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Abusive Relationships – Why Do Victims Stay?

I stayed in my abusive marriage hoping that my abuser would see the error in his ways and work to change. I made a plan to stay that resulted in me leaving.

I think there are three broad reasons why people remain in abusive relationships:

  1. The victim doesn’t realize they’re being abused.
  2. The victim knows they’re being abused, but doesn’t want to leave the relationship.
  3. The victim knows they’re being abused, but isn’t ready to leave due to finances, values, fears, or any other reason.

I certainly honor each group’s position. After all, I’ve been in each of the three groups at one time or another. This story occurred when I was unsure about leaving and making plans on how to stay married to my abusive husband.

Doing the ‘Right Thing’ Isn’t as Simple as Leaving

As soon as I realized I was being abused, I felt pressured to run away from my abusive marriage as fast and hard as I could. I thought that I “should” leave immediately – all the literature I’d read said so, and society doesn’t understand why anyone would stay in an abusive relationship. I wanted to prove to someone that I wasn’t making up the abuse, and I thought that if I stayed, then I was saying “the abuse isn’t real.”

The pressure was high to “do the right thing.” For most onlookers, doing the right thing means leaving. For me, doing the right thing meant staying. At least temporarily.

Why I Stayed in My Abusive Marriage

I’d been married 17 years when I figured out that my husband abused me verbally and mentally. I knew that the three times he’d laid his hands on me constituted physical abuse, but I didn’t understand that the verbal and mental manipulation he used was also abuse, and I didn’t recognize the fact that the physical abuse was his last resort when the other types of control and abuse didn’t work to his satisfaction.

I’d blamed his alcoholism and temper – two negative traits that can be controlled if the person “suffering” from them wants to change their behavior. When I told him that he was verbally abusive, he said that was only the newest label I wanted to lay on him. He didn’t take it seriously at all. He didn’t care what I thought.

He told me he liked who he was and wouldn’t change. In my naivete, I did not believe him.

Tough-Love Plan to End Abuse

I decided that it was time for some tough love. I wasn’t going to put up with the abuse anymore, and I thought I owed him the opportunity to see the problem as I did and change his behavior.

Over the next year, I changed my responses to the abuse. I devised exit strategies and a safety plan. I had the sinking feeling he was giving lip-service to my concerns and fears. Nevertheless, I promised him I would stay and he promised that he would put our marriage first.

A Long-Term Plan for Staying in the Abusive Relationship

I devised a shadowy long-term plan. I told my husband that I had opened a bank account in my name only. I planned to transfer a set amount of money into the account each month, just in case I ever needed to leave the house for an extended period of time due to the abuse. I told him that by our 25th anniversary, if there was no more abuse in our marriage, then we would use the money to go on a celebratory vacation.

During that time, I would go to school to complete my degree. I thought I needed to buy some time and begin a career so I could support myself and our children if the worst happened. However, I was hopeful that my income would contribute to the two of us, together.

He tolerated my plan. He said he didn’t agree with it, but he was willing to go along.

I believed that by being honest with him, he would see how serious I was. Having a plan for myself and our child had worked once before when I asked him to stop drinking (he was dry for 8 years). I thought it would work again. (In hindsight, I would have kept my long-term plan to myself!)

I went to work with my therapist devising new ways to deal with the abuse that I was sure would occur as he learned to control his behavior (I still thought he would change and didn’t realize I was the one who needed to change). My therapist supported my decision to stay; she didn’t judge. I was making decisions for myself, and that was a good thing.

All Plans to End Abuse Failed

Unfortunately, almost a year to the day he last physically abused me, he laid his hands on me again. During one of our discussions in marriage counseling, I had told him that if he did that again, I would leave and not look back. I decided to stick to my guns.

Looking back, living with the verbal and emotional abuse for that year was too much for me. Now that I could identify the verbal and mental abuse, I saw it all the time in almost every conversation. The marriage wasn’t the same; I wasn’t the same. He wasn’t trying to change, only trying to convince me that he didn’t need to change.

Physical violence ended my marriage, but I think it was over about the time I was making plans to stay.

Who else is planning to stay with their abusive mate in hope that they will change?

Author: kholly

Kellie Jo Holly advocates for domestic violence and abuse awareness through her writing. You can find Kellie Jo on her website, Amazon Authors, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

81 thoughts on “Abusive Relationships – Why Do Victims Stay?”

  1. I was with a convicted gambler for 4 years, I put up with his verbal sarcasm, put downs etc., I had no self esteem, I have now got up the courage to leave him, I told myself I would be lonely without him, but I am feeling more at peace since I left him. I would like to say if there is any woman with a gambler, leave him, it starts with bad moods, then put downs, etc., etc., I paid for everything, thinking he would give up the gambling if I helped him. DON’T BELIEVE IT, he is much, much worse. I REPEAT, LEAVE THEM, IT DOES NOT GET ANY BETTER, IT GETS WORSE AND THEY BRING YOU DOWN WITH THEM, THEIR INSIDIOUS ABILITY TO BLAME YOU, AND PULL YOU DOWN IS CRUEL. If you have a gambler LEAVE THEM. Life is so much better for me now.

  2. Help! My friend recently left a 3 year abusive relationship. She has been doing well and recently started letting him see their 1 year old child. Now I found out that they were texting each other at 2 am. She swears it’s nothing and he was talking to her about what to do with his life. Now she hasn’t heard from him in 2 days and is obsessing that something happened to him. I have tried to tell her that she is on a slippery slope and it is probably best the only communication they have is regarding their daughter. She will say “Honestly i just worry that’s he’s dead or in a hospital somewhere with no emergency contacts for someone to call” and “It’s not because I need to talk to him, it’s simply because of he’s hurt I care absolutely… wouldn’t you want to know if your sons dad was hurt or for him to be alone or nobody know?”
    I can see her falling back in his grasp clearly but she can’t of course and gets mad at me for telling her that her concern about not hearing from him concerns me.
    What do I do? He alienated her from me and her family and we had to literally give it to God and hope she got out alive before and I am so afraid this time he will in fact kill her if she goes back.

  3. Hello all. I have been with my husband 3 years, married 1. He was a recovering alcoholic, and had been sober for 3 years when we met . Our relationship moved quickly : dated 5 months, got engaged, he left for military duty for 9 months, was back 4 months, we got married, and he left 5 months later for military school, came back 6 months later, and we moved to Germany 2 months after that. I have 3 teenaged daughters. Ages16-19.
    Once we ended up in Germany, I stated to see pieces of him I’d not seen before, possibly due to all the separation we’d had. It also could’ve been the stress of the move.
    The hard part is that he’d switch so quick: very loving and supportive one minute, than angry and hateful the next. When things were good they were perfect, but the smallest thing would set him off. In anger he would belittle me, make fun of my job, call me stupid and worthless. Then, layer, he’d apologize and promise of never happen again. Until the next time. We sought out counseling, and it seemed to help. a little.
    But then about 6 months ago he started drinking again. Hateful and aggressive: breaking things, throwing things, destroying my self esteem with his words. Then the apologies and promises. Then it happened again. And again. Until it was happening almost every week. He started texting an ex from his hometown. He told her I make his skin crawl and that he missed her touch and her body. He apologized and said it was a mistake of course, blamed it on the alcohol. I noticed that he wasn’t just drinking because he was sad or angry or upset….now he was drinking when he was happy and things were good as well.
    Last weekend we had a wonderful day, until I left to buy groceries. I came home to my drink husband who over the course of that afternoon told me he was cheating on me (sometimes with prostitutes), assaulted me, cut up my clothes and items that were important to me, broke both our cell phones and the house phone and our laptop, and threatened to choke the life out of me.
    I filed a police report the following morning and am working on getting back home. Somehow, unbelievable as it is, there is a tiny part of me that feels like it’d be easier to stay than to start over. That tiny piece of me thinks he could be better. Do better. I know it’s crazy, and I won’t stay, but why do I feel that way??? I know this is the right choice.

  4. Kelly, you are right. I experience is similar to Alison. I’ve was married for 20 years, was cheated on by my husband, K, many times, that I know of. I gave him chances over and over, eventually divorced him. Took him back, and now he is accusing me of affairs, which is not true, everything I do he has a problem with. If I come from work late, its a problem, if I come home early its a problem, we argue all the time. I am very ambitious, hardworker, who do 2 jobs. he works part-time, when he feels like it. I have now decided to walk out of this abusive relationship and feel bad. I left my 7 year old with him. I feel that taking him out of school, will disrupt him. I dont have a place to stay yet. My jobs involve travelling early and sometime late, so it wont be wise to bring the child along. Leaving him, makes it look like I have someone else and look like a bad mother. Doomed if I do…doomed if I dont…I feel so bad, I left without leaving a note and dont answer my phone…so he must be thinking the worst of me…and all I want is to be free from verbal and mental abuse…so yes…I am not prepared to walk this road another 20 years. Im just sad of what my child is going to think about me…leaving him behind…what do I do?

  5. Hi all I have need some advise I have been married for twenty years and everytime my husband drinks he gets abusive in drink. My husband was diagnosed with sugar diabetes two a few years ago which I thought would make him wake up to realaty a bit but nothing seems to work. He blames everyone else accept himself and finds faults in everything I do my husband drinks a lot of the weekend and then we just argue all the time it’s very unfair on my youngest child seeing us argue all the time.

  6. Hi all! I am in my early twenties and so is my husband. We have been best friends since preteens and started dating right after highschool. He used to be a really great guy. Sensitive, empathetic and selfless. A few months into our relationship he cheated on me (made out) during a night of drinking. We got over that and moved on, 8 months later he cheated with the same female again and we broke up for 2 months. We got back together and he told me he wanted to marry me and prove to me how much he loved me and so on and so forth. Anyway. A month after we got married I got pregnant and now we have a beautiful child together, almost 2. I am a stay at home mom now. He is an EXCELLENT father and provider, and as a friend/spouse we have more good days than bad. But over the last 3 years of marriage he has emotionally abused me, A LOT. He used to tell me (the first year of marriage) that emotional abuse isn’t real and that I’m hypersensitive, but this past month I showed him all kinds of articles and stuff and he has finally acknowledged it and feels very low and wants to fix himself and us. But the cherry on top is there has been 4 occurrences of physical abuse throughout our marriage. Always while he has been drinking, and 2 of the times I was getting physical too. But the 4th time was this past week, definitely the most least severe of our fights. He was drunk and I tried to wake him up, blah blah you know, and he got mad at me and raised his hand to me and said “don’t give me a reason” and tried to leave the room and sleep on the couch and take all our bedding. So I went to grab the blanket from him and he shoved me on the bed. This wasn’t physically bad compared to our others at all. But since this fight I have been feeling like I don’t love him at all romantically anymore. But he feels like the biggest POS when I told him the next morning (he didn’t remember much). And he is getting on a waiting list for a therapist and wants to also do couples counseling. He has acknowledged that something is wrong with him and loves me and wants to fix it. But I don’t know if I want to anymore. I’ve put up with too much and I thought I let it all go, but after “don’t give me a reason” something clicked and all the things he’s done to me just fostered in my head and heart. I can’t leave. I don’t have the heart to or the financial means or anything. I guess I don’t even know what kind of advice I’m looking for. I just need to get it off my chest. I can’t tell anyone because it’s embarrassing and if we do fix our marriage I don’t want anyone to know this nasty history. Thanks for reading.

  7. Hi there– my story is a little different from the other posted above. I feel like I am the abuser in our relationship..
    My husband and I have been together for 2 years now, we fight more than we have good in our relationship and he’s says underlying things that confuse me, but if I act upon the words he says, I’m the bad guy in it.
    When we get into more serious fights, usually when he’s been drinking or we both have, I try to walk away from the argument to let it cool down but he will either lock me down, take my keys or force me into a corner. Last night we got into a terrible argument over something very stupid and he took my keys, parked his vehicle behind mine and backed me into the corner multiple time while also locking me down with his arms.. for the first time, I punched him in his eye (he now has a black eye) he didn’t hit back, but he grabbed me tighter than before.

    Ive asked him multiple times to quit drinking but I honestly believe it will never happen.

    I’m not sure if I’m in the wrong and should keep my head down or if I should start making a safety plan to get out of our marriage..
    Please help.

    1. Get out. I’m just now seeking help for my husband of 18 years. My children are in their teens and are pattering their behaviour based on what they see. Him do. There is nothing worse that coming to the horrible realization that i allowed them to grow up in such disfunction that they are now disfunctional themselves. I sympathized with my husband, kept my distance when he was drunk & mean. What I didn’t realize is that he was always mean, his drunk behavior just overshadowed his “sober” behavior to such a degree, sober guy seemed decent. Turns out sober guy was just as emotionally damaging. I have panic attacks, a myriad of gastrointestinal issues, now my hair is falling out. Our intervention is scheduled in a few days . I just want him to get healthy for his kids, as his health has drastically deteriorated.
      I gave him the best years of my life, 2 beautiful children …he treated me like a possession.
      I doubt our marriage can be rebuilt, there is way too much to forgive & I don’t forget much. My advice is to get out now, the children are young AND you won’t suffer the consequences of emotional abuse. It’s insidious. Take care of yourself 1st – the rest will work its self out

  8. Nicole, i can relate. This is the first time i’ve ever felt any need to share information about my life on an internet blog but just no one seems to get it and im just always left alone in the aftermath reliving it alone. I’m unsure if i will even post this. Anyways this is my story, i was with my ex only 3-4 months, we both had numerous additions. The relationship begun hard and fast with pretty much only each other in our lives. I continued to work and supported us off savings and little income. He did not work. I remember the first time he physically touched me, was a pick up shove to the floor. I was shocked i didn’t expect it but it became the norm. I hit back. He continued to physically assault me. I was weak he wouldn’t even bruise, whereas i’d be alone waiting in A and E. One day, i needed to escape i couldn’t physically bring myself to come home when i said i’d just be gone 5 minutes, after drinking alone and crying i managed to walk home 4 hours later to find he had slashed (he always carried a knife and sharped them in front of me), ripped or emptied all my care products, shampoos, tans, health supplements, clothes, hair extensions, etc. I was sad. I cried. I tried to leave. He blocked the door and pushed me out of the way. I threw things, toaster, jug, kettle. He wouldn’t let me leave. I tried for the door again, he punched me in the head. I grabbed the kitchen knife where he was preparing his meal, cut him, this wasn’t me. I got locked up and assault charges. I was released on bail. He contacted and we went away on a sort of holiday to another town. I was on conditions not to associate. The violence got worse. I had lumps on the head, bruises, he dropped me on the street with a fist to the back that winded me because I would not speak to him. I couldn’t call the police because i’d just be returned to the cells, I had no one. He would stab holes in my car if I did not give him money, he broke my windscreen, laptop, two phones, stole from me. Twisted things and left, told me i was toxic and an abuser and continues to lie about me to friends who believe him, they no none of this. I’m too tired to fight it, i just feel numb.

  9. Hi I’m in need of some advice. I left my husband about 6 months ago we were together for 6 years and have 2 young children together. He had been mentally and physically abusive with me on several occasions and twice infront of our children. The incident that made me leave he got drunk and assaulted my dad… Put him in hospital. He got arrested and is currently still going through court for assault occasioning grevious bodily harm. I left that day. He didn’t see the kids or I for three months due to a restraining order. He then started supervised visits with the kids for three months which I was present at as well. He seemed to be a bit different but I’m unsure if it is just an act. He has been asking for me to come back, saying that he has changed. Part of me thinks i should go back as it will be better for the kids rather than going in between two homes (they are due to start spending time with him unsupervised) but the other part of me is worried that he will just go back this old ways. I don’t know if I should give him another chance or just stay away but let the children have a relationship with him. Im worried about how both scenarios will affect the children both long and short term. If I go back I’m also at risk of losing my family as they can’t stand him for what he did. I just hate the idea of the kids having to go between 2 houses and living in a broken family…. Any advice?

    1. Do not believe his words. Ever again. He lies.

      I wish I’d left my ex when my kids were small. That way they would have had ONE healthy home to live in, and I could unteach what dad taught. Oh well.

      YOU have that opportunity. Your husband is violent and will be violent again. Let him practice his “nice guy” routine on someone else.

  10. lillyanna ,

    I think you know the answer in your heart.

    Leave him please. It is not going to be easy. He has groomed you for abuse and made you weak, since you were just a child and he was an adult and made you pregnant. He has choked you many times. You are lucky you are alive today. The next time, you may not be. Do you really think this is love? It’s not. It’s abuse. You are still young. You can come out of this. Please don’t put your children through this abuse (even if they’re only seeing it, it is extremely harmful for them).

    They may think this type of behavior is normal, or they may become abusers/victims of abuse when they grow up too. Please leave him for your and your children’s safety. Don’t worry if your family thinks he is a nice man. Most abusers are very good actors in public.

    You don’t need an education to get a basic job. You need to come out of this relation, stronger, and struggle hard to get a job for your children’s sake. Some day they are going to be proud of you. Please don’t wait till you get seriously hurt or your children hit.

    Also, when you do leave him, please make sure you are far away from him, and no one knows where you are.

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