Why is it so hard to leave?

This is one of the most mind-boggling questions we face? Why in the world would someone put up with abuse? Why don't they just walk away? The answer is much more complex than we realize. There is so much more at stake than meets the eye. Emotional abuse is mind-twisting, reality-warping, and extremely manipulative. Those stuck in an abusive relationship are trying to do what they believe is the right thing to do. They are decent people who want to help those around them (including their abuser). They have hope (and their abuser makes sure that they continue to have glimpses of hope) that they will be able to make a difference. It's their goodness that traps them.

They don't stay for the pain. Their desperate, often palpable hope, if you sit in the room with them, is that the abuse will go away. And they tend to block out all evidence to the contrary. In point of fact, they stay for love. Many abuse survivors cling to the positive traits in their partners -- like being affectionate and reliable. In one study, more than half of the abuse survivors saw their partners as "highly dependable. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/romance-redux/201303/why-do-people-stay-in-abusive-relationships

Why is It Hard to Leave an Abusive Relationship?

  • People often don't even realize they are in an abusive relationship.

  • It can be hard for others to understand why someone stays with an abusive partner.

  • It's often because of something called "trauma bonding," where you become addicted to the hormonal roller-coaster an abuser sends you on.

It's a bit like becoming addicted to a drug. A psychologically abusive relationship is a roller coaster, with punishment and then intermittent reinforcement of kindness when you "behave." This means the body is going through its own turmoil, with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, paired with dopamine when given affection as a reward.


The Big Question: Why Doesn't a Victim Just Leave His/Her Abuser?

Here's an excerpt from great article found on psychologytoday.com by Amy Lewis Bear MS From Charm to Harm about why victims often don't leave and how to help.

Hope: Victims are hooked on hope that their relationships will get better even though there is no evidence of lasting improvements. Conversely, they may have given up hope and tolerate the abuse in exchange for an intact family, financial security, status, a luxurious lifestyle, or other benefits.

Avoidance and denial: The abused may feel stuck or deny the fact that they are in abusive relationships. They must work through Awareness, Acceptance, and Action (the 3 A’s) to move forward. Awareness is admitting a partner is abusive. Acceptance is realizing the effects of the abuse and that something must be done or the abuse will continue. Action is getting help for both victim and perpetrator.

Beliefs: Victims may have deep-seated negative beliefs about themselves and others. They believe their abusive partners truly love them, or that they deserve the treatment because they are defective in some way.

Irrational fear: The abused fear leaving for a variety of reasons, such as inability to survive or take care of their children, being ostracized by their communities, being seen as a failure, never “finding love” again, or going against religious beliefs. What they should fear is the harm they and their children are suffering on a daily basis. Abusers use tactics that erode their partner’s self-esteem for better control. Learned helplessness can result. Children are at a higher risk of becoming abusers or abuse victims.

Traumatic bonding: Victims can develop powerful bonds with their abusers. Some signs are: 1) believing that being treated badly is normal 2) fighting all the time with no resolution 3) complaining about spouses, but defending them in public 4) loss of free will (knowing it’s important to leave, but being unwilling to make any changes) 5) being in love with fantasy and not facing reality 6) continued attempts to change an abusive spouse with no significant results.


People who have never been abused often wonder why a person wouldn’t just leave an abusive relationship. They don’t understand that breaking up can be more complicated than it seems.

There are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships. If you have a friend in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, support them by understanding why they may not want to or be able to leave.

This website has many articles about relationships and abuse.



  • Why do people stay in abusive relationships?

    • They don't stay for the pain. Their desperate, often palpable hope, if you sit in the room with them, is that the abuse will go away. And they tend to block out all evidence to the contrary. In point of fact, they stay for love. Many abuse survivors cling to the positive traits in their partners -- like being affectionate and reliable. In one study, more than half of the abuse survivors saw their partners as "highly dependable.

  • Why We Stay: A Deeper Look at Domestic Abuse (great article detailing the reasons why many people stay in abusive relationships)

    • If my ex had been a complete [jerk] 100 percent of the time — even 90 percent of the time — leaving would have been easy. In reality, it was more like 70 percent. The rest of the time, he was actually fairly nice to me, and things were quite good. This is another behavioral pattern that is extremely common in abusive relationships. It was as though he could sense when I was about to throw in the towel, and he’d suddenly be back to his old, loving self, making it very difficult for me to justify leaving him — especially because I loved him and desperately wanted us to be able to function in a healthy relationship.

    • And occasionally — generally after a particularly cruel incident — he would have a “moment of clarity” in which he would get down on his knees, sobbing, telling me he hated himself for what he’d done to me and begging me to forgive him. He would promise me that he’d get counseling, that he’d do whatever it took to get better, that things would be different.

    • In doing so, he was giving me hope: maybe he’ll change, and everything will get better. Faced with the notion of finally having a healthy relationship with him, I found I couldn’t leave. I’d remember the good times we’d shared and feel optimistic that there would be more of them on the horizon. This is precisely how abusers wield control over their partners — they dangle the carrot, the promise of change, just out of reach, so that the victim always feels hopeful that the change will actually occur and feels compelled to stick it out.

And so it was for me. We’d have a few good weeks — maybe even a couple months. Things would be idyllic and lovely and rose-colored for a while, but sooner or later, it would all start to go downhill again, and the cycle would begin once more.

  • Why Staying in an Abusive Relationship is Worse than Leaving

    • Yet, victims are torn by indecision when they are granted small moments of affection as their abuser exploits their emotions and manipulates them into believing things will be better if they stay. It makes it hard to focus on the danger unfolding around them.

    • Damage caused by remaining in an abusive relationship can be physical, emotional, financial and spiritual. Even if they do not experience all seven methods of abuse, the effects compound over time, weighing them down with trauma that can be life-threatening.

  • Men Stay in Abusive Relationships for the Same Reasons as Women

    • Men who are in relationships also have trouble seeing that they are being abused, because they are conditioned from the time they are little boys to be tough, to minimize their fears, and to play a role that is based on a false construct of self-sacrifice as the “right thing to do.”

By playing puppeteer to the survivor’s perceptions, the manipulator is able to pull the strings in every context where his or her target feels powerless, confused, disoriented and on edge, perpetually walking on eggshells to keep the peace.


Playing Their Part: How an Abusive Partner’s “Good” Behavior is Part of the Act

Just as their initial charm was a part of their act, so are the times when they return to that good behavior. When the unhealthy or abusive behavior begins to escalate, you may have a gut instinct that something isn’t right, even if it’s hard to figure out why. But, it can be tough to trust that instinct, especially after seeing all that great behavior in the beginning of the relationship. Abusive partners acknowledge this instinct, and that’s one reason why abusive relationships usually don’t start out with abuse. The escalation tends to happen over time after they have shown you their charming act.

However, that doesn’t mean the escalation of abusive behavior is predictable. As we’ve said before, the phrase “cycle of abuse” isn’t entirely accurate because it implies patterns and levels that can be measured or predicted. You might want to know how bad is “too bad” and where you should draw the line, but that’s not a question anyone else can answer for you. Since abusive behavior is a choice, it happens when that person chooses it, which isn’t something you can predict. The loving, kind, sweet act they put on for you is a primary tactic they use to maintain the control they’ve taken. Moving back and forth between the good and bad behavior is an intentional manipulation tactic that plays upon your desire for them to return to the good behavior. You may find yourself questioning your own actions, especially if they blame you for their abusive behaviors because clearly, they can choose to behave lovingly. But it’s important to recognize that their minimizing and excuses for the behavior are part of the abuse, too. If they were abusive all the time, you might be more likely to leave or seek help sooner, since you wouldn’t be reminded of how it used to be.

Read the rest of the article at: https://www.thehotline.org/2017/02/09/abusive-partner-good-behavior/