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The Complicated Truth About Leaving: Considerations for Supporters

If it’s so bad, why don’t they just leave?

For those of us who have never been in an abusive relationship, the answer to the problem might seem obvious. Just leave! Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Abusive relationships are complicated. Leaving them is difficult by design. The abusive partner will do everything in their power to keep the survivor in a state of confusion, shame, self-blame, and fear. They deliberately create impossible situations to prevent their partners from fleeing, accessing resources, or getting help.

Leaving the relationship doesn’t guarantee safety either. The abusive partner may stalk, threaten, harass, intimidate, or sabotage the survivor after they leave—sometimes for years. The potential for lethal force violence also peaks when the survivor is transitioning away from the relationship. For this reason, it’s sometimes safer for a survivor to stay until a detailed and sustainable plan is in place.

The dynamics of power and control, along with the ever-present threat of escalating violence, create a situation where survivors are unable to leave without significant support, resources, and safety planning. If you care about a survivor of violence, recognize that what you’re seeing or hearing about is only the tip of the iceberg. As counterintuitive as it might seem, they have very valid reasons for staying in the relationship and need your support–not your judgement. 

Leaving an abusive relationship is a process, not an event. It takes an average of 7-11 attempts before a survivor leaves an abusive relationship for good. If your loved one leaves the abusive relationship only to return a short while later, know that this is a normal part of the process. They are untangling a dangerous web of violence, manipulation, intense emotions, and complex circumstances. It can take time, so don’t give up on them!

Here are some things you can do to support a survivor of intimate partner violence:

  • Believe them.
  • Ask how you can help and follow through.
  • Know your local resources and encourage them to get help.
  • Remind them that it’s not their fault. No one asks or deserves to be abused.
  • Be an uplifter and a cheerleader. Focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses.
  • Let them make their own decisions. While you may be tempted to “save” them from the situation, intervening without permission is another form of control and may put them in harm’s way. Remember that they are the expert on their own lives.
  • Continue to support them even if they choose to stay in the relationship. They might not be ready to leave right now and that’s okay. Leave the door open.
  • Take care of yourself and set boundaries. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

We recognize that being in this position can be scary and frustrating. If you have any questions or need support, please call our 24-hour hotline to speak with a trained Hope Crisis Center Advocate.