Why do people stay in abusive relationships?

Relationships are tricky. Sometimes you fall for a person but you don’t like how they change. Sometimes someone falls for you and they don’t like how you stay the same. It’s intricate, messy business, stuff where you’re tangled in each other’s lives in good and bad ways. And while the good parts might just be great, the bad parts can be terrible, miserable, and breeding grounds for abuse.

A lot of red flags in relationships are often ignored or pushed aside because we believe in the other person, that they really are lovely and good deep down. Abuse can creep into a relationship without either party even knowing. It could come in making small, hurtful comments that you refuse to let blow up into an argument or just blatantly ignoring the other person to see how they react (this is awful, btw). Abuse isn’t always the biggest gestures we can pinpoint right away like screaming or hitting, sometimes it’s embedded into everyday actions we try to keep accepting.

It takes some time to even recognize abusive behavior at all but once we do, ideally, we should leave and not look back. But it’s never that simple, really. Why is it that even when we notice abusive behavior, some of us choose to stay with our abusive partners?

Is it just us being foolish? Trying to trick ourselves? Lowering our own worth to make space for theirs? What could it be?

We believe they won’t always be this way

We think to ourselves: “They can’t possibly be like this all the time.” After all, they probably weren’t like that at the beginning of the relationship or the friendship, even. We believe it’s just a one-time thing, a two-time thing, a three-time thing… until it’s the constant. But even then we continue to think that it’ll get better, things will ease up, that they’re just stressed with work or school and hey, they said sorry.

But that isn’t right. Once is more than enough. One time being called “stupid b****” is too many already. One smack is too many. And yet we hold on. Because we think it’s just a small shift, it’ll be back to normal soon. So we tolerate it. We sit through the anger and the names and the cruelty. Because we think it’ll wear away the more we wait for it. We leave it unacknowledged and let it keep going.

“He’s just having a hard time” is something I caught myself saying over and over when I explained to my friends why I still held on. I wanted to believe that as soon as the troublesome stuff was done, he’d be back to being the sweet guy I knew he was when we started out. He’d start saying good morning and good night again. He’d stop calling me stupid or shouting at me when he was stressed. He’d stop leaving me on read or telling me about how he was kissing another girl because he was stressed. It’d be okay again. I wanted to believe it.

We allow our abusive significant others to emotionally batter us because we think they’ll be back to how they were before in no time. Sometimes it happens. Other times, they just keep spiraling and we keep letting it go on and on and on. We shouldn’t.

We believe we can still change them

A lot of the time, we question our worth in the eyes of others. We worry about if we’re overinflating our place in their lives or underestimating it. But with a significant other, there’s already this pre-supposed significance in our role. Yeah, a significant other is important. And so we believe we have, in ourselves, a degree of influence or at least some semblance of importance to them, enough to try and make a difference in their lives.

If we persevere through their abuse, we believe that we can still right the wrongs. Even if it’s wrongs they did to us, we want to right them, like we are the ones doing penance for the terrible actions they committed. It’s like we think if we show we bear no ill will for their actions and accept them, they’ll change because they witness how willing we are to take what they give us.

We believe that we can still make them different. And whether that’s overestimating our own abilities or just trying to believe in their capacity to change, we’re not sure. I personally thought he wouldn’t keep going down the path he was going. I thought he would be able to change, because he did before, for the better. And so I thought if he could do it once, he could do it again. But I guess I was wrong.

We love them more than ourselves

Love is such an important force in our lives. Love changes people. It transforms us. And most of the time, we think that the act of giving love is always a good thing. And while I still whole-heartedly believe in that, I also now understand that giving love while ignoring your own pain is ultimately detrimental and damaging. Giving love is noble and good and what we are all called to do, but giving love in the face of your own suffering? That’s the tricky part.

Many times we stay because we love them. For better or for worse, even if the worse is the absolute worst that’s ever happened. We love them enough to push everything aside, to make ourselves smaller if that’s what we think they require. We compromise ourselves to accommodate their anger, their cruelty, and their selfishness. Because we want to love even the parts that hurt us, we think that they deserve all that love and effort because we cherish them so much.

While loving someone may require some adjustment, we shouldn’t lose ourselves in the process. There shouldn’t be an erasure of the self just so your significant other can continue the abuse. We stay in these relationships because we are no longer ourselves, because we’ve imbued ourselves within the relationship so closely, it feels too scary to be out of it. And so it becomes easier to justify any cruelty in a relationship and brush it off. “It’s fine,” we tell ourselves when it’s really not.

We love these people more than we want to sustain ourselves. We want to take care of them despite the hurt. And sometimes we don’t even acknowledge the hurt. We want them in our life because we can’t part with them, because its a mishmash of all the feelings, that we think they can still go back to how they used to be, that we can still change them, all because we love them.

I knew this wasn’t right either. It was wrong, it felt wrong, but I was adamant in staying. I wanted to keep at it. Even after all the cruelty, after the abuse, after everything. I loved that person. And a love that sinks its claws so deep is so hard to extract from a body so hellbent on holding on. It made me feel crazy and small. It made me feel like I wasn’t a person anymore. Even after he abused and left me, it was like all I had was love for him and nothing else.

This isn’t right. You should always love yourself first. You can’t be empty because you give it all to someone else and you’re taking all the hurt they give. They hurt you and you still want to give more? No more. Give it to yourself. Heal. Recover. Leave the relationship. You deserve better.

What do you think? Let us know!

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