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Leaving An Abusive Relationship: Why Can’t I Just Leave?

Leaving an abusive relationship usually can't be done the moment you figure out your partner abuses you. Leaving abuse takes planning and time, if you have it.

So many people beat themselves up over the question “Why can’t I just leave?” You want the easy answer? You aren’t ready to leave yet.


  • haven’t been convinced that the abuse warrants you leaving, or
  • you lack financial resources, or
  • you’re in business with your abuser, or
  • the kids are too small, or
  • the kids are almost out of school, or
  • the abuser needs you, or
  • fill in your reason here.

Notice I said fill in your reason here. These are not excuses. The reasons you stay may sound like excuses to someone else, but don’t let anyone belittle your decision to stay. I really want to end that sentence with “to stay for now” but truth is that you may never leave. You could be 70 years old and wondering how your spouse is managing to exceed life expectancy, them being so miserable and nasty and all (lots of people are doing this right now).

I want you to be okay with choosing to stay, because making decisions is empowering. Staying is a choice you can make.

Leaving An Abusive Relationship Is Important

Irresponsible Advice

It would be very irresponsible of me if I don’t say a few things at this point.

  • I want you to end your abusive relationship. Life is too short and precious to spend it with a person who hurts you.
  • If your abuser physically assaults you, I hope you leave right now. Verbal abuse escalates to physical assault and assault escalates to death. Additionally, you may not be the only one to die -your abuser could murder you and then your children and anyone else on the scene.

Point is that choosing to stay with an abuser will have very serious emotional and/or physical consequences. It is only a matter of time.

Leaving An Abusive Relationship Is Not Your Only Option

Honoring a person’s choice to stay in an abusive relationship is a relatively new concept to domestic violence social workers and other domestic abuse helpers. You might find helpers who support you no matter what you decide to do. On the other hand, you might find helpers who decide there’s nothing they can do for you if you do not leave the abuser. That hurts, I know, but just because they’re the experts doesn’t mean they always know the right thing to do.

Additionally, many of your closest friends and family members may distance themselves from you if you choose to stay. Often we tell ourselves that they’re tired of listening to us complain when we won’t do anything to change it. Remember though, the ones who love you need to keep themselves sane, too. If they’re in the battle with you, they may not be strong enough to pull you out if you change your mind and leave the relationship.

Don’t take it personally if people don’t support your decision to stay, and please don’t beat yourself up because you feel you can’t leave. Let’s just roll with this for a while and see what we can do for our mental well-being when we choose to stay.

Key Concepts to Accept About Your Abusive Relationship

You cannot make your abuser happy, therefore you cannot make them mad, either. You do not have magic powers that control your abuser’s words or actions and no combination of your words or behaviors will result in an end to the abuse.

Most everything you do and say will be “wrong”, and if you are right today, you’ll probably be wrong tomorrow. So you may as well do exactly as YOU please at all times. Make your own decisions, act on your hunches. It doesn’t matter what you do, the abuse will continue.

You are in a relationship that thrives on your honest disclosures about yourself. However, unlike healthy intimate relationships, your significant other uses your deepest secrets against you. You cannot trust your abuser with your heart, so keep your mouth shut about it.

There will be moments of joy and pleasure in your abusive relationship. Go ahead and enjoy the sex, the compliment, the joke, etc. But leave the joy in the moment. Don’t assume that because s/he smiled a minute ago that the smile will be there when you look again. Humans need joy in their life, so grab all you can.

You need a safety plan. Period. Abusers are unpredictable and you never know when you’re going to have to get away from them. Thinking through a safety plan during moments of peace will help you to think more swiftly and clearly during moments of danger.

Keep people on the outside of your relationship close. Isolation is the abuser’s best friend. When you’re isolated from others, you lose the most valuable lifeline an abused person can have – ideas from people other than the abuser. You increase the effects of abuse by only hearing your abuser’s opinions, so stay connected to the world outside your home.

Educate yourself about domestic violence and abuse. Search words and phrases like verbal and emotional abuse, side effects of abuse, gaslighting, crazy-making and brainwashing. Learning a little bit each day about how your partner manipulates and controls you lessens their ability to do it.

Concepts to Accept About Yourself

You are human; a delightfully imperfect person who can do the very best you know how to do in this instant. Every instant.

You are lovable.

You deserve respect.

You can choose one thing today and another thing tomorrow.

You are powerful.

You can learn, grow and adapt.

You do not have to accept or absorb lies, even if the lie has a grain of truth to it (see Detaching from Verbal Abuse Hypnosis MP3).

You hold God’s hand, even when you cannot feel it, but sometimes you must do something differently so He can help you in another way.

You decide who stays in your life.

You decide when leaving an abusive relationship is right for you.

You can also find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

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.

717 thoughts on “Leaving An Abusive Relationship: Why Can’t I Just Leave?”

  1. My boyfriend is living in my house and the only way to get him out is to get a protective order or evict him. I think he is a good person by himself but not to me. I don’t want him to go to jail just out. He doesn’t see that he is abusive.

  2. I am currently living in a household that I am afraid to leave. I go to work everyday, take care of my kids, pay all my own bills. You name I do it. My son’s father and I have not been together in at least four years and refuses to leave my home. When I say I am plan on leaving he threatens me and tells me he’s going to harm me if I try to leave. My children are afraid of him as well as I am. I am tryingto leave but fear keeps holding me back because I feel I won’t be able to protect me and my children once we leave. I have talked to the people in my life that I trust and they all just want me to leave because thy can see the hurt this is causing me. I have went from a outgoing, easy going person to someone who hates life. I just don’t know what to do at this point.

  3. I searched “how to leave an abusive relationship” & I stumbled upon this. God will is all I can think. I’ve been with my boyfriend a little over 6 years and I’ve been through hell while trying to make it work. My daughter turned 12 and I through her a party. I decorated myself, cooked everything myself & basically did everything while he hid in the bedroom because it was too much. I walked on pins and needles for almost 36 hours hoping and praying he wouldn’t start screaming and yelling about the noise and/or the mess. He didn’t (thank god!) until the very end when it was my daughter &only 2 of the little girls here. He started yelling at me telling me there will never be anymore parties at our house ever again. I swear every bit of effort I put into my kids I get backlash from him. He’s called me every name under the sun & has caused many nights where I cry myself to sleep unnoticed while he continues on, my family hates him as do most of my friends. He’s a mean man and has brainwashed me into thinking everything will be okay after seeing a couple tender moments from him. I’m young only 28 & neither of my children are his so once the break is made it’s done. I’m scared to be a single mom. I make decent money but have no savings whatsoever & we currently rent from his mother. I worry I won’t be able to get my children’s bedrooms out of this house nor my pictures & memories. I’m scared & I feel trapped. I’ve developed severe anxiety & depression as has my daughter who has also developed a cutting problem. I have taken step one. Out of every check I’m depositing 100 dollars. I’m bulking up my savings & im running. I have to keep this in mind because he’s good at making me feel like everything’s going to be okay. I’ve got to go while I still have a bit of hope left even though I feel it draining day by day & im scared to be completely broke. I miss me. Light, happy me. Someone that isn’t held down by so much sadness & fear.

  4. I’m stuck. I can relate to every story told. His family has told me he’s damaging me and I need to leave. We have 1 child together. And I have my oldest son. I feel like I can’t leave because I’m completely broke. And he keep breaking me. One minute he’s lovely dovely then bam he turns into Satan. He blames me for EVERYTHING!!! Then he’ll apologize before bed. Saying he’s sorry for being [moderated], that he’s just stressed. And he threatenes that if I leave, he’ll kill himself. I know that would be his choice and his own fault if he did. I’m just scared. I want things to work but I know he’ll never change. And worse yet he’s threatening violence. I don’t deserve this but I dunno how to leave. I’ve left once but he said he’d change. But of course that was all lies. I’m not worried about belongings just my boys happiness. Please how do you leave when you literally have no way to go. He has me states away from my family. I feel sooo trapped. He’s abusing emotionally and mentally. Manipulate and cruel.

    1. I was in a similar situation, isolated, drawn back in again and again, wanting to believe he would do the work to change because he loved me. That would never happen, and I escaped by going to a womens shelter. I urge you to carefully contact a shelter, in a way he can’t monitor, and ask for help getting you and your boys to a safe place where you can breathe and think. You need space, he’ll never give you that. You have the strength to take care of yourself, even if he tells you that you don’t. You aren’t alone, but will need to reach out for help on this. Take care, and I wish you well.

    2. Hi Marie,

      Thank you for sharing your story. I’m Emma-Marie, one of the author’s of this blog. What you’re describing is coercive control, which is illegal in the UK and carries a prison sentence of up to 5 years. Where do you live? Sadly no law exist in the U.S. as of yet, and it’s not necessarily a route you’d want to go down, but I think it’s helpful to know your struggles are valid and your pain is recognized.

      Coercive control looks different in every relationship, but it is characterized mainly by threats of violence (including homicide or suicide), attempt to control the partner or family, and verbal abuse — all of which you describe here.

      I can’t tell you to leave the relationship, but I think you’re right for wanting to get out for the sake of you and your children. I think you should seek some legal advice and speak to your nearest domestic abuse shelter or charity. It’s important to have a plan in place. And if the situation does turn violent, don’t hesitate to call the police.

      I know it feels like there’s no way out at the moment, but a life free from abuse is worth fighting for. Good luck!

  5. I keep logs of what I call episode, I want to share the most recent one with you. I am ready to go but I can’t leave my things behind. If I can find a 2 bedroom apt I amiss able to pay am out!
    My recent log happened 2 days ago
    I live in a house, a beautiful house with a big yard in a nice neighborhood. Everything in this house beside a few things belong to me. I work and pay all the utilities in this house + groceries. I clean,cook,laundry,decorate, and a few other things that are needed to be done in a house. I don’t pay anything on the mortgage, it the only thing I don’t contribute to. Life should be easier now, kids are all grown and on their own,so that responsibility it over. I should be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor..
    But no, this is just what it is a house not a home, the man that I share this house with and life for 26 years, has never stopped being verbally abusive.
    My kids all left the house earlier then many do and I believe it was for this same reason. But now am left behind, with the abuse. As a cost of this I have isolated myself from family and few friends because I don’t have many, the put downs and insults are imbarasing.  I fear that he suddenly gos off on me, because of something I may do or say on front of people. I mean he does it but I don’t know them because its usually in the street, I just walk ahead and avoid eye contact with anyone, I make it look that it’s not with me. Oh so many times this happens, I get chills in my chest that go deep in even feel chills in my heart. Usually those episode are followed by in the car screams and insults put downs, threats of crashing, and so many more. In all this i try to defend myself and argue back but it only make him more angry and things worst. All I think about is getting to the house so I can lock myself in the room. And then is the silence, while I always get emotional because a thousand thought go through my head, he carries on normally. Like nothing.  I usually stay in the room for a couple of days, I go down and fix myself  something to eat when I can no longer hold the hunger, and he just sits there watching this programs on TV laughing, enjoying every minute of my misery,his doing, his accomplishments seeing me this way is his goal at that moment. I usually can hold the silence more then 4 days, and by this time I am all cried out, have convinced myself things would get better and I go and start a conversation. Everything it’s always my fault he apologizes but explains that if I would not piss him off things would not happen, he tells me that I need to learn how to talk to him, that if things don’t change we would have to go our own ways. But remember I have no savings all my money go’s in this house, I don’t have money to put down for any apartment. And I can’t afford the 1200 rents. I have my dogs not all places accept pets, moving truck..I don’t drive.. I can probably call someone to help but again I am a shame of people knowing what I go through… So what I do?
    I put on a happy face, to the world of Facebook we are perfect, those that he associates with think he is the most proud and loving husband ,because he brags about how beautiful his wife is and how good she cooks and always keeps everything on point, perfect. Noone knows how he is behind closed doors beside our kids and a use to be good friend,but I keep away from her now as well. My outside look doesn’t look nothing like my inside,  I use to convince myself that my kids needed me so I had to be strong for them and be here to defend and try to protect them from their fathers mouth. But they gone now, they live their own life’s. Oh it’s taking so so much of me to stay in this world, My grandson is what keeps me going,seeing his little face makes everything go away. But one day he is also going to grow and live his life. By then I am probably to old and broken, most likely still being abused and hoping death would give me peace.
    The house is silent now, in max 4 days my happy face would be put back on….

    1. Your post comforted me while I’m sitting in my room burping a 1 month old and being kicked by a sleeping toddler. I can relate to so many parts of what you’ve written except I’m not financially supported by my husband of 17 years. This makes me feel like an even bigger weakling for staying in the abusive, sometimes physical abusive relationship. I make excuses that he hasn’t punched me so it’s not really in the category. Pulling hair, kicking throwing things are not as bad right oh and I forgot the spitting…. Never in front of the kids I think or thank god they are too little to see… I could go on and on but today was a bad day and I’m exhausted. Not by the fact of having a newborn but the fact I love my husband and don’t want our marriage to end. How messed up is that. I have a very supportive and loving family and heaps of friends but they think he is lovely and we’ve always been the “ great couple” and I’ve always heard “ oh you’ve got one of the good ones”. In life I’m a strong, outgoing, funny, successfully driven woman and I’m so ashamed that I put up with it all. All I want is for the boy I fell in love with at 16 to change but I know this will never happen.

    2. Sandy I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I’m early on in a relationship and deep down in my heart I know that what he does is wrong I get accused of so many false accusations. He’s not ok. But why do I feel like I can help and fix him. I miss the man I met. I read a quote once that said ” the truth was he needed me more than I needed him” I’ll pray for good days for you.

    3. Sandy, I’m so sorry you have been suffering. It can be so exhausting to try and keep everything in order when deep down you’re feeling like it’s all in disarray. Have you considered couples therapy or even/especially solo therapy for yourself? A good therapist or counseling can be a very worthwhile investment. I’ve even seen some apps lately that look like therapy apps, so you wouldn’t have to go out if that would be a reason holding you back. There’s usually therapy and counseling available through women’s advocates that specialize in domestic abuse and abusive relationships. Have you considered trying to rent a room rather than an apartment while you get back on your feet? I suggest you reach out to the people close to you for love and support and seriously look into counseling for yourself. I’ll also attach an article that may be helpful for you. Verbal Abuse Coping Skills For When You Can’t Just Leave
      Thanks again for reaching out Sandy, we’re here for you anytime. -Emily

    4. Sandy I relate to so much first of all I want to say thank you for being brave enough to share your story and my prayers for you all overcome this. my story is much the same 15 years of being with my husband since we were kids I have to kids 11 year old boy 8 year old little girl my daughter has epilepsy my son struggles with ADHD and a lot of the same angry behavior traits as his dad my family doesn’t come around anymore I don’t have any friends complete isolation I do the very best I can as a mom to protect my kids to focus on their happiness and to also protect them from their father’s mouth my husband is an alcoholic and an extreme verbal abuser cuz and screams at me on a daily basis at any point in time plublic in my yard people it’s so embarrassing and shameful I just looked down try to get away and then spend a lot of my time crying someone had even called the police at my house cuz of my husband screaming so loud and breaking things it doesn’t take much a lost pair of glasses or a lamp being on in the morning while I’m trying to get ready to get the kids ready most mornings I wake up being screamed at it completely Rob’s my fresh thoughts for the the day. He’ll leave like normal go to work and he’ll call me and say that he’s sorry but hope to have a good evening and make plans plans that I never get to see never any undivided time he’ll come home and the first thing I do to upset him he’ll tell me I don’t want to see you for the rest of the f****** day you have nothing I want to look at I can’t tell you or Express the pain I hear things like that. I’ll walk away and most of the time he will sit outside in his shed and get drunk. Then come eat dinner cuss me a little more and go to sleep. No matter the situation it’s always my fault he would have never said those things if I didn’t make him mad he doesn’t mean to call me a loser but can help that most of the time I am one. he always has his reasons of why I deserve to be treated the way that I do. Not to mention how horrible he talks about me to our family his coworkers again it’s just too much sometimes I’ve been doing a lot of praying and starting to realize finally after all this time I don’t deserve this I want to be happy I want to wake up in the morning and open my eyes without being screamed at I don’t want my kids to hear these things anymore. I want to be able to give my kids the best that they deserve a home that’s peaceful a home where it’s okay to make mistakes, you won’t get condemned for spilling a glass of milk he won’t get called stupid for accidentally leaving the light on. I’ve been trying to make the first step to get out starting with reading some of these articles and hearing other woman’s testimony I just recently went back to school to get my GED I know that’s not much to be proud of but for me it’s a lot. I want to set the better example to my children, to show them to never give up and to push forward with everything in you my prayers to all of you going to these kind of things. May God be with you and give you comfort in those dark times and to know it is he is with you.

  6. John, thank you for sharing..I’m a woman, but completely relate..I’m sorry, no abuse doesn’t discriminate..I don’t think, never did, that it’s a man thing…I don’t hate men.. actually hate myself more for staying..good luck.. again..thx..

  7. I’m a guy who was in an abusive relationship for about 10 years. I left just yesterday. I’m already experiencing the anguish and sadness that comes from the loss of someone who I thought I would be with forever. Forever, that’s a word we used in our relationship early on. We met online. Our first mistake was over-accentuating our positive attributes, and downplaying or not discussion our negative attributes. My girlfriend came from a family with terrible parents, and abusive drunk for a father and a mother that looked the other way when her older brothers abused her. She carried this trauma with her into adulthood and never got over it. It was carried into our relationship. She can be the kindest, most thoughtful person at moments, then turn on a dime and be verbally vicious whenever she was hurt. It didn’t take much to hurt her — the wrong comment made at the wrong time could set her off. Our relationship started out magical from my point of view, we did a lot of fun things together and I really enjoyed the good times. But the bad times were awful. She knew how much I valued the relationship and I believe she used that against me, threatening to end it whenever she got mad. She said she would crack my skull open once after a fight, and joked that if she were ever to kill me, it would be by food poisoning. I really don’t know if I should have taken the last of her comments seriously, but taken in consideration with other red flags, maybe I should. She had no sense of boundaries, and kicked open my locked bedroom door on more than one occasion when I refused to come out to confront her. Abuse occasionally escalated into physical violence. She threw things at me, slapped and hit me in the face before. I don’t agree with hitting women, and am ashamed to admit that I finally hit back, partly in self defense and partly in anger. That happened once. It didn’t help anything. I’m no saint. I did my share of things to make the relationship bad. For example, I pretended to like the physical intimacy, when in fact I had grown to hate it. All to keep her happy and so that she wouldn’t blow up. The fights/verbal abuse/threats gradually destroyed my hope, faith and ability to trust. I wanted to leave but couldn’t because at the time I didn’t have a car or any friends and family nearby, having moved across the country to be closer to her. One day her anger got out of control and she had a stroke. I stayed to make sure she was ok. I blamed myself for it happening to her. Logically it wasn’t true, she hadn’t been taking her blood pressure medicine, but part of me wondered if our fights, or whether or not I was bad for her, contributed to what had happened. She lost the ability to be physically abusive, got more heavily immersed in the church after having a stroke, and seemed to be changed. But somewhere in the back of mind I could never shake the idea that she might return to her former self if she heals completely. And there were still times where she used leverage where she had it, to make power plays, such as with the car, threatening to call the cops if I used it, even though we used it together without problems when everything is ok. I’ve been gone for about nine months staying with family in another state, but had left my stuff in ‘our house.’ After learning she was planning to move her sister into the house (her sister is fresh off a divorce, and has the same rage/psychological issues from her upbringing that my girlfriend had) I decided with a very heavy heart to make the difficult decision to leave. I bought a ticket and flew in when she was gone helping her sister pack, got whatever I could fit in two bags, left a text message letting her know what was happening, and am back with my family. I don’t know why I shared this story except maybe to help show that abuse isn’t just something men engage in; women can be just as bad, and it can be just as emotionally devastating for an abused man than an abused woman. There is no shame in admitting you have been the victim of abuse. It doesn’t make you any less of a man to come forward and share your story if you have one. I hope more men will be open in the future to sharing their stories. The reasons for staying in abusive relationship are complicated and different for everyone. Me personally, I’m sentimental, it really hurt me to break it off and I think it will hurt deeply in the coming weeks, days, months. I hope it was the right decision.

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