Why would a woman stay in a relationship with a guy who puts her down, hems her in, and perhaps even physically abuses her? Why would a woman hold down two jobs to keep the rent paid and food on the table while her boyfriend sits around smoking weed all day? Why oh why would a woman allow herself to be emotionally blackmailed by her boyfriend’s threats that he will kill himself or her or both if she even talks about leaving a relationship that is going nowhere?
There’s no easy answer. Often it’s a complicated mix of a number of answers. If you wonder why on earth you stay with the guy who keeps hurting you in spite of promises to do better, in spite of protestations that he loves you, in spite of your obvious distress about how things are going, see if you recognize yourself in any of these common reasons.
But please be careful not to jump to conclusions based on a list. It’s not at all uncommon for relationships to have some challenging times. Reasons for staying become problems when they become excuses or ways we fool ourselves into believing that things aren’t that bad when in fact they are. If you keep getting hurt; if you know in your heart that the relationship is diminishing you but you still keep going back for more, it may be time for you to get into therapy or to find the resources in your community that help women extricate themselves from a controlling or abusive relationship.
8 Bad Reasons Women Stay in Painful Relationships
- Because being someone’s everything is intoxicating stuff – at least at first. When you met, he only had eyes for you. He called to say good morning. He called to say “I love you” at lunch. He wanted to be the last voice you heard before you went to sleep. When you left work or your last class for the day, there he was – waiting for you. If another guy even looked at you, he put his arm protectively around you. If a guy friend called you up, he pouted. He wanted all your attention. In exchange, he gave you attention as no one ever had before. He wined you and dined you (or at least took you out for pizza and a beer several times a week) and made you feel like a princess. Sounds like any romantic beginning, doesn’t it?
If your guy is so insecure that he needs control, his attention gradually became claustrophobic. Over time, his demands for all your attention all the time hemmed you in. You found yourself frantically explaining your every move that didn’t involve him. Staying a bit late for work, a girls’ night out, even a visit to your mother on a Saturday morning became grounds for a fight. What started out as wonderful attention became not so wonderful control.
- Because these guys can be absolutely charming. You didn’t fall in love with your boyfriend for no good reason. He can be charming. He can be romantic. He can say the things that every woman would like to hear. Sometimes he lets you see a sweet vulnerability that melts your heart. He seems to feel genuinely terrible after the two of you have had a big fight. He brings apologies and flowers. He promises he’ll be less jealous. He says you really are his everything. Lovemaking at times like these is delicious. He says all the right things to make you want to give him another chance. Things are wonderful for awhile. But then it starts all over again. You come home a little late and his eyes look stormy. You make a phone call and he has to know just who you’re talking to. Pretty soon, you’re feeling hemmed in again and you know that there’s going to be another blow-out…
- Because you don’t feel you deserve any better. Maybe you grew up in a family where you were told that you were no good, ugly, clumsy, or incompetent. Maybe your father or mother even told you “No one will ever love you.” Perhaps you were an ugly duckling in high school who never had a date or you were never accepted by the people you wished were your friends. Maybe you’ve had a series of disastrous relationships or no relationships at all. Your self-esteem is in the cellar. Even though a part of you knows that your family should have treated you better; even though you understand that high school is harsh for a lot of people, there’s an even bigger part of you that feels that maybe all the people who rejected you were right – you really are a loser. You’ve become convinced you should be grateful for any smidgen of caring your boyfriend provides – even if it is painful.
- Because you don’t know any better. All the women you grew up with were in abusive, difficult relationships. All your girlfriends complain about men who don’t do their share and who stopped being “Mr. Wonderful” long ago. Lacking role models for positive, loving relationships, you think good relationships only happen in the movies. Although you can agree in theory that women deserve to be treated with consideration and respect by the men who love them, you’ve never seen such a relationship up close and personal.
- Because he scares you or manipulates you. There are men who aren’t a bit subtle about their need for control. Try to leave and they threaten to hurt you or your kids or other people you care about. He may have even grabbed you too hard or hit you or locked you in a room or waved a gun around. When he goes into a rage, there’s no telling what he might do. So you do everything you can to prevent it – including staying.
The manipulators are equally effective in trapping their women. They say they will commit suicide if you leave – and it will be all your fault. They are masters at making you feel guilty even when you don’t have a clue what you are guilty for. Fights inevitably shift to all the things you’ve done wrong – or at least wronger than him. You end up staying to make amends and make it right or because you can’t bear the idea of living with the guilt if he hurts himself.
- Because you truly believe you can change him. Because the relationship started out so wonderfully and because he can be so terrific after a fight, you hold onto the idea that you can bring out the best in him. All you have to do is find the right words and behave in the right way, and you’ll have the man of your dreams. Love conquers all, right? Wrong. No one can make another person be anything. He has to want it. He has to be willing to work on it. He has to want to change because it will make him a better person, not because he made an insincere promise in order to make up after a fight. Even though you know all this, you convince yourself that you’re an exception. You’re going to find a way.
- Because you are more afraid of being alone again than of being in a painful relationship. You’ve been alone and it’s lonely. You want someone to talk to in the evening, to cuddle up to at night, to at least once in awhile take the kids. Even picking up his laundry, cooking meals he doesn’t appreciate, and fighting with him is more appealing than coming home to an empty house. If he does help pay the bills and do a few chores (and especially if he pays most of the bills and can be counted on to do some of the heavy work), it’s even harder to think about going it alone. Supporting a family and doing everything to maintain a household as a single person is really, really hard. Maintaining the fiction that you have a partner feels better than dealing with the reality of going it alone.
- Because you love him. The most common answer I get when I ask women why they stay in bad relationships is “because I love him.” Love isn’t always rational, it’s true. There’s no accounting for chemistry. But the fact is that love, especially one-sided love, isn’t enough to sustain a relationship. It’s like one hand clapping.
If you are always on the giving end in the relationship; if you’ve accepted indifference, abuse, or manipulation because you don’t believe you deserve or can get better, it’s time to take charge of your life and to make some changes. If your guy will agree, try out couples therapy. Couples can and do change with commitment to the process and love for each other. If your boyfriend won’t join you in the project, get some therapy for yourself. Build up your self-esteem, develop the skills you need to be successful in the world, and increase your confidence in yourself. A stronger you will be able to hold out for the loving relationship that you deserve.
If you are afraid to end your relationship, you need help and support to stay safe. Call the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence at 800-537-2238 or visit their website at www.ncdsv.org/.
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2009). Why Women Stay with Controlling Men. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/why-women-stay-with-controlling-men/0002648
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.