Women stay in abusive relationships due to a combination of low self-esteem, poor alternatives and how much they have already invested in the relationship, research finds.
Despite being abused, many women (and men) find it hard to leave their partner.
Only 12% of the women in this study who were abused — psychologically or physically — left their partner within two months.
Many women felt they were not worthy of something better.
Their low self-esteem was sometimes the result of experiencing childhood abuse — this appeared to raise their tolerance for abuse.
The conclusions come from a study of 323 women, all of whom reported at least one incident of abuse, whether physical or psychological.
Psychological abuse included things like “called me fat or ugly” or “insulted or swore at me”.
Most of the abuse reported in the study was psychological.
The results showed that 88% of women were still with an abusive partner over two months later.
The authors write that:
“…women experiencing high levels of psychological distress may not feel efficacious in their ability to leave their partners.”
Childhood abuse was an important contributory factor, the authors write:
“…women who were abused in childhood were more satisfied with their current relationships than women who were not abused in childhood.
It is possible that women with childhood abuse histories are more satisfied in their relationships than women without childhood abuse histories because they have more tolerance for mistreatment based on early life experiences and resulting interpersonal schemas.”
Being abused had an unusual effect on women: it encouraged them to work harder at their relationship.
“…the more psychological abuse women are exposed to, the more energy and effort they put forth to resolve the conflict, thus leading to increases in perceived investment.”
And the more women invested in their relationship, the more likely they were to stay in it.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence (Edwards et al., 2010).