Why It Can Be Hard to Leave an Abusive Relationship

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When people find out that someone is in an abusive relationship, they often wonder why the person doesn’t just leave their partner. However, the reality often isn’t that simple for someone who is in that situation.

Leaving an abusive relationship is a process that can be scary, complicated, and overwhelming. The person may in fact attempt to leave their partner several times before they are finally able to end the relationship and get away.

This article explores some of the reasons why it can be hard to leave an abusive relationship.

If you or a loved one are a victim of intimate partner violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates. 

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Reasons Why It Can Be Hard to Leave 

These are some of the reasons why someone may find it difficult to leave an unhealthy relationship:

  • Hoping things will get better: The person may still care about their partner or have hope that things will get better. Their partner may have promised them that they’ll change and asked them for another chance. Abuse can often be cyclical and an abusive phase may be followed by a honeymoon phase where everything seems amazing. However, the honeymoon phase can be deceptive and may lead to another episode of abuse.
  • Experiencing past trauma: People who have endured a lifetime of trauma or abuse may experience a freeze or dissociative response, where they are numb and unable to process what's happening. This can make it more difficult to be responsive when abuse happens.
  • Being manipulated or gaslighted: The person may feel confused, question their reality, wonder whether they are responsible for their abuse, and feel unable to make it on their own after their abuser may have made them feel helpless, worthless, and powerless. This makes it difficult for them to muster the confidence to leave.
  • Having health conditions: The person may have injuries or health conditions—sometimes due to abuse—that can make it difficult for them to leave.
  • Feeling isolated: Abusers often isolate their partners from their friends and family members, so the person may feel like they have nowhere to go. It can be hard to take a step like this without a support system.
  • Having children together: Leaving a co-parent can be difficult because the person may not want to disrupt the children’s lives, break up the family, and take them away from their other parent. This can be especially hard if the person is a good parent but an abusive partner. They may also be afraid of losing their children, particularly if the other parent threatened them or suggested they could take the children away.
  • Being financially dependent: The person may not have an income or savings, or their partner may have control of their finances. They may not have access to cash, cards, or their bank accounts.
  • Facing threats: The person’s abuser may have threatened to harm them if they try to leave. The threats may even extend to their family members, friends, or pets. 
  • Being in danger: Abusive relationships can in fact be dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five homicides are by intimate partners. The CDC also notes that over half of the female homicide victims in the United States are killed by former or current intimate partners.
  • Not recognizing abuse: It can sometimes be hard for people to recognize that they’re being abused, particularly if they’ve lived with it for many years. If they haven’t been in healthy, respectful relationships, they may not realize that their partner’s actions are not acceptable. This is especially true in relationships that involve emotional abuse but not physical or sexual abuse.
  • Facing pressure to stay together: Society tends to encourage people not to give up on relationships and to stick it out no matter what. Divorce often attracts social stigma and even break-ups are considered personal failures. There is a lot of pressure to be in a perfect relationship.
  • Not wanting to admit to being abused: Someone who has been abused may be scared, ashamed, or embarrassed to admit it to others. The fact that victims are often blamed for being abused doesn’t help. It may be even harder for the person to name their abuser if their abuser is a powerful person or happens to be well-liked in the community.
  • Experiencing legal difficulties: The person may have tried to ask for help, but the authorities may have dismissed it as a domestic dispute. Or, the person may be legally compromised in some way, which can make it difficult for them to ask the authorities for help. For instance, their partner may have filed a false complaint against them, or they may be an immigrant who fears deportation.

Making the Decision to Leave

If you are in an abusive relationship and are thinking about leaving, these are some factors to keep in mind:

  • It’s not your fault: Your partner may have convinced you that you are somehow responsible for the situation or that you deserved it in some way. You may think that it is up to you to fix things or that everything will be fine if you are able to be a better partner somehow. Remember that it’s not your fault, and you’re not responsible for your abuser’s actions.
  • Abuse is not love: Your partner may convince you that the abuse, jealousy, or attempts to control you are their way of showing you their love or passion. However, an abusive relationship is neither healthy nor normal. Love requires mutual care and respect.
  • Abuse often escalates: Intimate partner violence often escalates and gets worse. Even if it starts out as emotional abuse, it may progress to physical abuse that gets worse with each episode. You need to leave the situation as soon as you are safely able to do so.
  • You’re not responsible for your abuser: If you care about your abuser, you may try to convince them to get help or think that you need to stay with them if they’re trying to be better. Abusers sometimes manipulate their partners into staying by making threats of hurting themselves or making their partner feel like they cannot make it on their own. However, you don’t owe them anything, and you need to prioritize your safety and well-being over theirs.

A Word From Verywell

If you or a loved one are in an abusive situation, leaving may not be as easy as people may think. It can be a process that can take weeks or months, sometimes even years. However, creating a safety plan and working toward it is important. Several organizations can help provide the shelter and support you need.

It is important to make a safety plan before leaving if you are afraid your partner may hurt you or if they have threatened you in the past. Consider contacting your local safe house or other community resources to help you create a plan. You can contact the Safe House Center at 734-995-5444 for more information.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Choi AWM, Lo BCY, Wong JYH, et al. Clinical features of heterosexual intimate partner violence victims with escalating injury severity. J Interpers Violence. 2021;36(17-18):8585-8605. doi:10.1177/0886260519850539

  3. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Emotional and verbal abuse.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing intimate partner violence.

  5. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Types and signs of abuse.

  6. Nemours Foundation. Abuse.

  7. Gracia E. Intimate partner violence against women and victim-blaming attitudes. Bull World Health Organ. 2014;92(5):380-381. doi:10.2471/BLT.13.131391

  8. Patra P, Prakash J, Patra B, Khanna P. Intimate partner violence: Wounds are deeper. Indian J Psychiatry. 2018;60(4):494-498. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_74_17

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.