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Why Do Women Stay in Violent Relationships

Updated on December 13, 2015
Princessa profile image

Wendy studied psychology in Scotland and worked at the Stirling Rape Crisis Center before moving to France in 2005.

What We Need Now is Action.

How do I speak of men’s violence against women? How am I playing a part in perpetuating the cycle of not holding him accountable for his violence?
How do I speak of men’s violence against women? How am I playing a part in perpetuating the cycle of not holding him accountable for his violence? | Source

Why a Person Stays in an Abusive Relationship

Why in earth does anyone stay in a violent relationship? Why do women hang around when they know their husband or boyfriend might injure or even kill them? The question itself is biased as it is blaming the victim for staying in a violent relationship. Why don’t we ask instead why the perpetrator of violence abuses his partner?

In asking why a person stays in an abusive relationship, we are assuming that the person has a choice, which is not always evident for the person suffering the abuse.

During the late 90s I had the opportunity to work with women survivors of rape. The abusers were often known to them, their own husbands, boyfriends, brothers, and other male relatives or friends. Most of the women who came to use our services were women who had sustained sexual abuse for a long time, most shocking even, most of these women had to go back to their homes to face their abusers and the continual violence.

Why Women Stay In An Abusive Relationship ?

One thing that always amazed me during that time, was that most of the women who came to the Rape Crisis Centre never considered getting away from their damaging relationships. It was very frustrating to know that these women that we were trying to help were going back to their houses to be abused psychologically and physically again and that we would see them in a couple of days with new bruises and even deeper psychological scars.

It was very difficult for me to understand what they were really expecting. Most of them did not want to press charges and most of them didn’t want to, or couldn’t leave their abuser. Our main goal at the time was to inform women of their options and help them become survivors rather than victims. It was painful to see how some of those women really believed that somehow they deserved what was happening to them.

In an attempt to understand those women, over the years I have tried to find out what compels them to stay in a violent relationship. The answer is more complex than expected and for me it is still unsatisfactory.

The Cycle Of Domestic Violence

n	 Domestic violence is typically repetitive. After abuse and violence, apologies may be offered; soon, the abuse returns.
n Domestic violence is typically repetitive. After abuse and violence, apologies may be offered; soon, the abuse returns. | Source

The Cycle Of Domestic Violence

The cycle of domestic violence and abuse includes emotional abuse, isolation, blaming the victim, denying that abuse even occurred, minimizing the effect, using children or pets as means to expand threat if the woman takes action, invoking religious laws and requirements, reducing access to friends or resources, coercion, threats, and intimidation.

Break the cycle of bad, abusive relationships.

Fear, Phobias and Frozen Feet
Fear, Phobias and Frozen Feet

Fear, Phobias and Frozen Feet cuts out the psycho babble to bring you a down to earth book that everybody can read and relate to. Real people's stories and life experiences have been used to illustrate this fascinating book about how to conquer your fears and break the cycle of bad, abusive relationships.


Many abuse survivors cling to the positive traits in their partners -- like being affectionate and reliable.

An estimated 50 percent of women who leave an abusive relationship return to the relationship an average of five times.

Social misconceptions

In some cultures battered women are accused of being masochists, women who secretly enjoy being abused and that is why they go from one abusive relationship to another one. They are also accused to bringing on the abuse through their own fault, because they are frigid, over emotional dependent or any other personality trait that might “justify” violence.

The reality about staying in a violent Relationship:

Some of the reasons why people stay in violent relationships include fear of greater physical danger to herself and her close relatives if they try to leave. Victims of domestic abuse are terrified of suffering a worse beating than before if they leave and are found. Some even fear that their partners will kill them. But fear also extends beyond physical pain. Women also stay for fear of losing the custody of their children or even fear of damaging their children by taking them away from their father.

Some of the practical reasons why women stay in damaging relationships are also economic dependence, the lack of job skills, the lack of a safe place to go to, fear of involvement in police and court processes. In some countries and cultures you can also add negative responses from the family, community, friends, police, authorities and religious institutions. Leaving an abuser would mean for some people the same as living under a witness protection program where they would need to cut any contact with their old life and start all over again.

Some of the emotional reasons why people stay in abusive relationships include fear for their abuser, victims think that their abuser might hurt or kill himself if they leave. Despite their fear of being battered, the victims have certain loyalty to their abusers, they are convinced that it is partly their fault to be abused, and they still love their abusers and have an unfounded optimism that things will get better if only they can be better wives, girlfriends or daughters. There is also a certain amount of denial, the victims think that they are not really that badly off; that there are others worse than them. Some other times people just stay out of shame; they can not face the humiliation of being known as someone who was abused.

The Power of the abuser

There are many different ways that abusers may try to control their partners

What keeps abused people returning to violent relationships?

The answer, perhaps is not in trying to understand the victims and survivors of domestic abuse but understanding the actual power of the abusers. Abusers manage to practice an incredible amount of power –real or pretended- over their victims. Stark identifies domestic abusers' subjugation of their victims, comparing it with what is visited upon kidnap victims and indentured slaves. He calls it "coercive control." He suggests that battered women take real risks by attempting to leave violent relationships: "The risk of severe or fatal injury increases with separation. Almost half the males on death row for domestic homicide killed in retaliation for a wife or lover leaving them”. The sad reality is that leaving a violent relationship might prove to be more dangerous for the victim than staying in.

Why do women stay in abusive relationships?

There Is Hope:

The reasons cited by people who stay in abusive relationships are endless, but there is also hope. Not all victims stay. Not all victims go back to start another relationship that will end again bringing them back to a circle of domestic violence. There are many people who have managed to break the ties, to re-start again, to regain their self confidence and build healthy relationships.

Help Support Victims of Domestic Violence

A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay In or Get Out of Your Relationship

Restraining Orders

A restraining order also referred to as a 209A protective order, is one option to consider in seeking safety from an abuser.

Restraining Orders Eligibility

The law for restraining orders (209A) covers those people who are or have been in any of the following relationships:

  • A substantive dating relationship
  • Living together in the same household
  • Engaged or married
  • Have a child together
  • Related by blood or marriage

How Does A Judge Decide Whether to Issue the Order?
Under the law, the judge needs to determine:

  • If the relationship is covered by the law, and
  • If the victim has shown "a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse"

Do Arrests and Restraining Orders Work?

Have you been involved in a violent relationship? Why did you stay?

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    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      5 years ago from France

      Buzzards21: Thanks for the remainder on a very important point: abuse is about power regardless of gender.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      People stay in abusive relationships for the same reasons regardless of their gender. As a male survivor of domestic abuse at the hands of an ex-wife, I cringe when I read, hear, or otherwise encounter langugage that suggests or portrays abuse as men against women. Abuse is about power, not gender. When we write about our expceriences with abuse, we need to be careful to explain that abuse is abuse no matter what the gender of the abuser or the gender of the victim. While we can only speak of our own reality, our reality can apply to anyone.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      7 years ago from France

      Poohgranma: Thank you for leaving an insightful comment. Awareness, like you say, should be a first step; but it is important to work hard the rest of the way.

      WriteAngled: It took you a long time to react, but you finally did it, which is the important thing. Leaving is not as easy as it sounds, it requires time and courage. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Poohgranma profile image


      7 years ago from On the edge

      All of the reasons listed here plus a hundred more are why women stay in abusive relationships. I am writing about my experience with my last abusive relationship and also my first. When you are taught you have no value other than as a means to an end, what other possible outcome would you expect?

      Today I see young people subjected to abuse of every sort imaginable from sources they must encounter every day of their lives. "Bullying" is just now being taken more seriously after the horrors of school slayings occurred. Abuse in dating - a source you would think the abused would be able to flee from in an instant continues to be on the rise. Gang affiliation that is a constant source of abuse to the weaker members is common place. We can not make the victims of abuse leave but we can and must show them not only the ways and means out but that they have value. This requires time and commitment, a rare commodity in our busy lives. It's so much easier to write a check to a fund for this sort of thing or hand out literature, isn't it? It is going to take personal involvement if we are to see change. Awareness is a good first step but it's not the journey.

    • WriteAngled profile image


      8 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      Psychological/emotional abuse leaves no external bruises, but can cause long-term damage to woman's self-esteem and self-confidence. Being told daily, "You're a bad mother" may leave a woman with permanent doubts about how she might have affected her children. The trouble is that it is a very insiduous process, especially if the woman had low self-esteem even before she met the abuser. It took me more than a decade to find the courage to leave.

    • Mortgagestar1 profile image


      8 years ago from Weirton,West Virginia

      Violence on an interpersonal level also is linear with societal violence. Look at Islamic nations where women are abused. Violent societies and America is becoming more violent with Hollyweird and the Hip Hop community as examples. The abuser uses emotional weapons as low esteem, coerced manipulation, emotional balckmail, and even family intimidation. It is important to find emotional supportive allies and to break free at any means. Homeless shelters and women groups are here for the abused. A REAL man helps a woman feel beautiful, wanted, needed, and indispensible. A real man will sacrifice because of his best intentions and supportiveness. I been on both sides on this issue. Age has changed myself. I suggest women to Google 'Promise Keepers' and see if REAL men do indeed exist.

    • profile image

      Kate the Fair 

      8 years ago

      Princessa, you are exactly right. But there is only mystery for those who are superficially focused on the "victim". After all, the victim is the most noticable. The man just sort of looms in the background like some little dark shadow in the back of everyone's mind. When, in fact, the man is the mystery. Because no one ever asks, "why would a man do such a thing?" Answer: Most men are goal oriented by nature. And unfortunately, these particular men are frustrated cowards, inept at reaching any goals any other way; like a bully on the playground. The woman, being more nurturing by nature, is caught by surprise when his facade comes crashing down. She doesn't think like him, at first. What normal person would. So, therefore, he has the upper hand with one unexpected surprise after the other. And so it begins. It ends according to the strength and were-with-all of the woman to stop, take a deep breath, recognize he is a coward, flip off the nurturing switch and fight back!

    • msorensson profile image


      8 years ago

      Excellent hub, Princessa.

      I have to admit I have no direct experience with domestic violence.

      Now I hear about it from people I know but it was always kept a secret.

      A cultural and psychological conditioning makes us seek that which we have experienced before and that is, in my opinion, one of the reasons why people seek the same experience.

      One of my dear friends, a guy, has told me of a similar story that his wife was violent towards him. At first I was aghast [this happened many years ago]. I would never have imagine a sweet wife beating up on her husband. And yet as he has never lied to me, I believe him.

      He can tell me now because it has been decades ago but I would never have guessed. No he is smart and married someone who adores him.

      Thank you for this hub.

    • Vizey profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice hub very informative. You had raised a sensational question for which there is no accurate answer.

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Great Hub Princessa, and a very good point in that the first thing many ask is why the person being abused does not leave and as you so noted it can be a very complicated answer.

      That is why it is so important to make the public more consciously aware of the problem and to find solutions that can be offered to an individual rather than pointing yet another blaming finger at the victim. Thanks for sharing your insight and experience on the subject.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      8 years ago from France

      guidebaba: the natural reaction when someone beats you up in the street is to defend yourself or run away. However when the battering happens at home, the reaction seems to be alltoguether different. It does not help that abusers tend to demand forgiveness and promise not to ever hurt you again. Love and fear are strange feelings... and the abuser never lets his victim leave that easy.

      mistywild: I know, it is very sad and frustrating to see that you can not really do anything to help those people. You try hard but nothing that you do changes their condition. The power of the abuser is far too strong...

      bingskee: the economic reason is a very powerful one, especially in countries where you don't get any social aid.

    • bingskee profile image


      8 years ago from Quezon City, Philippines

      'why on earth does anyone stay in a violent relationship?' one of the answers is because they do not have economic power. when a woman is in a situation where she does not earn enough, then it is an opportunity for a partner to abuse. also, if a woman has a weak personality, then it is more likely that she will be more subservient than submissive.

    • mistywild profile image


      8 years ago from Houston, TX (Proud Texan)

      Excellent hub. I too have worked with abused women and have been baffled as well as to WHY they keep going back. In my own research I have found what you have written to be the truth. However, it does not make it any less frustrating to see the same women week after week with different bruises, and as you eloquently put it, even deeper psychological scars.

    • guidebaba profile image


      8 years ago from India

      Hello Dear! It was nice to see a comment on my hub from you after a long time. Too Busy?

      I too wonder why on earth does anyone stay in a violent relationship? If I was in any such relationship, I just avoid the person and like to stay in peace. And there are some idiots who are not going to leave you even when you avoid them. These kind of people make life miserable.

      How is life going on?

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      8 years ago from France

      shamelabboush: Thanks for your comment. Despite knowing some of the reason why people stay in abusive relationships I still find very difficult to understand them. Maybe like I mentioned, it is not about understanding the abused person but understanding why the abuser behaves that way.

      emievil: I hope it has that effect, I hope at least ONE person realizes that there is hope and they can leave and start again somewhere else. I understand that it is very difficult, but it is not impossible.

    • emievil profile image


      8 years ago from Philippines

      Great hub Princessa. I hope a reader of your hub, who's being abused, will wake up and analyze deeper his / her reasons for staying in an abusive relationship. I had an employee once who was beaten by her live-in partner. They already had a son when it happened. We just asked her why she still stays with him and why did she not report him. Her only answer was "because I love him". I nearly shook her then but there was really not much we can do. Until now, she's with him and we can only hope and pray that the relationship will not end up with murder (his or hers). :(

    • shamelabboush profile image


      8 years ago

      I guess it's like the relation between the moth and the torch... Well discussed topic dear.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      8 years ago from France

      prettydarkhorse: I think it is important to know that there is hope, that many women have managed to come out of violent relationships. Unfortunately it is not as easy as we think, mainly because of the practical reasons that keep women attached to their abusers.

      palmerlarryray: It is scary, but I think it is even more scary to know that many times the authorities will ignore the pleas of abused women and they will not do anything until it is way too late. And you are right, it is partly our responsibility not to ignore the signs of abuse towards our friends and relatives.

      lyricsingray: You are welcome Kimberly, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      There is hope indeed but we need to continue, together to break the silence, I enjoyed this read as it wasn't about details of abuse but the emotions behind it. Thank you., Kimberly

    • palmerlarryray profile image

      Larry Ray Palmer 

      8 years ago from Macon, Missouri

      Excellent article on a very important subject. It is very important that we all do our part to recognize the abuse these women are going through. My wife was married to an abusive man before she met me. They were together 11 years and everyone knew it was going on but chose to overlook it because she made excuses for the bruises. Recently, a coworker who had been around for several years looked at her and said, "You know, you outgrew that clumsy spell after you met Larry."

      Scary to think how many women die before they will admit that the man they live with is abusing them. Thanks for the article.

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      8 years ago from US

      hi princessa! you are definitely correct about the reasons why victims stay in violent relationships, emotional and ecnomic reasons! yes there is still hope and the early detection and realization is needed!


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