: Abuse is not only DOMESTICE VIOLENCE. This is CRUCIAL to understand. Many times, abuse happens long before it shows up as domestic violence. Abuse is simply the cruel or violent treatment of someone. So again…VIOLENCE is only part of the story…CRUEL TREATMENT is the other part, and that happens to many of us more than we are willing to admit. There are many people in “Emotionally abusive “relationships/marriages. This type of abuse is no less terrible than physical abuse. Emotional abuse is a non-physically violent but terrible form of abuse. It is usually characterized by behavior that chips away at someone’s sense of self worth. Some examples are shaming, humiliation, withholding basic needs, threatening, and of course using guilt (perhaps of a past mistake) as a source of power over the other or for emotional ransom.

3) Abusive people make you need them by force not by choice: One of the telling things about a healthy relationship is that two people need each other…by choice. In other words, they feel safe enough with each other to the point where they allow themselves to need the other.  Each chooses to depend on the other for something(s). Not so with abusive relationships. Abusers create a world where the other person is dependent on them by force…involuntarily. Abusers want to be the gate keeper between a person and his/her NEEDS. A counselor once spoke of an abuser who found out that his girlfriend got a new job that required a car that she could not afford to buy. He bought the car “supposedly for her” but she was not allowed to drive it. Only he could. She needed her job…so she needed him and put up with his abuse for the sake of the job she needed.

4) You against the world: Abusers are experts at making a person feel that they are not going to be accepted by the world “out there” and that they are the only ones who are accepting of the victim and so are doing a favor. They give the victim the impression of themselves that says “I am really bad/ugly/not-good-enough/educated enough/ strong enough/ whateverenough that no one out there will tolerate and love me.  They erode the victims self esteem so much so that the person starts to think “The monster I know is better than the ones I don’t”. Abusers make victims eat so much feces that the occasional vomit…the occasional “good treatments” looks like a treat.

5) Abuse is not gender issue: We may have more “domestic violence” cases reported by women, but that does not mean that men don’t go through domestic violence as well and it certainly does not mean they don’t go through abuse. The truth is that men don’t really have an outlet to talk about themselves as victims. When women share this pain, they often get a host of sympathizers…EVERYONE comes to her rescue. People tell her it’s not her…its him, people embrace her as a victim. Men? Men get Nada. Zilch. Zero. Niente. Nothing. Right from when men are young, they were told to just suck it up and be a man. So when a wife throws a tantrum at home, cries at the slightest nudge, PMS for 30 days instead of 4…we suck it up…we don’t go having sleep overs at our boy’s place and break down in tears about how she threw her spoon at us last night. We don’t tell our parents that the woman we live with emotionally abuses us most of the month. We don’t do that because we don’t get any support and even if we did, it’s too embarrassing. So know that abuse is not a gender thing.

You might even be a female abuser and not realize it because you’re thinking “well I’ve never hit my man before” but remember, abuse can happen long before anyone physically hits the other.

6) It’s not the size of the bruise that matters …it’s the violation of the sense of complete safety: A wife who beats her husband to the best of her ability and throws items at him is just as abusive as the man who hits his wife. Just because the bruise from the man is bigger doesn’t make HER less abusive. The fact is that we should not be hitting each other. PERIOD. A woman who threatens to embarrass her husband and expose something shameful about him unless he does or buys xyz, is just as abusive as the man who threatens to stop financial support if a woman doesn’t sleep with him. The fact is that we should not be extorting or exploiting each other. PERIOD. So if someone feels like you have the potential to violate their physical , emotional or psychological safety, you are already abusing them.

7) No one says “I am sorry” better than an abuser:  Why do they stay? We ask. Why do people in abusive relationships stay? Why don’t they just leave???? Well, know this and know this well. Abusers are the best apologizers. They are the ones that will buy a diamond ring to say I’m sorry for your busted lip. They will buy that car to say ill never yell at you in public again. They will have mind blowing sex with you for days to say sowwwyy I spent all that money (again) on that new handbag. Abusers give the best gifts. They go to the extreme to say “I won’t do it again”. What victims need to focus on is “What possessed you to be ok with doing that in the first place?” What really traps victims sometimes, is when family, friends and acquaintances see the gifts and extreme goodness, they respond by saying “OMG your husband…your wife is amazing…you are so lucky.” They gather round and swoon over your new diamond necklace and you don’t know how to say eerrmmm oh it’s just his way of saying he won’t beat me again. No. You just smile…because you don’t know how NOT to enjoy the attention you are getting from those people. Our friends and family suck the strength to leave that abusive relationship because they pay so much attention to what our abusive significant others DO for us or buy us rather than how they take care of our hearts. Too many girlfriends have said “Honey most men don’t know how to control their anger at least you get diamonds” Too many fathers have told their daughters to put up with abusive rich husbands and just focus on the good life he provides.

8) Seduction and Isolation: It works even better than Mohammad Ali’s one two punch. This deadly combination is what many victims and experts say is a tell tale of how abuse begins. It begins with seduction. I don’t mean sexual seduction even though that may be a small part of it. Na. I’m talking about heavy emotional and psychological seduction. Abusers make you feel like they are the ultimate rescuer. Superman…or super woman. They make you promises that no HUMAN should be making another human.  They give the feeling of “The world around you is terrible. I am here with a big “S” on my chest, my red cape and I want to take you far far away to planet krypton…far away from your mess.” The problem is that Krypton is far far away. The problem is that in Krypton, you are also isolated from the world. Seduction and Isolation looks like someone making a huge promise that almost sounds too good to be true but then because of that promise, they isolate you from the things in the/your world that make you whole. Family, friends, career fulfillment and anything else that may give you fulfillment and joy outside of him/her.

9) Religion or Faith is no guarantee (Although it should): I can’t tell you how many people who I have met, who are basically suffering at home in the hands of religious men and women.  No religion seems to be safe from people who abuse others in the name of religion. Religious people can be abusive too. Remember, abuse is the cruel or violent treatment of something or someone. Make no mistake, Religious people can be cruel too and few things work as a get-out-of-jail card like religion. When a grown man wants to marry and impregnate a girl whose body should not be carrying a child, when a woman holds her husband’s secret mistake over his head as ransom for her to get whatever she wants and do whatever she wants, when a man beats a woman in an attempt to beat a demon out of her, or prevents her from pursuing a professional career because it is not (fill in your religion) for her to do so.

10) I am this way because you upset me: Abusers and violent people have a very smooth, passive aggressive way of making you feel like it’s YOUR fault they are that way. “I beat you…but it’s because you upset me that much”. “If you just do things my way, it won’t result in this.” Now, while you may have done something foolish or downright stupid (yes that’s possible unless you’re Jesus and you’re not) you HOWEVER did not cause his or her reaction. Each person is responsible for their actions and reactions. It is not true that you are the one that turns him/her into the incredible hulk.

11) Friends/Family of the abused – BE A REAL FRIEND: These people NEED you. If you suspect that someone you care about is being abused, DON’T stay away. It’s NOT their problem. Be strong for them. Show up uninvited at their place and constantly politely check up on them (especially if they are living with the suspected abuser). Part of why abuse is so rampant is the isolation after the abuse. When you do have enough reason to believe that abuse is taking place…especially physical abuse, call the authorities. Create a support group for them and don’t tell them to suck it up and enjoy the diamonds and nice house.

Are you a real friend? When people think of you, do they feel that they can pour their heart out to you in their most vulnerable state and know that you’ll be a shoulder to lean on? OR Do they feel that they can never let you see them weak…that they cannot allow you to see them down? Do they feel like they have to look like they “have it together?” When someone feels like they have become a punching bag for life and relationship troubles, are you a bag of ice? A soothing relief…even if temporary? Or are you a mirror that reminds them of how bad they have been beaten up. Read this article I wrote “How do you smell” . Ignore the title. Trust me. The point is this. Your loved one in an abusive relationship is more likely to open up if you indeed are a shoulder to lean on instead of well…fill in the blank.

 Being in an abusive relationship is not easy. It’s terrible. Hopefully these tips and perspectives are helpful both to people who are living this horror and for their family and friends.

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  • B

    This post is a couple years old now, but I have to thank you for putting things so clearly and concisely. Every one of these points bears consideration because this is all entirely accurate. It really hurts to be in this situation, but I’m glad some people understand.

    • Hello B! Yes you are so right. Its not an easy thing to understand if you are not living it and I am glad that it was meaningful to you. God bless!