Why Do People Stay in or Go Back to Toxic Relationships?
I am going to split this piece into a few pointers starting with why people go back to abusive relationships and then a piece about how the abusers try and get the abused to go back, and then even defend the abuser’s behaviour.
According to a recent survey, one in four women and one in nine men are in relationships that contain some sort of physical or sexual violence or stalking. Including same sex relationships.
You often hear the question of why would someone put up with this and not leave, and then be incredulous when someone returns to the relationship.
Is it as simple as just leaving, in certain circumstances clearly it isn’t?
It used to be thought that people went back to abusive relationships simply out of fear, felt too intimidated to leave, were financially dependent.
These are all true. But here are a few other reasons that someone persists with a toxic relationship.
Ahhhh, love… the ultimate connection!
All relationships have up’s and downs, but the good times can be a powerful reason to stay.
It’s absolutely possible to be in love and for it to be unhealthy and unsafe.
But it might be the love that you have become accustomed to. You get used to a certain type of love, and you search for what you know each time. Your need is fulfilled and therefore you don’t realise how unhealthy it really is.
Even though you know you are in pain and unhappy.
As humans we instinctively hope and you can perpetually ‘hope’ that things will get better.
The reality, of course, is that you can’t stop the abusive behaviour if they don’t want to stop, only the abuser can decide this. The only way you can stop the abuse is to walk away from it.
You may think of yourself as the person that they love, and therefore pride yourself as having the magic touch, being the only one who understands or can calm them down, in this there exists an illusion of control, that it is going to be okay now.
Within this illusion, giving up hope for a better future would mean that you have failed. And your need is to help them to be okay!
3. Unequal Power
An abusive relationship is fundamentally about power and control, true! Not necessarily.
It’s about breaking down your self-worth and belief in order to control you, but why?
Well, to service the needs of the abuser, to keep them in their safe space, where they have learnt what relationships need to be for them.
They take this power and enforce the control by:
Making you ask for money
Controlling where you go or who you talk to
Making decisions for you, and I am sure that you know of some more!
To what end?
Abusers want to ensure that you leaving isn’t an option, fostering a belief that this is all you deserve, or that no one else would want you (which is likely an underlying issue with you in the first place).
Abusers are often smart, charming, and magnetic leading them to being able to manipulate masterfully. They can be enigmatic and pull people in.
They use manipulation tactics like:
Saying the abuse wasn’t that bad or it was not abuse at all
Denying it ever happened
Saying that you started it
Discrediting you as crazy, emotional, or otherwise not credible.
You may start to consider that you are wrong or making a big deal about nothing, all of which makes it harder to walk away.
Leaving the relationship means acknowledging that things will never change. It means giving up on hope. Giving up on yourself as you have not been able to service their needs and make them happy.
Love and hope, power and manipulation, are tough to push against. Even when you find yourself with the courage to leave, press charges, or otherwise stand up for yourself, it is common to get pulled back in.
When I left my first abusive relationship, I asked her to take me back three months later… why? Well for me it was believing that I would never find someone that would love me that way, in fact would love me at all.
I missed the fact that they seemed so obsessed with me, when really it was just their insecurity making them needy and controlling.
Luckily for me they had already moved on and told me to do the same (another sign of an abuser and abused, is to move from one relationship to the next).
In my next article I will write about how the abuser uses manipulation to get what they need.
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