Why do women stay on in abusive relationships?

Team Bonobology

When we hear anyone is in an abusive relationship, the first thing that pops up in our minds is why does she doesn’t leave it? What is making her stay in an abusive relationship? If you have been fortunate not to be in one, you may find it easy to question the victim. But the reality is quite different. To leave an abusive relationship or a controlling partner is easier said than done, and we tell you why.

Couple relationships are like Yin and Yang, which beautifully acknowledge the good and the bad in both the individuals and inspire them to achieve a balance for a fulfilling life. This doesn’t mean that it will always be a happy trail for a couple. Like other relationships, the duo also goes through their fair share of ups and downs, agreements and arguments, etc. But, as the concept of Yin and Yang states, a healthy couple will find joys in those differences and enjoy a sense of harmony and completion in life. This is what happens when partners work mutually in a healthy relationship.
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This healthy and fulfilling equation is missing in an abusive relationship where the burden to sustain the marriage falls only on one partner. They are pressurised by many expectations to stay in an abusive marriage. Research suggests that an abusive marriage can affect anyone, be it a man or a woman. They both suffer silently, without telling anyone about their struggles and troubles. There are various reasons behind these silent sufferings, which we will explore further. But, before doing so, let us dig out more on an abusive relationship and why women are prone to it.

What are abusive relationships?

Relationship abuse is defined by a pattern of emotional, financial, physical and sexual behaviours against a current intimate partner. Usually, this crude reality is experienced by a woman after marriage or living-in with a partner. It begins with small incidents that gradually turn huge and affect a woman emotionally, physically, mentally and financially. There are different ways in which a lady is shown disrespect in the house by the man. Gaslighting, mansplaining, verbal taunts, coaxing her to give up a career for the family are few of the abusive patterns a woman experiences with her partner. This silent suffering of women many times goes unnoticed by the family and friends, as she chooses to stay quiet.

But why does a modern educated career-oriented woman choose this life of suffering in silence, you may ask. There are complex dynamics involved in her psyche that make her stick to a relationship that does her more harm than good. Let us explore the probable reasons why she holds to a link or a marriage even after a series of abusive experiences.

Related reading: What is abuse in a relationship?

Why do women stay on in abusive relationships?

Before analysing the reasons why staying in abusive relationships has become a pattern for women, we need to understand her emotional nature. Men are usually more practical compared to emotionally wired women. Once they feel they have found the man of their dreams, they commit themselves fully for the well-being of a romantic alliance. An abusive boyfriend finds this attitude convenient to mould the lady as per his wishes. As expected, a woman gives in to mild compromises in her life, view and even refrains from advancing her career goals.

Next level is marriage, which again seeks a different commitment from a woman than for a man. After leaving her comfort zone and all the luxuries of her world, she chooses to lead a challenging life as a married woman, adjusting in a new house and balancing her in-laws’ dynamics. This is a flawed concept, where no matter how capable or independent she is, the expectations are always more from her to make a marriage last. Ideally, this should be equally applicable to both the spouses, but the expectations are still high from a married lady.

Besides this, what are the reasons for staying in an abusive marriage or courtship for a woman? The fear of societal norms or abandonment, low self-esteem or financial dependence on the spouse is various probable reasons that make a woman ignore or live with an abusive relationship. We have listed the most common ones below:

Eight reasons women stay in abusive marriages or relationships

  1. Societal hypocrisy: Many ladies remain in abusive relationships because of societal pressures. Even in these modern times, they are not ready to face the universal question, ‘Log kya kahenge.’ As a result, they attune themselves to compromise in a marriage. But this is not a new trend. This unequal pattern has been there for many generations. Come on, haven’t we seen many instances in our real-life where a woman is laughed at or ridiculed by her husband in front of the whole family, including kids? This sets an unequal pattern for a future generation who just think keeping up such strange behaviour is a healthy way of life in Indian families
  2. Inequality in mindset: This treatment begins right in the wedding mandap, in front of the family and relatives. As part of a ritual, a lady’s responsibilities are symbolically handed over from one man, i.e., her father to the other, i.e., husband in the form of a Kanyadaan. No matter how progressive and liberal, our society is, the concept is regressive from a woman’s point of view. If the husband and in-laws are into any kind of abuse, there is no go-to place for her refuge. At times, even her parents fail to understand her and force her to go back to her husband’s home. To avoid these complex repercussions, she chooses to suffer silently in this marriage
  3. Fear: This is probably the most notable aspect of being in an abusive relationship. Here, the husband emotionally pulls the plugs and controls his wife’s behaviour through continuous threats of violence and harm to family members and children. The woman, fearing the safety of her loved ones, fails to open up to any friend or family member and chooses to stay in this toxic relationship
  4. Isolation: Abusers target the women emotionally and mentally through separation in domestic abuse. The uncertain and controlling nature of the controller causes social and familial isolation in women. There are many instances where the victim feels embarrassed and finds it difficult to connect with her family and friends. In such cases, they are prone to becoming reclusive and withdrawn from those around them. They may stop contact with their friends and relatives
  5. Feeling of low self-esteem: If a woman has been in an abusive relationship for a long time, it can eat away at her self-esteem steadily. A time may come when she starts doubting her self-worth so much that she starts to think that she deserves the abuse. Her confidence goes away, and it takes a lot of emotional healing to get rid of abusive scars on the soul
  6. They think this is normal: Many times, we wonder why ladies survive years and years of relationship abuse, and still return to their spouses. It becomes a kind of pattern for the abuser and the victim. But why do people repeatedly return to abusive relationships? Many women in an abusive relationship think that this is normal. They confuse the violence and abuse as some form of expression of love. Women think that every intimate relationship is like this only. They mistakenly correlate the mistreatment with the ups and downs of marriage and reconcile. Again, they may have seen similar kinds of abusive marriages in their family, which makes them accept the situation and stay in abusive relationships
  7. Dependence on the partner: Social isolation can result in over-dependence on the partner, despite the abuse. They might also still be in love with the person. They try to justify his actions out of unconditional love. The abuser may not be an evil person altogether. In many instances, the abuser himself will have suffered prolonged abuse and doesn’t know how to deal with his emotions. If the abuser shows even some amount of affection, it might lead the woman to think that the abuse will end
  8. Financial constraints: An overly controlling and abusive partner will try to manage a woman’s finances altogether. In many cases, they don’t allow them to hold a job, which results in increased financial dependence on the abuser. A woman in a financially abusive relationship will find it much harder to come out, as she doesn’t have the means to do so

Related reading: I know I’m being abused but I live in hope

“I am done looking for love where it doesn’t exist. I am done coughing up dust in attempts to drink from dry wells.” ― Maggie Georgiana Young

How can women get out of abusive relationships?

The solution to an abusive relationship might seem very easy to an outsider who will rationally suggest calling it quits. But the reality is entirely different for someone involved in the relationship. It is a tough decision to get out of an abusive relationship. Before taking any serious step, weigh the consequences. Check out the signs of being in an abusive relationship and find out how toxic your abusive relationship is. If you tick most of the symptoms, then it is the time to call it quits. Take the abuse seriously. Get an understanding that stays decisions in violent relationships to do more harm than good. We all have a right to live a life of dignity and pride, and when some abuser ruins it, it becomes challenging to gather the pieces to start anew.

Our relationship counsellors do understand that leave decisions in violent relationships are tough and take a toll on your conscience and soul. To such women, here is a tip – talk to someone you trust. Try to be vocal about what makes you uncomfortable. Sometimes, neutral perspective helps to identify the intensity of the abuse. Try journaling your experiences and find an outlet for your emotions. This is a magic pill that helps in emotional healing.

The next step is to prepare for the exit route. Keep your passport, educational degrees and other essential documents in your custody. Talk to your family about the intensity of the abuse and your laborious efforts invested in keeping it going. Take them into your confidence and step out of the house. Later, you can resume your career, and start the second innings of life with a new hope.

Remember, there are 3 Cs in life: choices, chances and changes. You must choose to take a chance, or your life will never change. In terms of abusive relationships, only ‘YOU’ have the power to choose a better experience, change it and live as a survivor, not as a victim.

Do you know of any such women who lived through abusive relationships? Or if you are one of the survivors, then our Bonobology Team would like to know your story of fighting abuse in relationships.

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