Why doesn't she just leave?

A closer look at why someone might stay in a dangerous relationship

Leaving an emotionally and physically abusive relationship is never as easy as it may sound.

Of all of the popular myths about domestic violence, perhaps the most common notion is that the victim in the situation is responsible for it simply because she does not leave. This article explains some of the factors involved with domestic violence to help the reader gain a better understanding of its complexity and why leaving an abusive situation does not always seem to be an option.

Domestic violence involves power and control

It is important to understand that domestic violence is not only characterized by physical abuse, but is really about power and control. Abusers use fear tactics, threat and methods of control to manipulate their partners and create dependency on them.

Financial abuse

One reason why a victim of domestic violence does not leave is because she may be financially dependent on the abuser and have nowhere to go. Abusers commonly cut off their partner's ability to have access to any financial means by either taking her money or preventing her from working. He might provide her allowance or give her money when she asks, but the abuser frequently is responsible for everything financial. This is one way that the abuser maintains control in the relationship. 

Emotional abuse

Through means such as name calling and humiliation, abusers actively wear down their partners' sense of self esteem and self worth.

Abusers additionally isolate their partners from the outside world, friends and family, and as a result, it is easier for victims to lose touch with the reality of the severity of their situations.

Abusers deny abuse, minimize it and suggest that their partner was responsible or deserved it. Victims frequently begin to believe that perhaps they deserve the abuse, and can underestimate or minimize the danger themselves.

Without an outside context and other supportive relationships, it can be easy for someone to slide down the slippery slope of believing that an abusive situation is normal, acceptable, and not a big deal. 

The classic cycle of abuse involves a honeymoon period with apologies and promises to never do something again after an outburst or violent incident. The batterer can be affectionate, loving and a wonderful, caring partner at times. These periods of love and affection can give the woman hope, reaffirm her commitment to her partner, and make it extremely difficult to leave. She may believe in her heart that he will change. 

Domestic violence is also fraught with intimidation and threats. It might understandably feel safer to stay in an occasionally physically violent relationship that also involves some caring and affection, than leave and risk getting murdered. Further, batterers often back up their threats with displays of weaponry or other violent outbursts. Sometimes, when a victim of domestic violence tries to leave, she may be physically restrained from doing so.


Use of children

If the couple has children, the batterer may use the children as another means of manipulation. Whether he threatens to take them away, threatens to report the victim for being abusive to them, or threatens to kill her and them if she leaves, it is understandable why one might take threats against her children seriously and choose to stay.

The above listed are just a few of many reasons why someone might stay in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. 

If you or someone you know may be in a situation in which there is domestic or intimate partner violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Another resource is Safe Horizon.

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