The Straight Dope on Why Women return to abusive relationships?

Again, my wife and I sit out on the porch last night with a bottle of wine and our dinner, philosophizing like usual. She explains to me that she knows a coworker who is a professional woman, very high up the corporate ladder, who consistantly comes to work with excessive amounts of makeup on. Apparently they have spoken in the past and the woman indicated she had an abusive husband, and occasionally, they would both get rough…When confronted about who was getting rough she would always say she was the instigator. Apparently over and over my wife would tell show her the error in her ways and repeatedly the woman would say it was her own fault.
Fed up my wife is venting to me, and I tell her that this is the case all over the U.S. and it is an unfortunate phenomenon.
I further pointed out that the men who perpetrate these hideous actions are no stronger than a garden slug and deserve a quick and firm dose of their own actions. (pipes and chains)
Back to the point my wife is really at odds with this, and seriously does not understand why seemingly strong women continue to go back to relationships that are clearly abusive and not healthy. When I reflect on the true nature of the crime, I see a dominent, male in his own right, who is taking advantage of an easy target. Possibly bound by marriage, he thinks he can do what ever he wants. Nature verse Nurture on this topic would say the males are created this way from the environment they were raised in, and women the same way. Why such opposites would attract in this situation however, does not, in my opinion, adhere to natures natural selection…but more of a natural self-destruction. I would venture a guess to say, these relationships historically do not last a lifetime, unless the end is homicide.

So what do the teeming millions think of this terrible phenomenon? Why do women who routinely get beat-up physically, and mentally return to the relationship, when they surly know in their most inner selves, this is not normal, and should be changed?

I think there are many possible reasons. Some women really don’t know any other pattern, as that’s how they were raised. Some women mistake the accompanying emotional angst for love. Some women believe they can change the men and/or find the magic behavior pattern that keeps the abuse from being triggered. And some women want desperately to leave but are told by the abusers that if they do, they will be hunted down.

I’m sure there are other reasons. These are the ones that automatically come to mind.

Sidenote: Though the man is usually the abuser, it’s only fair to say that women have been known to do it too.

Because in my case (and I will only speak for myself) I was one (strong, secure, sure of myself) person to the rest of the world, but so emotionally torn down and used/manipulated/destroyed by the abuser that I couldn’t make a move. The “successful woman” stuff was just an act, and he made sure I knew it on every level, every day, every minute, every second. Let me try to explain this point by point by your post.

Because I was convinced I couldn’t HAVE a relationship - with anyone. That the reason I was being beaten and abused was because I deserved no better.

Well, had two guys who were only boyfriends behave the same way.

Well, in my experience, I was never raised this way nor saw a man abuse a woman like I was abused. I was naive, I trusted people, and I had terrible self image, and I had been picked on by other kids for years; I was unsure of myself, scared, and ripe for the picking by a psychopath or two. Plus I hid it well from friends and family - I made up stories to explain away broken noses, bashed in faces, stitches, black eyes; I was the most accident prone person on the planet.

The last one is gone now, and the restraining order is still in place.

Because I was basically brainwashed into believing that I deserved no better, via emotional abuse and basically (emotional) torture. I don’t think I can explain or parse the words to fully make you understand how hard it is to just “get out of the situation”. :frowning:

Not to draw ANY generalizations, or try to justify the behavior in any way…

Some women are intimidated into staying.

Some feel they “deserve” their treatment.

Some like the “excitement” of an unstable relationship.

Some want to feel like a martyr.

Some strike back, either verbally or physically – they believe that’s how a couple fights.

Some have a partner who tries to make up for the violence by apologizing, buying presents, etc., and they’ve decided the aftermath compensates for the violence.

I Agree with what has been said here.

There’s a theory that women who are daughters of abused women will often choose an abuser because unconsciously they feel that pick a better man than their mother is disloyal. Not sure I buy that.

As others have said:

some women honestly don’t think they can do better. Or deserve better. When you’re in a relationship with someone, it can be very hard to imagine oneself alone. Or with someone else.

And I think some people feel validated by the drama. You know, that it’s a compliment that their mate feels so extremely passionate about them that he’s driven to violence.

Wow, Missy2u. I am happy you are out of the relationship. And I am saddened by your news. How terrible that a man could be so low, and cowardly to hit a woman. How horrible.

When I first graduated as a Psychologist I briefly worked at a hospital for the mentally Ill. We received one woman who was so baddly beaten she was brought in on a gurney, with a saline drip, and lacking the ability to open her mouth, her jaw was broken so bad.
After about a month I got it out of her that her husband, not a mugger had done this…He was arrested and sent to prison for 10 years for attempted manslaughter, or some such felony.
A year after he was sent away, I was told by someone who still worked there that she was visiting him twice a week in prison.

It saddens the soul, I will tell you.

I’m not sure about this one. Unstable and abusive are two different things. In fact an abusive relationship can be quite stable in the sense that the man is faithful and spends much time at home. On the contrary, I think abused women desperately seek stability and are afraid to leave precisely because they feel life alone is more unstable.

Missy2U’s post rings true. A strong and independent personality may in fact conceal profound insecurities that are exploited and reinforced by the abusive husband/boyfriend. Also we can’t underestimate the dread some women feel about living alone and not being loved (abusive men often apologize profusely, offering reprieve and short-lived hope). Lastly, some women have a natural propensity to feel that everything is their fault. In fact, I believe this is one trait that attracts potential abusive men to these women.

And then, when you finally screw up the courage to believe that it might be not your fault, and it might be better away from the abuser, all it takes is one asshole-so-called “friend” to say “You’re not giving him a chance to get better - this time he’s learned his lesson.” And ohgod, the friend might be right 'cause the SO talks to friend more than me…maybe my faith/stupidity will finally be rewarded… Or, “You know, if you did/didn’t do that so much, he might not…”

The bastards and bitches unfortunately are charming as hell, that’s how they get you. Since nobody else has to live with them, nobody will believe you that it could be that bad. “But he’s such a NICE guy!” Yeah, as long as there’s witnesses. “How could you leave him/her, s/he’s such a nice person and loves the children SO much!” So much that the black eyes must be a result of overaffection. Yeah, that’s it. Overaffection.

It’s a black hole, sucking you in. It isn’t just the abuser, it’s the whole network that seems to support the abuser. S/he “just needs some help/understanding”.

And yep, I’ve seen women as the abusers. From the nasty, shrieking harpy who firmly believes that she’s allowed to beat the snot out of her man, but he better not hit her 'cause hitting a woman is eeeeeeevil, to Princess Perfect, who reinforces her will with emotional abuse.

I’ve even met a woman who had been so badly abused ALL her life, that she truly believed that if her man never beat her, he didn’t love her. If he didn’t beat her, she’d provoke him while he was drinking. I wouldn’t have believed it either, but I watched her do it. She damn near destroyed a friend of mine.

An excellent book on the subject of the offender is “Serial Killers: A Study in the Psychology of Violence”, by Colin Wilson and Donald Seaman - especially the later chapters where they talk about the characteristics of a violent personality. It does have the usual flaw in that the focus is overwhelmingly on men - violence among women in this context does not seem to be as well studied - or I just haven’t found the right books. However, in independent observation, I have found that violent women seem to share the same personality characteristics as violent men.

Sorry, don’t have any references on the victimology - I was more interested in how to spot potential abusers and avoid victimhood. As well has a hefty dose of non-comprehension as to whyyyyyyyy. However, an intimate look at the methods an abuser uses to make his/her victim dependent made it clearer to me why it is so difficult for many to escape. They pick their victims much more carefully than you’d expect. They’re smart, and are expert lay psychiatrists, who have a captive clientele of one. Only the mission is not to build a stronger, better helpmate, but to demolish a person to the point where they do not exist except as an extension of the abuser, to accept anything the abuser hands out as good and right.

This could very well be the case.

At what point does this probing become emotional abuse? Eventually if you keep bringing this up you may either get her to agree to your PoV to stop the nagging, or she may realize that society will be on her side if she lies and thus change her story for the advantages it has versus mutual combat.

So, if the woman started it, (and women are certainly capable of inflicting harm upon your random male, especially if the male is not trying to provoke a confrontation!), would you argue that the female who perpetrated that hideous action deserved a quick and firm dose of her own action? Because this was apparently the case.

Of course, not saying what is the case in this particular situation, but I do not have enough information from the OP to be anything other than openminded about the other woman’s claim (for instance, psychological damage, stories that change, etc.)

I would assume they (the abuser) does not exhibit sociopathic tendencies such as your post would elude to. But instead they do not start off thinking they aregoing to be an abusive husband, but become that way over time. Or maybe they are that way to begin with…and do not show it until one night with too many Budweiser’s in them. (if I may be so stereotypical)

But I doubt they are consciously picking their victims…however, they may be consciously choosing their mates…looking for someone to show them they can be dominated.

Sick, whichever way you look at it.

Emotional abuse on the part of my wife? The woman and my wife would lunch quite often, and she (the woman) would unload some of her woes about her abusive SO. That apparently was a cracked door, allowing my wife to ask questions…the woman was apparently wanting the input.

A woman who starts it, and verbally, emotionally, or physically harms her SO is as hideous as a man who does it. However, in either case the SO (the one being abused) does not deserve a physical hit, slap, back hand etc…etc… I don’t care what kind of instigating is taking place. Adults, especially men, should never upon any circumstance hit a defensless person. And I will generalize that most men are larger, and possibly more muscular than women (of course this is not in every case) and able to inflict more damaging blows unaided.
Furthermore anecdotally, I would never raise my hand to a woman, simply, I know better.

I think that with my mom, part of it was that on some level she was thinking “nobody else would have him, but he’s mine. I don’t have to worry about anybody taking him away from me, because nobody else would want him.”

You know, for both of her relationships.

I saw her with my own eyes goad my father into striking her while drunk when she was holding my three month old sister. Now, I am not saying that it was all her fault, or all his fault. It was the groove that they wore for themseves. They each had their roles and they never deviated from them. They would play off of each other.

But my mom… well, she was one of those people that feeds on the drama. She really liked, on some level, making him seem like the bad guy so that she could be the good guy. She was also very, very afraid of being alone. When I was a kid, I never really understood that. My greatest joy was being alone - without yelling, hitting, or walking on eggshells.

Finally, after being with my dad for 9 years, she kicked him out.

Four years later, she netted herself another abusive alcoholic - only this one was a control freak, too.
Basically, the four of us were not allowed to talk to our mom unsupervised for four years. She felt pampered by this. Because he cared enough to “handle” everything, so she didn’t have to.

She is still with my stepfather, after 17 years. When I was 17, I moved out of the house because his threats and constant emotional abuse made me come very close to snapping. My mom woke up a bit to see that the relationships that she has have an impact on her kids. I honestly think that she’d never thought about it before.
My stepdad went through some pretty intensive drug and alcohol counciling, and my mom got a lot of counciling, too. They’ve really turned their relationship around. To see them now, you’d never know that it had ever been any other way.

My dad, on the other hand, has very, very low self-esteem, and is still not doing well in his relationship of 20 years.

Sometimes its not just one broken person. Sometimes it’s both people.

A lot of good points have been brought up but no one has mentioned co-dependence. Both parties in an abusive relationship are screwed up, abuser and victim. If the victim has had a history of abuse from childhood, low self-esteem and has a co-dependent relationship with his/her abuser, then that’s why they stick around.
My dad used to hit his first wife and he’s a severely fucked up individual thanks to his mother, the war and his personality. And he has a really sick, manipulative, co-dependent relationship with my mother. He didn’t hit her, he “just” ground her down into nothing. Co-dependency has been romanticized to death but it’s extremely harmful.

Gravity - eloquent and scholarly. You are a fantastic observer…may I ask what you do now? profession?

Very true AmericanMaid. Melodie Beattie wrote Co-Dependence No More and I actually used it the first few years I was a teacher. Great for teaching Marriage and Family, and interviewing and counseling. I switched to a more contemporary take on relationships however, Beattie’s book is an invaluable resource for those who need it.

Oh, I’m a secretary.
I’ve just thought a lot about this situation over the years.

Public oppinion just seemed to be that if you grew up in an abusive home, you would make one for yourself. So I thought about things a lot until I was sure that I understood what had happend and why. Then I would be in no danger from those particular pitfalls.

I must give you credit for being so insightful. You have something quite a few people don’t. Very cool.
I was blessed with a wife who understands the way things work as well. I am certainly thankful for her. :slight_smile:

My situation was sort of like Missy2U’s, except in my particular case, I still don’t think the situation was entirely my ex’s fault, and I don’t think he’s a bad person. If either one of us had been different, the situation would probably not have gotten as bad as it did.

We were very young. I was 15, and he was 16 when we started dating. I was shy and insecure (I still am actually :slight_smile: ) and he had issues from being teased by classmates when he was younger.
He figured out pretty quickly, that I worshiped him, which gave him all of the power in the relationship (for the first time in his life), and he took advantage of it. It started out as emotional manipulation… I was stupid… my ideas were stupid… wasn’t I lucky to be with someone as patient as him… It took him less that a month to have me completely convinced that I was worthless, he was dating me out of pity, and no one else would ever want me. I’m still not sure how he managed that. I’d had other boyfriends before him, so obviously someone else had wanted me… but that never occured to me. He was an excellent manipulator, and I always believed him. After all, he loved me.

Within 2 months, I walked and stood a step or two behind him, I looked at the ground all the time, and I rarely spoke except to answer direct questions. He had to know where I was all the time. He knew my work schedule (often before I did) and would call the store where I worked to make sure I was there. I had to spend nearly all of my time (outside of work and school, or school activities) with him, because he missed me, and he wanted to see me. My friends could wait. We stopped going out much, because (he said) we got so little time together, that we should spend what we did have alone

Then the abuse turned physical. He had me conviced that he loved me, and he wanted to help me learn not to make a fool of myself. If I spoke out of turn, or disagreed with him, he’d hit me. Never in public, he’d wait till we were alone, and always where the marks would be hidden by my clothes. He was punishing me for mistakes I made, “bad things” I’d done. Obviously, I wasn’t smart enough to learn just by being told… so the punishments were necessary, and they were ALWAYS (at least by his logic) my fault. I always thought that if I could just get things together, and be a good girlfriend, everything would change, and our relationship would change into this beautiful perfect love like in the movies (hey, I was young, and dumb… what can I say).

But things never got better, I never could seem to manage to become a 'good" girlfriend. I did everything he said, without thinking. His slightest wish was a command I would do anything to fulfill. But I was never good enough. We were together for almost 2 and a half years. All that time, my parents, and most of my friends thought he was wonderful. They never knew a thing. What saved me was going away to school. I won an academic scholarship (obviously, spelling was not a factor), to a good private university, and my father would not let me turn it down, so we were forced apart. (he applied to the school I went to, but didn’t get accepted, so he went to a state school a little over 100 miles away). While I was at school, he would call me, and send me e-mail, explaining in detail exactly why I was not to leave my room except for classes and meals, and I was to sit alone at meals etc. He claimed to have people watching me, so I’d better ‘fess’ up and tell him what a little whore I’d been. He didn’t have to threaten me. I knew what would be waiting, and I knew it was worse everytime.

College saved my life. I made new friends, friends who asked my opinion. I met guys, who didn’t know I had a boyfriend, so they asked me out. With the help and protection of a very strong friend, who later became my boyfriend, I beat my personal demons, found my backbone (and the last remaining shreads of my self esteem) and got out of that relationship.

To this day, the evil bastard ex-boyfriend insists that I am the bitch who broke his heart. And pretty much everyone I knew in high school believes him. But I honestly don’t care. Evil-ex is married now, and I’m pretty certain his current relationship is not abusive. I’ve known his wife for a long time…and I know the way he works, if he was abusing her, I’d know. My current take on the situation is that I was a potential victim, and he was a potential abuser, before we met. If either one of those had not been true, our relationship would probably not have taken the turn it did. The abuse was all about power.

Well Gravity I think we lived polar lives somewhere.
It’s weird when you read your own life on the screen written by someone else!!

The weird thing is my Mum knew what she had gotten herself into because one day she said to me (when refering to a friend of the family who was in an abusive relationship)
“X stays with Y because she doesn’t want to be alone, don’t you ever let that happen to you. Always be with someone who treats you right, and don’t be afraid to stay single and wait for the right man”.
Those words stuck with me, I was about 14 at the time, and for the next 10 - 15 years I floated from one relationship to another, and if I saw even a hint of anger in someone or someone who didn’t treat me like a goddess I was gone!
I made a choice about who got to be in my life and I was very picky (not in an egotistical way), because of what my mother said and what I saw her live.

You can fight nature and not join the merry-go-round of abuse.

I have a friend who thinks I became gay (?) because there were no loving male role models in my life, and I only ever saw men as abusive bastards… but that’s a whole different thread!

No one has mentioned the dynamic of children in keeping someone in an abusive relationship.

I have never been in an abusive relationship or known of abuse in a friend’s relationship, so I don’t speak from the experience of other posters.

BUT I can certainly imagine that if I woman believed she would lose her children if she left an abusive relationship that a woman who would otherwise leave might stay.

She could believe this because the guy preys on her fears “No judge would give kids to a basket case like you” “I’ll tell them you’ve been sexualy molesting them” or because it is very realisic-the guy is very powerful, has a lot of money, is a lawyer or a judge…