What Keeps Women In Abusive Relationship*
Economic and financial dependence: Who will support
her and the children? She may have no financial resources, access
to resources in general, or any job skills. If she has children,
it becomes more difficult to leave without having the ability to
get affordable housing, transportation, childcare, etc. She may
even fear that her house or car may be taken away.
Parenting: needing a partner for the kids. "A
crazy partner is still better than no partner at all." Many
people in our society today consider single parenting to be "unattractive,"
and this can hold battered women back from leaving.
Religious reasons: extended family pressure to
keep the family together. If she leaves or divorces her partner,
her religious community may ostracize her or maybe no one will even
Fear: being alone, on her own, or afraid she can't
cope with home and children by herself. Fears of losing the children
altogether are common. Many abusers make threats about taking the
children. Fear that the partner will commit suicide. Many batterers
make threats of suicide in order to further manipulate the victim
into staying. Fear of shame, humiliation, or harassment from the
community. Being left out of social functions or moving to the bottom
of the social ladder can cause great fear in women. An abuser who
has a powerful family, or he who is powerful himself (economically,
socially, etc.) can also be terrorizing.
Loyalty: "My partner is sick; if they had
a broken leg or cancer, I would stay with them. This is no different."
A long history with a person can create incredibly strong bonds,
good and bad. Not wanting to break promises.
Pity: Partner is worse off than she is; she feels
sorry for her partner. Pity can often be brought on by the "Mr.
Nice Guy" image that is popular among batterers. A batterer's
apologies, promises and tears can keep a woman in a relationship
for a long time.
Wanting to help: "If I stay, I can help my
partner get better."
Denial: "It's really not that bad. Other people
have it worse." Many battered women are familiar with the abuse
cycle and really don't see anything wrong with the abuse they are
Love: Often, the partner is quite loving and lovable
when he is not being abusive. Many times a woman does not want the
relationship to end, she doesn't want to look for someone else,
enjoys the physical intimacy (however infrequent/frequent it may
be), and she loves her partner… she just wants the violence
Duty: "I swore to stay married until death
do us part."
Guilt: She believes - and her partner and other
significant others are quick to agree - that their problems are
her fault, or that eventually he'll change and the situation will
get better. Numerous battered women have low self-esteem because
of the abuse they suffer/have suffered, which can lead to an unhealthy
self-perception and feelings of worthlessness.
Responsibility: It is up to her to work things
out and save the relationship. Women have been socialized to believe
that the emotional side of the relationship is the woman’s
Security: Fear of being alone in the world, belief
in the "American dream" of growing up and living happily
ever after. Afraid to bear the many tasks involved in maintaining
a household, the financial responsibilities and needs.
Identity: Women have been socialized to feel they
need a partner - even an abusive one, in order to be complete.
Unfounded optimism: Things will get better, despite
all evidence to the contrary.
Internalization of abuser's words: "I deserve
this treatment." Perhaps the battered woman was brought up
to consider abuse as a justified and normal part of life. Maybe
she doesn't even realize that she is being abused.
Survival: Fears that partner will follow her and
kill her if she leaves, often based on real threats by the partner.
Many times her partner has told her that if she leaves, her partner
will hunt her down and kill her and the children. When a woman makes
a decision to leave an abusive relationship, her chances of being
seriously physically hurt or killed increase 75 percent.
Learned helplessness: Trying every possible method
to change something in our environment, with no success, we eventually
expect to fail. Feeling helpless is a logical response to constant
resistance to our efforts. We see this with prisoners of war, people
taken hostage, people living in poverty who cannot get work, and
so on. Many battered women aren't aware that it's OK to leave.
No one to turn to, nowhere to go: Unfortunately,
a number of battered women don't have a support system or a place
of refuge. This would be difficult for even the strongest person
We encourage each woman to decide when it is an appropriate
time to leave, and how to carry out that decision. To leave an abusive
situation can be incredibly challenging. However, it is equally
important to remember that in many communities, there are extensive
support networks for battered women. If you are currently in an
abusive situation, be active in your liberation… seek help!!.
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* Source: Humboldt Women for Shelter, Eureka, California (handout),
with revisions by EWAR 1991. Alexandra House Advocate Training manual,
Alexandra House, a Shelter for Battered Women and their Children,