If you’ve ever watched as a friend or relative became involved with a toxic partner or stayed in a relationship that was clearly abusive, you may have wondered why she didn’t simply leave.
Or perhaps you have spent months or years with an unhealthy partner, yet can’t bring yourself to end the relationship.
Lots of intelligent women end up in toxic relationships they know aren’t doing them any favors – but why?
Here are 6 of the most common reasons:
1. They don’t believe they can do any better than their current partner:
A woman with a low opinion of her personality or looks often assumes that she wouldn’t be able to find a good partner if she were single, so she accepts the status quo and stays in her current relationship.
If a woman’s partner is abusive and tells her that she is stupid, worthless, or otherwise unattractive, she may come to believe it. This ruins her self-esteem and keeps her tied to him.
2. They were raised in a toxic family and think their relationship is normal:
It’s a sad fact of life that a lot of us were raised in unhealthy families where abuse, unhappiness, and poor communication were the norm.
If your parents had an unhealthy relationship, you might have grown up assuming that such behavior is typical of all relationships.
Fortunately, spending time around healthy couples, reading about the psychology of healthy bonding, and getting individual or couples’ therapy can all help a woman develop a more realistic idea of what a good partnership looks like.
3. They are emotionally or financially dependent on their partner:
If you depend on someone to pay the bills, look after your children, or care for you in another way, it’s hard to leave.
Financial dependency is a common problem for women who have given up work to care for their children or work in low-paid jobs.
Emotional dependency – or co-dependency – is another reason women stay with their abusers.
Co-dependents assume responsibility for their partners’ feelings and actions, even if in doing so they harm themselves.
For instance, if a co-dependent woman lives with an alcoholic partner, the thought of leaving their partner to sober up and deal with life alone is enough to get them to stay.
4. Leaving can be dangerous:
Women in abusive relationships are at greatest risk of harm in the weeks following a breakup.
This is because their partners make a last bid at exerting control and taking revenge on them for daring to take back their lives.
An angry ex-partner may threaten to hurt the woman’s friends or relatives, damage her reputation at work, or even kidnap her children.
5. They worry what people will think and do if they admit their relationship isn’t working:
Although separation and divorce are no longer seen as shameful, there is still a stigma attached to relationship breakdown in some social circles.
A woman may be under pressure to keep up a certain image and find it hard to admit the truth about what is happening in her relationship.
For instance, if she and her partner have a reputation as a very happy, successful couple, the idea of walking away from the relationship and being asked to explain why could be upsetting and embarrassing.
If a woman’s abusive partner is known as an upstanding member of the community, she may worry – with good reason – that no one will believe her. She may be left without friends, or even be accused of ruining her partner’s reputation.
6. They want their children to grow up with a father:
If you have children with your partner, your concern for their wellbeing will influence your decision.
If you have always cherished the thought of raising children in the same home as their father, letting go of your relationship means letting go of that dream.
Often, a woman will stay in a relationship for several reasons.
She may also be in denial about her partner’s behavior, tell herself that other women have it worse, or cling to the hope that things will somehow get better.
Most women try to leave their partners several times before ending the relationship permanently.
If you are supporting a woman in a toxic relationship, remember that her position is probably complicated and that she is in a state of emotional turmoil.
If you are trying to break free of your partner but finding it hard to leave, you are definitely not crazy – there are lots of others in your position.
Seek out a good therapist, social worker, or women’s charity who can support you in working through these issues.