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Why Women Stay...

People who are not in abusive relationships often imagine that if their spouse were abusive they would leave immediately. "I'd never put up with it for a minute!" they say. They begin to think that women in abusive relationships must like the abuse or they would have left long ago. Instead of wondering what's wrong with the abusive man, they start to think something is wrong with the abused woman.

In fact, for a battered woman the decision to leave is often an agonizing one. The following are some of the reasons why women find it difficult to leave.

  1. Fear For Herself and Others: Many women fear that the abuse will get worse if they leave. They fear that their partner will carry out threats he has made, such as hurting the children or other family members, or ever his committing suicide. In fact, many women are attacked or terrorized by their ex-husbands and boyfriends.
  2. Hope: Many women still love their partner and hope that he will change. Their partner may promise to change and the relationship may in fact improve for a time. Therefore they believe they have a good reason for hope.
  3. The Children: the majority of batterers do not abuse their children. Women often feel they would be hurting the children by depriving them of their father's presence and the benefits of his income. Women know that bringing up children alone is difficult, whether there is plenty of money or not.
  4. Lack of Energy: Abused women are drained by constant stress. They may also be periodically incapacitated by injuries or live with chronic pain of injuries. As a result they often feel immobilized, barely able to cope with the day to day demands of children, work, and household management much less plan ahead and take bold steps.
  5. Low Self-Esteem: Abused women have low self-esteem and very little self-confidence. They don't think they are important enough for their safety to matter. they don't believe any man better than their partner could love them.
  6. Financial Reasons: Some women feel they won't be able to support themselves or their family. They may not have skills or the confidence needed to seek and obtain employment. They may have to leave with nothing more than their clothes if the partner controls all the finances. For many women there is a stigma associated with social assistance and they rightly feel the difficulty of supporting their children on welfare payments.
  7. Advice From Others: Family and friends often pressure women to stay and make the marriage work. Counselors may recommend better communication skills, while doctor may prescribe tranquilizers for the stress. Such friends and helping professionals have failed to perceive the abuse as a problem that the woman cannot solve. Others may not even acknowledge that abuse is taking place.
  8. Sanctity of Marriage: Women may stay in the marriage as a result of strongly held religious and/or cultural beliefs. They believe it is the woman's responsibility to make the marriage successful. They see themselves as failures if they leave the marriage.
  9. Fear of the Unknown: Battered women are afraid of what is "out there". They devil they know is better than the devil they don't know.
  10. Emotional Dependency: The victim may feel she can't exist without her partner. He may be the only adult person with whom she has any emotional relationship at all, so breaking up would mean total isolation.
  11. Minimization and Denial: Minimization and denial of the violence are survival tactics. Women have to put the abuse out of their minds in order to care for the children, go to work, manage the household, etc. Minimization of the violence helps the woman continue to function, but it also makes it easier for her to stay because she is deceiving herself about the seriousness of her situation.
  12. Good Times: Except in a few cases, there are usually good aspects to the relationship. Women stay for the positive qualities their partner has and for the "honeymoon" periods when they are not battered.
  13. No Place to Go: They may not have friends or family to turn to, or they may fear that by turning to them they may be putting them into danger. They may be unaware of women's shelters or there may be no shelters in their area. They know that decent, low-cost housing is very hard to find.
After reading this list, it should amaze you that some women do leave and start new lives, not that women find it so hard to leave. There are obstacles they must overcome before and after they leave the situation.

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Committee on Family Violence
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