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8 Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Marriages


8 Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Marriages

Side view of an angry hispanic man in his 30s grabbing the arm of his young wife during a fight and discussion at home. Domestic violence concept

As domestic violence researchers, we were curious how these posts could help women, ladies and also public observers better ways to understand the unique challenges victims of domestic violence face. With colleague Jaclyn Cravens, and doctoral student Rola Aamar, I examined these voices to see what could be learned. We collected hundreds of posts from women all over the world and read, coded, and sorted them, publishing these findings in 2015. Through this analysis, we identified eight main reasons women stay in abusive relationships:

Young woman is sitting hunched at a table at home, the focus is on a man’s fist in the foregound of the image

8 Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Marriages

1. Distorted Thoughts. Being controlled and hurt is traumatizing, and this leads to confusion, doubts, and even self-blame. Perpetrators harass and accuse victims, which wears them down and causes despair and guilt.3 For example, women shared: “I believed I deserved it,” and, “I was ashamed, embarrassed, and blamed myself because I thought I triggered him.” Others minimized the abuse as a way to cope with it, saying: “[I stayed] because I didn’t think that emotional and financial abuse was really abuse. Because words don’t leave bruises,’’ and, “Because I didn’t know what my boyfriend did to me was rape.”

2. Damaged Self-Worth. Related was the damage to the self that is the result of degrading treatment. Many women felt beaten down and of no value, saying: “He made me believe I was worthless and alone,” and, “I felt I had done something wrong and I deserved it.”

3. Fear. The threat of bodily and emotional harm is powerful, and abusers use this to control and keep women trapped.4 Female victims of violence are much more likely than male victims to be terrorized and traumatized.One said: “I was afraid of him…I knew he’d make leaving an ugly drawn out nightmare.” Attempting to leave an abuser is dangerous. One woman felt trapped because of her husband’s “threats of hunting me down and harming all my loved ones including our kids while I watched and then killing me.”

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4. Wanting to be a Savior. Many described a desire to help, or love their partners with the hopes that they could change them: “I believed I could love the abuse out of him.” Others described internal values or commitments to the marriage or partner, with tweets like: “I thought I would be the strong one who would never leave him and show him loyalty. I would fix him and teach him love.” Others had pity and put their partner’s needs above their own: “His father died, he became an alcoholic and said that God wouldn’t want me to leave him because he needed me to make him better.”

5. Children. These women also put their children first, sacrificing their own safety: “I was afraid if he wasn’t beating me he would beat his kids. And I valued their lives more than my own.” And, “I stayed for 20 years while I protected our children, all while I was being abused.” Others mentioned staying to benefit the children: “I wanted my son to have a father.”

6. Family Expectations and Experiences. Many posted descriptions of how past experiences with violence distorted their sense of self or of healthy relationships: “I watched [my dad] beat my mom. Then I found someone just like dad,” or, “Because raised by animals, you partner with wolves.” Some mentioned family and religious pressures: “My mother told me God would disown me if I broke my marriage.”

7. Financial Constraints. Many referred to financial limitations, and these were often connected to caring for children: “I had no family, two young children, no money, and guilt because he had brain damage from a car accident.” Others were unable to keep jobs because of the abuser’s control or their injuries, and others were used financially by their abuser: “[My] ex racked up thousands of debt in my name.”

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8. Isolation. A common tactic of manipulative partners is to separate their victim from family and friends. Sometimes this is physical, as one woman experienced: “I was literally trapped in the backwoods of WV, and he would use my little boy to keep me close.” Other times isolation is emotional, as one woman was told: “You can either have friends and family or you can have me.”Although these eight reasons for staying are common, they do not describe every victim and situation. Women can also be perpetrators, and there are many patterns of violence.6 Yet, these posts provide compelling insider’s views of the difficulties of making decisions in a violent relationship, and this is helpful for outsiders to understand. One reason many victims hesitate to speak up is because they are afraid of being judged and pressured by friends and professionals.

If more people responded to victims’ stories of abuse with concern and compassion, instead of with criticism, more victims might speak up and find the support they need to live a life free of abuse.


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