Why would someone stay in an abusive relationship?

There are many reasons—things aren’t as simple as they may look from the outside!

The Risks of Leaving

One of the first questions many people as about domestic violence is “Why doesn’t s/he leave?”

There are many reasons why victims of abuse feel trapped in abusive or violent relationships.  Often, they aretrapped.  Statistics have proven that violence and danger often increase for a victim when they start to leave the abuser. 

There are risks attached to every decision a victim of domestic violence makes.  That doesn’t necessarily mean there is no way out.  It simply means there are many obstacles to achieving safety or to ending a relationship with a violent partner, and the choices victims confront are not risk-free.

Risks of seeking help or deciding to leave may include:

Physical violence and psychological harm

  •  Risk of escalated threats and physical violence, resulting in harm to victim, children, friends or family.
  • Risk that batter will follow through on suicide threats and harm themselves or others.
  • Risk of continued harassment, stalking, and verbal and emotional attacks, especially if batterer has ongoing contact (such as during court-ordered visitation).
  • Risk of serious physical harm and/or death .


  • Risk of reduced standard of living—possible loss of home, possessions, neighborhood.
  • Risk of losing income of job—may lose partner’s income, medical benefits and retirement savings, may have to quit job in order to relocate or to fulfill responsibilities of single parenthood, may be prevented from working because of threats or harassment .


  • Continued risk to children of emotional and physical harm; possibly increased risks to children if abuser has unsupervised visitation.
  • Risk of losing children by parental kidnapping or as a result of a legal custody decision.
  • Risk of negative impact on children as a result of “breaking up the family”.


  •  Risk of losing partner, losing the relationship.
  • Risk of losing help with children, transportation, household.

For elderly victims or those with disabilities, risk of losing caretaker.

Other issues victims often face include:

Responses from friends, family members, and helping professionals

  •  Fear of not being believed or taken seriously, being blamed, being pressured to do something s/he is not ready or able to do.
  • Fear of being judged as a bad wife, partner or mother.
  • Being pressured to maintain the relationship based on religious and/or cultural beliefs or because the children “need a father”.
  • Risk that actions of “helpers” may increase danger.

Under even the best of circumstances, it is difficult to end a relationship with an intimate partner.  Love, family, shared memories, and a sense of commitment are difficult bonds to break.  Victims of abuse face the additional risks of physical, emotional and psychological harm.  In addition, many victims want the abuse to stop, but they don’t want the relationship to end.

Seeking help, getting a restraining order, or deciding to leave only make sense to a victim when it outweighs the overall risks s/he and their children have to deal with.

Safety planning is the process of evaluating risks and benefits of different options and identifying ways to reduce the risks.

How do you know if you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship? 

Take this test to see if you may be in an unhealthy relationship:

1. Are you afraid to disagree with your partner because of his/her temper?

2. Do you make excuses to yourself or to others for your partner’s behavior?

3. Does your partner accuse you of flirting or cheating?

4. Does your partner destroy things that you care about?

5. Does your partner grab, pull, or push you and/or are you hit in places where the bruises won’t show?

6. Does your partner threaten to harm or kill you, your child, your pet, or your family?

7. Does your partner force you to have sex or do sexual things that make you feel uncomfortable?

8. Does your partner humiliate you in public or private?

9. Has your partner displayed a weapon or destroyed things to scare you?

10. Does your partner control the family finances and deny you money and/or credit cards?

11. Are you not allowed to have house or car keys of your own?

12. Does your partner make it difficult or impossible for you to go to work or school?

13. Has your partner manipulated you with “head games”?

14. Has your partner pushed or deprived your children to get back at you?

15. If your partner abuses drugs or alcohol, is he or she more likely to do any of the above things when drunk or high?

16. Does your partner threaten to “out” you?


If you Answered "Yes" to any of these questions, you may be in an abusive relationship. Click here to see what you can do about it.

There are several common behaviors and warning signs to look for.  To see a more comprehensive checklist of some of these behaviors, please continue reading below.

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