Episode 98: "Why do people stay in abusive relationships?"Support the show
On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about why people stay in abusive relationships.
This is Jessica Skultety, Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services at no charge to survivors for over 40 years.
Today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, Why do people stay in abusive relationships?”
This is one of the most common questions we hear from the community, teens, adults and the world, when we talk about dating or domestic abuse or violence. We have talked about it a little bit in other episodes, but we wanted to dedicate an entire episode to this question.
There are so many reasons why people – teens and adults – stay in unsafe or abusive relationships, and we will get into that. But first, we want to challenge our listeners to instead ask the question, “Why is that person using violence in the first place?” Instead of putting pressure and blame on the target of abuse in the relationship, we need to hold people who abuse accountable for their actions.
Plus, instead of “why didn’t you leave,” we really need to ask people who are experiencing abuse, “Are you feeling safe? How can I help?” and tell them, “I am here to listen to you. I believe you.” Survivors need support, not guilt or blame in any form.
Also, saying “Why did you stay?” or “Why didn’t you just leave?” hints that you would have done something differently, and that this person just wasn’t very smart. It also is a comfortable response to abuse, when we are looking for a quick solution to the relationship. Abuse isn’t comfortable though, and neither is leaving an abusive relationship. In fact, leaving is the most dangerous time for a target of abuse.
So to answer the question from today, here are just some reasons people stay in abusive relationships. This is the key to helping a friend and starting to truly understand why unsafe or abusive relationships can be so complex and difficult. Plus, it takes an average of 7 times for someone to leave an abusive relationship for good.
So, why do people stay?
1. They love the person. This is a huge one. Maybe the beginning of the relationship was really passionate and exciting (as they often are) and the person is holding onto that feeling. That’s not their fault and it’s hard to understand sometimes as the outsider. Some people have been in abusive relationships with their partner for many years, and love them. Plus, there are apologies and good times even in abusive relationships, so it is definitely true that someone may just love their partner.
2. Someone is being threatened or blackmailed. As a friend of the survivor, you may not ever know the whole story. But the partner who is causing harm might be saying, “I’ll hurt myself, or you, or your family, or your kids, or your friend if you leave me,” “I’ll share this photo of you,” etc. These might sound like serious threats, or they might not, but either way, a survivor might be nervous about leaving for these reasons. One question teens have asked us is, “What if I’m worried about what my partner might do to themselves if I leave?” Again, this person may not have said out loud that they will hurt themselves, but the other partner is worried, so they might stay.
3. Finances. Especially when it comes to adults who are married or living together or in a partnership, one adult may depend financially on the other. They might also have children, which puts even more pressure on finances. Many partners who cause harm use finances as a tactic to keep someone in a relationship. They might give an allowance, put all things owned in their name only (on purpose), run up their partner’s credit card debt, control all the money by rejecting the other partner’s opinions about how to use it, force the other partner not to work, or to be the sole worker in the family. And there’s much more. Financial abuse can be really complicated and 99% of survivors experience it, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. So finances could be a huge reason someone might stay.
4. Stigma, or fear of judgement for being in this relationship. Maybe they’ve told people and no one believes them. But many survivors don’t tell others because they are scared or think they won’t be believed.
5. They feel that they have no support – and this could also be an abusive tactic. The other partner often purposefully isolates them from being with friends or family, or guilts them for hanging out with others. They might also convince or force them to stay home from community or group events, so they feel like they have no support.
There are many other reasons, including family pressures, not wanting to be alone, being convinced they can heal their partner, and if the family has children, “staying for the kids” so they have both parents. There are even more reasons too, and it’s important to know that every survivor is different.
If you are a survivor of intimate partner violence, you are not responsible for your partner’s actions. You are responsible for yourself and your actions, and you never have to stay in a relationship you don’t want to be in. There is help and hope available for anyone who feels trapped in a relationship. We can safety plan via call or text with you to stay in or leave.
To speak with an expert about dating or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning.
Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.