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Author Topic: Why Do Adults Stay In Abusive Relationships? - Kathryn Patricelli, MA  (Read 1347 times)
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« on: August 22, 2008, 07:47:35 AM »

Why Do Adults Stay In Abusive Relationships?

Kathryn Patricelli, MA


"Why Do Adults Stay In Abusive Relationships?" is also somewhat complex to understand. Partners in abusive relationships have varying reasons for remaining in them.

The First Layer

A first layer of the reasons for staying in an abusive relationship is practical, even if they are not always rational. Some abused people feel they cannot leave their relationships because they are economically dependent on them. For instance, an abused stay-at-home mother may feel that she cannot leave her abusive relationship because if she did, she would have no way of providing for her children. Other abused people stay because they believe that is the proper thing to do, given their religious or cultural background. Some practicing Catholic people, for example, believe that divorce is a bad thing to be avoided at most all costs. They may be motivated to put up with a lot of spousal abuse because the alternative is to go against the teachings of their church. Still other abused people may rationalize staying in abusive relationships because they think it is the right thing to do for their children. They might say to themselves, "If it was just me, I'd leave this marriage, but my children will be better off coming from an intact home than from a divorced one". This may not be a rational position to take in all cases; the children may be in fact far more damaged by staying in proximity to an abusive father than they would be by being raised by a single mother. However, regardless of the truth of any of these rationalizations, the believe that they are true is more powerful than whether or not they are really true.

The Second Layer

A second layer of reasons for why people stay in abusive relationships is uncovered by learning about the so-called "cycle of abuse." In a typical instance of domestic abuse (where one partner is abusive towards the other), abuse tends to occur periodically (cyclically), rather than constantly (all the time). There is no clear beginning to the cycle of abuse, but for purposes of describing it, we can start at an arbitrary stage along its progression. Something event occurs, whether real or only imagined by the abuser, that generates feelings of anger or even rage. These feelings then lead to the second stage of the cycle, which is where the actual abusive behavior occurs. Such behavior may be verbal, physical, emotional/mental, or sexual in nature. If the cycle stopped here and stayed constant, most victims would find it very easy to leave and not endure abuse for long periods of time. However, shortly after the abusive event occurs, the abuser frequently expresses remorse or guilt and wants to apologize. The abuser will swear, "It will never happen again" and may shower the victim with gifts and demands that the victim forgive him or her. There may be so-called "makeup sex" which can be quite pleasurable and provide the victim with a sense that he or she is valued, and really loved. In a parent/child abusive relationship, guilt over abuse may be expressed as special privileges or gifts for the child victim. Following the guilt and making up stage comes a "honeymoon" or latency period during which things are good for a while between the partners. Inevitably, in truly abusive relationships, the latency period ends with the beginning of another abuse episode; the abuser again feels angry, disrespected or treated poorly in some way and the cycle starts all over again.

Though such cyclical abuse is repetitive and predictable, it is also intermittent, and the rest of the relationship might be perceived as good enough or even loving. In this context, victims often rationalize that they aren't really being abused, that their partner really loves them despite being abusive and that makes it okay, that the abuse really isn't all that bad, and other similar statements. Victims are motivated to generate excuses their abuser, to think of each abuse episode as a "one time" thing (even when it isn't), and to focus on the good aspects of the relationship (particularly those positive things that during the guilt/latency phase of the abuse cycle) and convince themselves that the relationship is really a good one and that everyone has some problems in a relationship, i.e., my partner just occasionally loses his/her temper when really stressed at work, etc. Or for those with poor self-esteem, the rationalizations may be thoughts such as “I don’t deserve any better” or “this is the best relationship I’ve had in my life.”

Victims may have any number of low-self-esteem type beliefs that also keep them paralyzed and willing to accept something that is merely "good enough." They may believe that they will be alone forever if they go out on their own. They may believe that they are so damaged that they would only pick another abusive partner anyway so why not stay with this one? They may believe that they don't deserve any better. Abusers may reinforce this lack of self-worth by saying that abuse is normal, that they are over-reacting, etc.

Victims that do try to break away from abusive partners may find that abuse escalates to dangerous proportions. Abusive partners may stalk victims who try to leave them, or otherwise attempt to control their ability to exit the relationship. If they don't threaten  the victim or the children, they may threaten to harm themselves, and by so doing, guilt the victim into feeling sympathy for them and then staying to prevent the threatened suicide from happening.

The combination of internal self-esteem deficit, intermittent actual abuse, makeup sex or other positive attention obtained in the wake of abuse episodes, and escalating threats when the victim tries to get away is enough to convince many victims to stay put. Every time a victim forgives an abuser, that abuser is reinforced for being abusive, and it becomes that much more likely that the abuser will become abusive again in the future. The net effect is that the abuse tends to continue forever.

This truth is frequently lost on both the abuser and the victim, however.
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« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2011, 07:58:13 PM »

I experienced all of the above throughout my lifetime, particularly with my marriage to my (alcoholic and at times severely violent) ex husband.  

One thing that I find missing from the article is simply genuine love plain and simple.  

Although we were very incompatible, I did love my ex husband and I was deeply committed to him and our marriage... .quite honestly I have never been intimately involved with anyone that I did not have genuine love for.  To me, intimacy and love go hand in hand... .I can't have one without the other.  

Just because someone has problems, behaves hurtfully, is not compatible with us, does not make them unloveable, does not negate every aspect of their humanity.  Everyone has good qualities, an inherent self that is worthy of love.  Guess that's what makes an abusive relationship so unbelievably painful.  Here the object of your love is the cause of your fear and pain.  

I also pitied my ex.  I saw how lost he was in his addictions and compulsions and I felt sympathy and compassion for him.    

He did show me facets of his character other than his alcoholic abusive nature.  I saw his remorse for his behavior, his confusion as to what compelled him to behave as he did.  

And yes, an abuse victim is 3x more likely to be killed when she leaves her abuser.  That makes for a good bit of put up and shut up. 


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« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2011, 10:22:01 AM »

I fortunately wasn't married or intertwined financially with her.

I also didn't know she was BPD till the last 8 months.

I THOUGHT I COULD FIX HER and all the ensuing problems stemmed from her drinking.

Since I had stopped drinking 27 yrs before I met her I thought she could stop (or anyone )if they had the desire.

I was a believer in attraction not promotion and never pushed a non-drinking agenda. I just hoped the light bulb would go on.

The usual lies ,cheating, push/pull ,rages etc kept getting worse and it wasn't just limited to alcohol related incidents...

Finding out about BPD and reaching a bottom with her behaviors allowed me to finally go n/c recently
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« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2012, 09:03:12 PM »

This is a comment about the cycle of abuse. I was a battered woman and once the battering stopped, other forms of abuse continued. I planned for ten years to leave my husband, it was difficult to set my mind to the task as he had bullied me, threatened me, and promised he would leave my financially destroyed, or dead. I believed him. He did leave me financially destroyed and I do have some health issues I believe are related to the abuse and anxiety I experienced. But I am free. I wake up every morning aware of my freedom.

The problem is the abusers sense of entitlement to abuse. That is it. It isn't an anger issue. It is about control and by any means necessary.

The underlying problem is the lack of resources for victims of domestic violence.

Resources such as education about abuse, safe houses and counselors that are specialized in DV to help people break free of the cycle.

As I tried to break free, I experienced two T that did not understand dv, and actually tried marriage counseling. This only made the situation worse and increased the assaults.

I stayed for twenty seven years, but planned for ten to break free... I did.

C

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« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2012, 10:39:42 PM »

Why I stayed for 23 years in a bulleted list

1 - I thought it was normal because I came from Abusive family of origin

2 - I was victim of marital rape many times, and got pregnant twice as

I could not take bc pill because it made me very sick

- and IUD was not available for a few years in US a while back

3 - My naivete said any father is better than no father and he doesn't abuse

the kids - so suck it up

4 - There was no place to turn - I have no family and as a working career

professional, I could not subject my children to a shelter, I just could not

do it. He would not leave and I had no where to go - and he knew it

5 - I thought I could "fix" him

6 - I loved  him and he was not a monster all the time - just when he was under

stress - he became violent - so I tried to make sure he never got stressed

7 - I was afraid he would kill me if I left - but in the end he tried to kill me

when I stayed - I am amazed i am alive to write this

8 - He is dead - by his own hand - at peace finally - and so are me and my

children, but I am left with picking up the pieces and taking all the blame.

9 - I am exhausted - 23 years is a long time to try and keep the lid on

a pot that is constantly boiling over
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« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2012, 11:02:12 PM »



Excerpt
1 - I thought it was normal because I came from Abusive family of origin

2 - I was victim of marital rape many times, and got pregnant twice as

I could not take bc pill because it made me very sick

- and IUD was not available for a few years in US a while back

3 - My naivete said any father is better than no father and he doesn't abuse

the kids - so suck it up

4 - There was no place to turn - I have no family and as a working career

professional, I could not subject my children to a shelter, I just could not

do it. He would not leave and I had no where to go - and he knew it

5 - I thought I could "fix" him

6 - I loved  him and he was not a monster all the time - just when he was under

stress - he became violent - so I tried to make sure he never got stressed

7 - I was afraid he would kill me if I left - but in the end he tried to kill me

when I stayed - I am amazed i am alive to write this

8 - He is dead - by his own hand - at peace finally - and so are me and my

children, but I am left with picking up the pieces and taking all the blame.

9 - I am exhausted - 23 years is a long time to try and keep the lid on

a pot that is constantly boiling over

Thank you for your voice. So much of this rings true of my experience, too.

It was a living hell on earth.

C
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« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2012, 01:23:14 PM »

I appreciate this thread today and everyone's comments. I think in a logical way and having the abuse laid out in such a format is helpful. I still have moments that I wonder how I could have been so "stupid" to not see the abuse and put up with it for so long. This explanation helps greatly.
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« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2012, 09:37:50 AM »

This article was helpful to me today.  My BF and his dad have asked why I stayed for nearly 20 years with BPD STBXH.  When asked that, I feel like they think I am a weak victim, or just dumb for putting up with it.  I cannot convey to them that I did love him, pity him (abusive childhood), have fun with him, enjoy sex (can't call it intimacy, for it was not) with him, and felt connected to him as my family of choice.  Add that to my religious beliefs and fear of being a "failure" at marriage, and I understand it perfectly well.  It still nearly sucked the life out of me, but the choices I made were not always poor.
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« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2012, 02:33:53 PM »

Why I stayed:

1) This was my second marriage. In my culture a divorce is considered a stigma and hence a second divorce was NOT an option.

2) We'd had a FABULOUS first year together. I thought I'd met the man of my dreams who'd center the whole world around me and paint rainbows in the sky wherever I went, etc etc. I thought that it was possible to get the old times back.

3) I thought I could FIX him (yes, most common reason), because I'd had 4 failed relationships before. Somewhere I blamed myself for not working hard enough on my men.

4) Due to the persistent abuse, I lost interest in love n romance. I wouldn't get sexually aroused at all. I thought my life had come to a full stop and I felt as if I'd aged by 20 yrs. In this scenario, sticking around with him seemed like the least painful alternative. Like living with the known devil. I was afraid that I might never rediscover love with anybody else if I leave him.

5) This reason might sound like bullcr*p but it's true: I turned SPIRITUAL. I came across scriptures that talked about your karmic suffering and how there is no escaping it. Also, according to one of the holy texts, the wife is supposed to sacrifice everything for her husband, even take injustice from him without complaining. That is supposed to make a woman rise above the karmic cycle and break free from it. Stupid as it may sound, I wanted to try it out. In short I wanted to play the perfect, conforming traditional wife.

6) I was addicted to him and the comfort he gave me in the good times.
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« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2012, 02:51:41 PM »

I grew up in an extremely abusive household (physical, mental, emotional, etc). I thought I loved the man I married who abused me, but in retrospect, I had no idea what "love" was. Better idea today, but still not sure.

Since all my learned skills (that I taught myself) as a kid had to do with how to cope/survive in an extremely dysfunctional/abusive environment, I guess it's not so surprising that when I "grew up" and moved out, I would find an environment where I could use my skills.
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« Reply #10 on: July 24, 2012, 08:26:33 AM »

My ex told me on numerous occasions that no one else would ever want me.

My ex tried to apologise many times for her abusive behaviour and her infidelties. As recently as 3 months ago.

I was a stay at home husband for a while. She'd berate me constantly about the money situation yet would spend money on clothes, going out entertaining whoeever. She once spent (tm)
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