Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships

A Safe Place

Leaving is Not Easy

Often friends, coworkers, and even family of abused women ask this question, thinking that making the decision to leave an abusive relationship is easy. Our society tends to focus on the actions of victims of abuse rather than on the actions of abusers. Then, naturally, people ask: Why does she stay? However, the question is unfair. It would be fair to focus on abusers and their abusive behaviors and ask: “Why do they assume that they have the right to abuse their partners?

Abused women find it difficult to leave their abusive relationship. They may have good reasons to leave but they also have reasons to stay which range from fear to limitations imposed on women by dominant societal beliefs.

Fear

  • If she leaves, he has threatened to find her wherever she goes to make her pay; she is afraid of what he might do.
  • If she leaves, he has been very specific and promised to find her and kill her.
  • If she leaves, he is going to find her and he will hurt her loved ones (her children, her family, and her friends).
  • If she leaves, he is going to commit suicide and she will blame herself for his death.
  • If she leaves, he is going to kill her, the children, and then himself.
  • If she leaves, he is going to fight for the custody of the children and take them away from her; he will say that she is not a good mother.
  • If she leaves, he will stop sponsoring her and he will have her sent away to her country of origin and keep the children with him or his family.

Financial

  • She has been working at home for years. He doesn’t allow her to work. How is she going to support her children and herself?
  • She has a job, but he has threatened to make problems for her at her workplace so she is afraid she will not have a way to support herself and her children.
  • She has a job but her income is small, how is she going to make it? He has repeated often that he will not support her or the children.
  • He owns the house and everything else. Where are they going to live?
  • She is afraid and thinks: “Will I get affordable housing, transportation, & childcare?”
  • She is new in the country; she doesn’t know if financial help is available to her.

Support

  • If she leaves, the community, friends, and family are going to blame her. He is so charming when people are around, how would they know?
  • If she leaves, she is going to be ostracized because in her community women are not to leave their husbands.
  • If she leaves, she will be totally isolated. She is an immigrant woman; the only person close to her is the abuser. She has nobody else. She doesn’t know where to go or who to turn to for help.
  • If she leaves and is an Aboriginal woman, she may lose access to housing and other services. She may be accused of upsetting family dynamics and/or community relationships.

Beliefs

  • She believes it is her job to keep the family together, so she tries harder and harder to do so.
  • She believes that she can make him change & end his abusive behavior. She believes that things will get better if she keeps trying.
  • She believes that abuse is “normal” in relationships because she was raised with domestic violence at home.
  • Her religion strongly discourages her from breaking up the family; she has to stay and work harder to keep her family together and make the relationship work.