Poppe & Associates

Why we stay? 5 reasons why Targets stay in abusive relationships

On Behalf of | Feb 2, 2024 | Divorce


When a relationship turns toxic and or abusive, some targets of abusive behavior get out right away – but many do not. This can puzzle and frustrate well-meaning friends and family members who simply can’t understand why the target just doesn’t pack their bags and declare, “This @#!* up mess will not be my story.”

As we all know, breaking up is rarely easy, and leaving a toxic, narcissistic, or emotionally abusive relationship makes “breaking up” indescribably even harder to do. Here’s why:

1. Emotional and narcissistic abuse literally infects and enslaves your head (your thoughts).

Think about the adage of the frog in the boiling water.  Why doesn’t the frog just jump out of the pot of hot water.  It’s because, just like the water in the pot is heated up gradually, abuse is generally a gradual process.  There is usually a grooming phase (see the honeymoon phase below) that ensues.  By the time the target “notices” that their life is not their own, or notices that they are daily filled with angst, and walking on eggshells, the abuser’s destructive narrative is so entrenched in the target’s thinking that the target is paralyzed and unable to quickly pack their stuff and leave. Continued invisible abuse can lead to distorted thinking that causes the victim to blame themselves for their partner’s behavior. They may believe that, if they were simply “better”  their partner would return to the loving persona they showed earlier in the relationship – never realizing that the “good” version of their partner was simply an act.

2. They get fooled by the “honeymoon” phase.

Abuse is often followed up by a phase where the abuser appears to be contrite. They may make excuses for their behavior and blame it on extraordinary circumstances. They may promise to never behave that way again. They may shower their partner with gifts and affection (think love bombing). That can make the target either believe that their partner really will change – or simply guilt them into staying.

3. Collateral impacts – how it will affect their family.

Targets of abuse, very unlike narcissistic and emotional abusers worry about, family and community expectations – whether culturally or religiously based – such perceived expectations can sometimes make a target feel that if they leave their abusive partner,  they will also have to leave behind their entire family/community because they won’t accept the idea that the target is “abandoning” the relationship. Empathetic people care about collateral impacts to others due to their decisions.  This type of empathy is usually non-existent in the minds of abusers.

4. They’re simply afraid of what will happen if they leave.

There are impacts tied to gender when considering leaving an abusive relationship.  For example, when a woman leaves a violent partner, her risk of death increases 70-fold in the following weeks. Many abused women are keenly aware that their partner would rather see them dead than be free of their control. This is an unfortunate reality, but nonetheless, a reality.

5. They’re isolated and lack resources and knowledge.

Abusive partners are very adept at cutting their victims off from any sources of support or information that might help them escape the relationship. Many targets stay because they simply don’t know that they have options.

When you’re afraid of what might happen if you seek a divorce, it can be scary to reach out for help – but experienced legal guidance can help you make a viable plan. You can break free of an abusive relationship and have a better future.

At The Law Firm of Poppe & Associates, PLLC, our focus is relentless advocacy for our clients. If you or someone you know is trying to leave an abusive marriage, reach out to schedule a consultation at 646-665-3903 or by contacting us online.

Let Me Be Your Brave

Mia Poppe, Esq.

Mia Poppe, Esq.
Managing Partner