It can be crushing to see a friend refuse to leave an abusive relationship, especially if you’re always their shoulder to cry on and if they never take your advice to leave. But looking in from the outside isn’t the same as being in a toxic relationship, and it can be hard to understand all of the reasons someone might stay, even if they’re unhappy. Here are five reasons why someone might not be able to just walk away and leave an abusive partner and why you should be especially patient and understanding if someone in your life is going through something similar.
1. Emotional Abuse Leads To Low Self-esteem
The situation: If your friend’s partner is always making them feel worthless, criticizing how they look and act, and insists they’re too good for your friend, it can be difficult for your friend to walk away. While you might hear the abuse and think your friend should be running for the hills, prolonged amounts of time spent hearing and internalizing these negative statements can cause their self-esteem to plummet. As a result, they may be convinced they won’t find anyone better or are unlovable and, in fact, need their abusive partner to be happy or deserve the abuse.
How to respond: The twisted logic is hard to watch as a friend, but rather than calling them crazy and illogical, instead work to build up their self-esteem and point out the many ways they are beautiful, intelligent, or hard-working. Combat what they hear at home with as much positive and truthful feedback as you can offer.
2. The Cycle Of Abuse Is Manipulative
The situation: After an abusive partner has an outburst, either physically or emotionally hurting your friend, they will often try to make up for their mistake. This leads to a honeymoon phase where everything is normal and happy again, and the abusive partner is making promises to be better and never hurt your friend again. If someone your friend loves is capable of apologizing and things seem good again, that can be a particularly challenging situation to walk away from.
How to respond: Try to reason with your friend and encourage them to see the bigger picture, and not relish in this temporary reprieve. Having said this, be understanding if they’re reluctant to leave, and don’t contribute to their struggles by getting mad or impatient with them.
3. Gaslighting Is Very Real
The situation: Abusers are often incredibly good at what they do. As such, they likely make your friend feel responsible or guilty for the relationship’s issues. This tactic, called gaslighting, may have your friend believing they simply need to change or be better for the relationship to work and that they’re crazy for thinking their partner is to blame.
How to respond: Again, work to reinstate your friend’s self-esteem and understanding of reality. If they have constantly been told they’re crazy for feeling unhappy, validating their feelings and exposing their partner’s need for control and power can help them see clearly again.
4. Shared Responsibilities Are Difficult To Escape
The situation: If your friend shares children or an animal with their abusive partner or is any way financially dependent on them, leaving can be next to impossible. It’s one thing for your friend to risk their health and safety, but they may never be willing to put their kids or animals in harm’s way. Additionally, finding somewhere new to live or a better paying job may further hinder any attempt to get out.
How to respond: Helping your friend find resources to ensure financial stability or offering them and their loved ones a temporary place to stay may be a huge relief. Researching shelters that are animal-friendly or even offering to drive your friend around for a few weeks can all make that leap seem less daunting.
5. Leaving May Be Dangerous
The situation: Women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the weeks after leaving their abusive partner than at any other time during the relationship according to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program. As such, leaving a violent partner can be life-threatening for a woman. If your friend lives in fear of their partner, the last thing they want to do is anger them in the worst possible way. Additionally, there may be social dangers of leaving. For folks in LGBTQ+ relationships, the fear of being outed may be used as a threat for them to stay in a relationship.
How to respond: Help your friend find the necessary requirements to leave safely. If this means helping them find employment in a different state, looking after their kids, or even researching temporary protection programs, being understanding and helping them look for the information they may be too afraid to ask for are all ways to be supportive.
Hopefully, some of these reasons help you better understand your friend’s situation and become a better support system for them. At the end of the day, it’s not about you and your frustrations; it’s about helping them. For more information, call the domestic abuse hotline at 1−800−799−7233.