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Keirstin adores her boyfriend, Mike. She says that he is the love of her life and an amazing father to her two children. The only hiccup in their relationship is that Rick is abusive. He has abused her repeatedly, put her in the hospital, given her bruises, black eyes, and busted up lips.

Despite all this, Keirstin refuses to press charges, and she doesn’t plan to leave him. She says she isn’t going to leave him because “If there is a chance we can work through this, I want to be there through it.”

That doesn’t seem like a good reason to put up with abuse and multiple hospital visits. So why does she stay?

People who have never been in an abusive relationship often can’t understand why someone would stay. They don’t understand the reasoning as to why someone would put up with being treated that way. Leaving can be more difficult or complicated than one would assume. So, if you see or know someone in an abusive relationship, first try to understand why they can’t or won’t leave the relationship.

1. Emotions

  • Fear: They might be afraid to leave because of what will happen. If their partner has threatened them or their loved ones, they might not feel like it is safe to go.
  • Normalcy: They may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy. If they grew up in a home where abuse was common, a healthy relationship might never have been modeled to them, and they may not know what one looks like.
  • Exposure: If they are LGBTQ+ and have not yet come out, their partner may threaten to expose them. This can be very damaging emotionally if they are not yet ready to share this part of themselves with the world.
  • Shame: It may be hard for them to admit that they have been abused. They may feel shame, or guilt, for becoming involved with an abusive partner. They may worry that they will be judged.
  • Self-Disrespect: They may feel that they deserve to be with this person. If their partner is constantly belittling them, their words may take root.
  • Hope: They may stay in the relationship because they think their partner will change. They may love their partner and want the abuse to end, but not the relationship entirely.

 2. Pressure

  • Social Pressures: If the abuser has good social standing, or is popular it can be hard for a person to admit abuse. They may fear that people won’t believe them, or that people will take their abuser’s side.
  • Cultural or Religious Pressures: The victim’s culture or religion may pressure them into staying in the relationship so as not to bring shame on them or their family.
  • Parental Pressures: They may feel pressure to raise their children in a two-parent home. Or the abuser may threaten to take the children if the victim leaves.

 3. Distrust

  • Distrust of Adults: Adults often believe that teenagers aren’t capable of fully experiencing love. So, when a teen is in a relationship, and something goes wrong, they may feel like they have no one to turn to. They might feel like no one will take them seriously.
  • Distrust of Police: Teenagers often feel that the police won’t help them, and so they don’t report abuse.
  • Language or Immigration: If they are undocumented, a victim is very unlikely to report abuse for fear of their situation being found out. As well, if they are not fluent in English, they may not be able to communicate their situation effectively.

 4. Reliance

  • Financial: If they are dependent on their abusive partner for money, it can seem impossible to leave the relationship.
  • Housing: They may feel that they have nowhere to go if they end the relationship. This is especially true if they live with their abuser.
  • Disability: If they depend on their abuser because of a disability, they may feel that their well-being is tied to the relationship. This can have a heavy influence on whether they stay in the relationship or not.

From the story before, Keirstin chooses to stay with her abusive boyfriend. She says “I don’t know how many times I need to get hit for me to finally leave. I feel like I have one foot out of the door. I’ve left him before, and my life was a mess.” She stays with him because she doesn’t want the relationship to end, just the abuse.

What can you do?

When someone you know, for whatever reason, chooses to stay in an unhealthy relationship; it can be very hard to watch. But it is crucial that you don’t judge them! Listen to them, ask them how you can help. Understand that it can be extremely difficult to leave an abusive relationship.

Let them know there are options available for them. Find more resources here.