Why Doesn’t She Leave? 9 Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships

People scoff at abused women. They see her bruises, watch her cover for him time and again, and shake their heads when she falls for his constant lies.

They always ask the same question: “Why doesn’t she leave?”

It makes sense on a surface level.

We all think we’d leave at the first hint of abuse. We can’t imagine staying with someone who treats us so poorly.

But the truth is far more complicated. 

Why Doesn’t She Leave – The Truth on Why Women Stay With Toxic Men

We probably all know someone who stayed in a toxic or abusive relationship far longer than they should have. Many of us were that person.

People shake their heads and say, “She should just leave,” as if it’s the easiest decision in the world. If they were ever thrust into a similar situation, they would learn how challenging it is.

Everyone’s story is different. Every battered woman stays for a variety of complex reasons. Here are the most common reasons why she doesn’t just leave.

She Can’t Afford To Leave

Many women stay because they can’t afford to leave.

It’s not just the outrageous cost of living. Women have been stuck in abusive relationships long before rampant inflation made it harder for them to escape.

Controlling men don’t start controlling. They wear masks of charm and pretend to be equal partners. Then, they slowly separate her from things she needs to survive independently.

Things are going great, so he convinces her to quit that stressful job. He’ll take care of things. He insists they share checking accounts because they’re equal partners. He forces her to stay home (or work less) to care for the children.

All the while, his abuse grows worse. Now, she has no job, no prospects, and no money of her own. She’ll be destitute if she leaves him.

She Has Nowhere To Go

We love to think everyone has a safety net, but the harsh truth is most of us don’t. Over 10% have no friends, and kinless Americans are on the rise.

Even those with family & friends may find their support system can’t afford to take them in. Nearly 60% of all Americans report living paycheck to paycheck, meaning they can’t afford to add another person to their household. 

Abusers also go to great lengths to separate their victims from support systems. Many abused women have strained relationships with family and friends and feel they have no one to reach out to for support.

It Wasn’t Always Like This

Abusers mask for a long time before showing their true colors.

In the beginning, he was the perfect partner. He cherished her. They planned a life together based on shared goals and mutual respect.

The mask slowly started slipping as they entered the cycle of abuse, but she still had the honeymoon stage to hold on to. He was so great – surely he can’t be abusive. There must be something making him behave this way.

She holds onto that image she had of him in hopes that the man she loved will return.

Maybe He Will Get Better

Many women do think the abuse is situational. If he wasn’t always like this, something happened to make him behave this way, and if she could only help him through it, he’d return to the wonderful partner she fell in love with.

Maybe he slid into addiction, had a tough time at work, or went through difficulties in his personal life. She believes the best of him and stays because she never gives up hope that he will improve.

Women trapped in this situation face a double whammy of cultural expectations. It’s easy for an outsider to say she should leave, but society looks down on women who don’t “stand by their man.” Women grew up with the immense responsibility to make men better and feel like a failure when they can’t.

Outside of societal expectations, turning your back on someone you love is a massive challenge. You want the best for them, you want them to get better, and you know deep down they can. It takes a lot of strength and courage to accept that they never will.

She Tells Herself It’s Not That Bad

Women stay in abusive relationships because they don’t always recognize it for what it is. Some may have grown up in toxic families, so it’s the only thing they’ve ever known. They think abuse is normal.

But some men are clever about their abuse. They gaslight their partners to make them think they’re the ones who are wrong. They escalate the abuse so slowly that women can no longer tell the difference between abuse and anything else.

The abusive incidents seem small when taken one at a time. They feel crazy for being upset over this little thing, not recognizing that this little thing is a culmination of a thousand other little things that have been happening throughout the relationship.

So they stay, thinking it’s “not that bad” because he doesn’t physically hit her. If you heard her stories, you might tell her it’s not that bad too. It will get that bad one day, and then you’ll scratch your head, wondering why she didn’t leave earlier.

He Won’t Leave

With women outearning men, outpacing men in college, and owning more homes than men, many women find themselves unable to untangle themselves from abusive partners because he refuses to leave her home.

She owns the house. She pays the bills. She made the horrific mistake of inviting him to live with her, and she regrets it every day.

He won’t leave, threatening to sue for tenancy, palimony, and anything else under the sun if she dares to break up with him and kick him out. She has no case with law enforcement because he’s not physically abusive.

So she stays because it’s easier to stay in a miserable relationship than deal with the legal ramifications of removing him from her life and home.

She’s Scared

Leaving is dangerous. Women face a 75% increased threat of violence for the first two years after leaving an abuser.

Although staying is also dangerous, women fear leaving because they know he will escalate. They don’t fear for their lives when they stay, but he may hunt them down and kill them if she tries to leave.

She Can’t Leave the Kids

Women don’t leave their abusers because they want to protect their children. When they’re in the home, they can take his wrath. But they know he’ll be alone with them if they leave, and there’s no telling what he will do.

Abusers are more likely to seek sole custody of their children, and courts award fathers either sole or joint custody 70% of the time. 

Many abusers threaten the children, claiming to hurt them if she ever leaves. How could she leave them when she knows doing so would put her vulnerable children at risk?

Self Esteem/Self Worth

A lot of women stay with abusive men because they don’t think they could do any better. Abusers latch on to women with past trauma and use it against them to get them to stay.

Someone already struggling with low self-worth from a troubled family is an easy target for these abusive men. They’re used to abuse and more likely to stay. They believe their abuser when he tells them she deserves it.

These women struggle with low self-worth and don’t understand what a healthy relationship looks like. She thinks she needs a partner to be whole and will settle with a horrible man because she doesn’t know any better.

Stop Asking Why Doesn’t She Leave, Start Asking How Can I Help

Stop blaming women for staying with abusers. Each battered woman has her own story and her own reason for staying. It may be any of these reasons, a combination, or something entirely different.

Her situation isn’t yours to judge.

Instead of admonishing abused women for not leaving, we need to admonish abusive men for their behavior. Stop asking why she stayed and start asking why he treated her that way. Ask why the police did nothing. Ask why our legal system failed her and her children.

Society loves to blame women for abusive men’s actions. It’s time to change the conversation, putting the blame and shame where it belongs: on the men who think it’s okay to abuse women and the social constructs that allow it.