Research has shown that, on average, women who are in an abusive relationship will experience physical abuse 100 times per year. Psychological abuse is even more prevalent. From the outside, it's mind boggling that someone would willingly want to put up with such behavior.
However, the psychology behind domestic abuse is very complex. It comes down to three main psychological aspects. These are internal beliefs, external barriers and intermittent reinforcement by their partners.
Social norms dictate that women are inherently nurturing creatures. Often they do not see the abusive nature of their partner's actions. They may interpret jealous behavior as endearing. When they are abused, they blame themselves. They continue believing that if they try harder and love more, they will be able to fix the abusive relationship. Women who are abused often have low self-esteem. They subconsciously think that the abuse is deserved. They feel insecure, depressed, and anxious. In short, they rationalize the dynamics of the relationship at the cost of their own sense of self.
However, there are some factors that would make it easier for a woman to decide to leave an abusive relationship:
- Younger age
- Having visited an abuse related physician
- Experiencing a high level of psychological abuse as opposed to physical abuse
- Having previously left an abusive situation
If a woman believes that she can nurture the relationship she is less likely to leave. Especially if the abuse is mostly physical, or if she had invested irretrievable resources into the relationship. While psychological abuse is a stronger trigger to leave an abusive relationship, she is more likely to stay if she believes that the relationship can be fixed.
Interventions showing that abuse is not part of a good relationship might lower willingness to stay in the relationship. Yet, there is a risk that she might feel deprived of her ability to make her own decisions. This could end up leaving her more vulnerable for further abuse.
External barriers of Leaving an Abusive Relationship
Once an abused woman stops rationalizing her partner's behavior and starts to see herself as a true victim, her level of commitment to the relationship drops to a level that she might consider leaving her partner. Yet there are several barriers that might prevent her from leaving:
- Financial dependency
- Lack of family support
- Impact on well-being of her children
- Seeking but not receiving support
Each of these aspects may leave the woman feeling more entrapped in her situation.
Intermittent reinforcement by their partners
Men who abuse their partners have several tactics. They mainly seek to have their partners feel subordinate. These men seek to deprive her of her independence. They make it difficult to escape by isolating her from sources of support and financial resources.
Intermittent reinforcement is a powerful tactic used to make women stay. When the man switches from good behavior to abusive behavior in an uneven pattern, he fools the woman into thinking that the relationship is worth saving. This will make the woman keep coming back. She'll keep blaming herself as well as rationalizing the relationship. It all comes down to one question:
Will I be better off if I leave?