The number of women coming for counselling reporting violence and abuse by their partner- husband/boyfriend is increasing alarmingly. Before we understand why women stay in abusive relationships, we need to understand what an abusive relationship is.
An abusive relationship includes dominance and control over a partner. The abuse can be emotional, physical, psychological, or sexual. It can frighten, humiliate, hurt, or traumatize a partner, so much so that they fear moving out of it and staying in it.
It is almost impossible to identify if a person is abusive at the beginning of a relationship. After a while, the warning signs and abusive traits are visible. Abusive relationships usually happen when there is no way out of the relationship for a partner, as the abusive partner takes advantage of the situation.
The reasons why women continue staying in abusive relationships are both psychological and social. They are –
Learned Helplessness Learned helplessness, a term that is often used in the background of depression, is a behaviour pattern that involves a negative and ill-healthy response. Learned helplessness is portrayed by avoidance of challenges, greater dependence, and the lack of or non-employment of problem-solving strategies when manifold obstacles arise in life.
Physical intimacy and romance acting as intermittent reinforcements –Abuse has a typical cycle of love/ physical intimacy, especially in men who have substance abuse disorders or are psychopathic. After every abusive incident comes a make-up Honeymoon phase where the abuser does something nice, apologises and promises to not repeat it and makes the victim minimize the abuse.
Society normalizes unhealthy behaviour so people may not understand that their relationship is abusive and think that getting slapped or beaten is normal.
Damaged Self-Worth Emotional abuse destroys self-esteem, making it feel impossible to start fresh as they’ve continuously been made to feel worthless and feel this is the best option for them. They fear isolation and are dependent on the abuser.
They are afraid to leave as they fear for their lives and also their children if children are involved. It’s not just hard to break up safely, it’s also hard to escape the cycle of control.
They hope the abuser will change one day. The women have invested a lot of time and effort in the relationship, they live in the hope that eventually, all the pain will be worth it as they love, and true love will save and change their man. This Saviour syndrome glamourized by society is often difficult to shake off. They might also believe their partner’s behaviour is due to tough times, or drugs or feel as though they can change their partner if they are a better partner themselves.
They feel personally responsible for their partner or their behaviour. After a conflict, an abuser will turn the situation around and make their partner feel guilty or as though they are somehow at fault. This gaslighting leaves the victim feeling everything is her fault.
Fear of how others will react- People in abusive relationships often feel embarrassed to admit that their partner is abusive for fear of being judged, blamed, marginalized, pitied or looked down on.
Marriage, children, and shared finances are often huge reasons that people in abusive relationships stay in them. They want to protect their children from social stigma, financial difficulties etc.
Dr Chavi Bhargava Sharma is the founder and CEO of Indic Center for Psychological Wellness and Holistic Health and Conversationalists-Talking Cures.