The Lighthouse is a domestic violence shelter in Fairfield County, Ohio

Why Do People Stay in Relationships that are Abusive?

Some people think or say that they would never allow themselves to become a victim of domestic violence.  They say, “I would never put up with that kind of treatment!”  The scary part about that is they really believe it; but they don’t know or understand what domestic violence really is.  These people see domestic violence the same way they see a mugging or violent encounter with a stranger…well, that is not the same thing!  If these abusers were strangers, victims would press charges, never drop them and never regret seeking justice for themselves/their children.  But stop and really think about it.

Imagine your significant other, your brother/sister, your adult child, your parent who you love.  These people in your life, the way you know them right now, who you love immensely.  You would do anything for these people!  Do you think that that love would just disappear in a nanosecond if they were to abuse you in some way?  Domestic violence is about loving the very person who is hurting you; otherwise we would just call it a random act of violence.

Remember that in a lot of cases it begins slowly with comments that damage your self-esteem.  Perhaps he or she has even isolated you by complaining about visitors (your friends or family) and it is easier for you to just put people off rather than argue about it.  Now, you are in a situation where the only adult outside of you who can affect how you see yourself is the person who is reflecting negativity about your abilities, physical appearance, etc.

Once your self-esteem is low enough, you believe that no one else would want you.  You believe that this person is the only person who would have you and perhaps you are even afraid of making it on your own or finding someone who is even worse.  Often, you will feel that you are a failure as a partner, mother or person because you cannot stop the abuse from happening which just reinforces what your abuser has been saying about you.

Even if your self-esteem is not quite that low, are you able to exist without the income of your abuser?  Were you allowed or able to work, and if you are/do, do you earn enough money to successfully live independently?  Many cannot due to debt accrued together or simply lack of jobs that pay well.  A positive attitude can mean very little without the means to leave the abusive situation.

So many times children are the reason why people stay with their abusers; they really need that other parent!  If your self-esteem is low, you may believe that the other parent is far more important than anything you could offer on your own.  Also,  your partner may have threatened to take the child if you leave.

Maybe you recognize that you are not the problem, but you love your abuser and it is your abuser who needs help.  So you decide that you will stay because your abuser claims that he or she will get help, attend counseling and stop acting abusively.  What hope you have, because if he or she will change, you do not have to face the responsibility to make a change yourself.  Unfortunately, you are likely to blame yourself for not being helpful enough to change the abuser.

Sometimes traditional societal roles deny options of separation/divorce for victims of abuse.  Strong religious convictions or the stigma of receiving welfare often force people to remain in the abusive situation or even return to it when life outside it is so difficult.

Lastly, recognize how unlikely it is that you can effectively escape your abuser, who may have rights to your children, more economic backing than you, better attorneys (or any attorney when you have none), or funding for private detectives when you have little to no social support and you believe that your abuser will kill you or your children if you try to leave and are caught.

Imagine how lonely it would be, how inadequate you might feel when facing the blank wall of misunderstanding, unsupportive friends, relatives and neighbors who blame you for not getting out before this happened because they don’t understand how domestic violence snakes itself into a relationship over time, but never before you have already become attached and vested in the outcome of the relationship.