Why do women stay in abusive relationships?

The recent news of unthinkable and gut-wrenching abuse of an IT professional in the US, by her Silicon Valley CEO husband, has prompted me to write on the issue of domestic abuse, both verbal and physical, which is far more prevalent around us than we may like to assume. Neha Rastogi, is a clearly brilliant and successful young woman, while her abusive husband leads an IT start-up in Silicon Valley. They seem to be the perfect Silicon Valley couple. But what has emerged in the tapes that Rastogi has produced in courts is far from it and brings to light chilling details of abuse over the decade-long marriage.

Not surprisingly, some of the most educated, sophisticated, well placed, economically independent and empowered women suffer in it for years, albeit silently. What makes these women continue to be in dysfunctional relationships? Why do they choose to be the victim? Do they really have no other choice?

The following are some of the factors that lead women to endure abusive partners for years, and sometime a lifetime.

  1. Fear: The most compelling reason women stay in abusive relationships is because they are afraid. An abuser might threaten to harm their partner if she tries to leave. Or he might threaten to take the children away or malign the character of his partner. In such a case, staying in the abusive relationship feels like the only alternative.
  2. Concern for children: Leaving an abusive relationship is much more difficult when children are involved. She might experience guilt about taking her children away from their father or breaking up the family or feel unable to support her children on her own.
  3. Low self-esteem: After enduring prolonged periods of abuse, a woman’s self-esteem erodes to the point that she feels she deserves the abuse. The abuser may also force her to believe that she isn’t good enough for someone to treats her kindly, with love and respect. Some women feel the familiarity of abuse is better than the unknowns of life outside of the relationship.
  4. The abuse feels normal: For some women, an abusive relationship feels normal. They assume all intimate relationships involve some form of physical or psychological violence. Ina patriarchal society especially, women are raised to believe and except violence and abuse from their fathers, brothers, and husbands as acceptable.
  5. Stockholm syndrome: Victims develop Stockholm syndrome, a condition wherein they develop a psychological alliance with the abuser as a survival strategy. They consider small acts like a birthday gift like intense acts of kindness, that makes them hang on to the relationship for some more time.
  6. Feeling of responsibility: An abuser often tries to make their victim feel responsible for the abuser’s happiness and well-being. The abuser might threaten that they will lose their job, commit suicide, or lose their family if the victim leaves them, and therefore it will all be the victim’s fault. The abusive partner might suggest that if the woman stays and tries harder to be “better,” then the abuse will stop.
  7. Financial concerns: A woman may feel financially dependent on her abuser, especially if he controls her access to money and if he’s the main breadwinner in the family. This is particularly true for women who don’t have family members or supportive friends available to help her make the transition out of the relationship.
  8. Cultural and social beliefs: Women by nature are preservers. They go the extra mile to make defunct relationships work, to save the marriage from collapsing. Usually, the onus of making a relationship work lies on the woman, and she takes her role rather too seriously. Fear of social stigma and judgment by one and all are compelling factors that force a victim to continue being in the abusive relationship.
  9. Post-Traumatic Stress: Victims of long-term abuse sometimes psychologically detach from the trauma in order to cope and develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Women may develop dissociation, which often creates such profound detachment from the reality of the abuse. They are ridden with negative thoughts about self, feelings of guilt or self-blame.
  10. Unaware of their marital rights and the right legal channels: Many women are naïve, restricted to home and children that they may not know their rights or the right legal channels to redeem them. Even if they do, the legal process is often so expensive and cumbersome that staying in the abusive relationship seems to be the better option, at least in the short run.



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