By: Violet Chooi, HELP University Student & SOLS Health Intern.
When people hear that someone is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, their first question is usually, “Why don’t they just leave?”
This response might seem logical to those who have never endured an abusive relationship. However, when it comes to domestic violence abuse, there are many complexities that may influence a person’s decision to stay or leave an abusive partner. Here are a few reasons why someone in a toxic marriage might choose to stay with their partner, despite the abuse done against them:
1. Cultural stigma towards divorce
Certain cultures adopt unfavourable attitudes towards the act of divorce, with some regarding it as an unfavourable course of action. For example, many East Asian societies place a large degree of emphasis on family unity and self-sacrifice. This means that sustaining a marriage is equated to both individual moral value and family honour. Following this view, divorce is considered as a shameful act as it symbolises marital breakdown. In these cultures, abuse survivors seeking divorce are more likely to face discrimination from their communities and even blamed for causing trouble. This results in many choosing to stay in abusive relationships, even if remaining in the marriage conflicts against their personal wellbeing.
2. Financial constraints
Domestic violence survivors who are financially dependent on their spouses may find it difficult to leave their abusive relationships, out of fear that they would not be able to financially fend for themselves nor their children.
Some survivors choose put their children first, by sacrificing their own wellbeing for the sake of keeping the family unit intact. They choose to stay in an abusive relationship to protect their children from enduring the trauma of divorce, and having to grow up in a “broken family”.
4. Disempowerment due to lack of awareness and/or denial of abuse
Aside from direct physical violence, emotional and psychological abuse in a marriage are equally serious forms of domestic violence. Unfortunately, many societies tend to normalize these “invisible” behaviours, resulting in survivors unable to recognize patterns of abuse, or unable to judge when their relationship turns unhealthy and abusive. Victims may be in denial or have a distorted view of their partner’s harmful behaviours; they may believe that their partner is acting out of love, when it’s the opposite.
What can we do?
By understanding these barriers that prevent survivors from leaving an abusive relationship ¾ whether they are psychological, emotional, or financial obstacles ¾ we can support and empower them to make the best decision for themselves.
It is important to reach out to those who are affected by domestic violence and ensure that they understand that staying with the abuser will cause them further harm. By attentively listening to their struggles and providing a safe space away from their abuser, this creates an opportunity to point the victim to further help, such as therapy sessions or welfare programs.
By spreading more awareness and education about domestic violence, as well as extending support services to survivors in the community, we can aim to empower more individuals to speak up and be unafraid in seeking help or disclosing their experiences of abuse. We can help them be BRAVE!