A classic question from people when they realize you are or were in an abusive relationship is “Why did you stay?” It’s an incredibly complex question and the answers are probably different, depending on who you ask.
Here are five reasons to consider:
They don’t know how to leave: It sounds almost silly, doesn’t it? They don’t know how to leave?! But it’s so much more than that. Depending on how dangerous their situation is, leaving can be profoundly terrifying and take intricate planning to get out alive. Therefore, the why they don’t is pretty complicated.
They’re too afraid: Simply put, sometimes leaving can be just as (or sometimes more) dangerous than staying. Leaving can incite rage in their abuser and they may hurt them as they go, or hunt them down and do the unthinkable.
They worry about finances: It’s easy to judge and say “The heck with money, I’d leave!” But when you’ve been undermined and made to fear for so long, and the abuser has probably convinced the abused that they can’t possibly make it on their own, they believe it. So even though they want to be safe and want to do the best for their children, having the ability to provide for their children can be pretty frightening too. And it may even feel selfish to the abused (in a situation where the children aren’t also abused). “If we leave, I take my children away from a comfortable life, maybe their schools, a dad they love, and all because I am being abused and want to be more comfortable?”
They have nowhere to go: There aren’t shelters or any type of help in all communities. To my knowledge, no such place existed in my town. Did I have friends and family? Of course. But when you consider that you’re uprooting your life and expecting someone else to basically take in your family, it’s very scary. And then thinking beyond that, they’re going to eventually expect you to leave so…back to that financial thing. They may not have a solid support system that’s so necessary and helpful in such a situation as this.
They believe their mate will change: That was me. I’ve been asked why I stayed. Sometimes the question dripped with judgement. Sometimes it was asked genuinely out of interest and an attempt at understanding. From my experience and what I know from speaking with others, an abuser often has glimpses of greatness: times when they’re pretty wonderful and act like you always wish they would. Then they’re “gone again” and back to their hurtful behavior after a day or week, whatever. Those glimpses often give me, us, survivors, just enough hope to believe if they can be normal for a day or a week, they can do it all the time, and that eventually, they will. But here’s the rub: unless they can admit they need help and get it, they’re not going to change, and no amount of hoping is going to make it happen.
If you’re in an abusive relationship or have been in one, what keeps you there? What are your fears about leaving? Or staying? How can I help? I may not be physically there, but I do have a good listening ear, if you want to comment or message.
You’re not alone,
Melanie Pickett is a writer and speaker. Her blog was born out of her desire to reach and encourage women who’ve experienced struggle and hurts, particularly domestic abuse, as she has. Melanie speaks and writes about her own experiences as well as different aspects of relationships, healthy and otherwise, to inform, inspire, and make others feel encouraged and supported. She is an entertainment editor for a Christian women’s magazine and co-founder of the women’s ministry Yours Girls for women all-in for Jesus. Melanie is married and has two amazing teenage children who are her heart and soul. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, spending time with her family, cuddling her pug Gracie, or enjoying the beauty near her home in West Michigan. You can keep up with Melanie at her blog, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.