Celebrity gossip sites are beside themselves with the news that Rihanna has gotten back together with singer Chris Brown, even after photos of the bruises Brown allegedly gave Rihanna became public knowledge.
It’s nothing new that women often return to men who abuse them. And too often, in the rush to judge women who return to abusers, we forget that abusers aren’t abusive 24 hours a day, and it’s much more difficult to permanently leave an abusive relationship than many of us wish to acknowledge.
Moreover, sometimes — very rarely — abusers do actually get treatment and change their behavior, so in the case of Rihanna and Chris Brown, it’s important not to assume we know the facts of their relationship.
Nevertheless, in most cases women are returning to men who will continue to abuse them. Here are some of the factors that can contribute to such a decision.
It’s easy to forget that abuse doesn’t necessarily make a woman love her abuser any less. Indeed, for women with low self-esteem or who have been abused by others in their life, the abuse may actually make them more attached to their abusers.
In almost all cases, legitimate love for the abuser plays a significant role in the woman’s decision to return, and people working with abused women must be willing to help them grieve over the loss of the relationship if they leave the relationship.
Abusers aren’t typically abusive all of the time. Frequently, they are people with real problems controlling their anger and serious issues with women. They often harbor sexist ideas about women’s roles and experience intense regret when they lash out at a woman.
The cycle of abuse followed by extreme apologies lures many women into believing that the abuse was a one-time thing or that the abuser will really change. Combined with a deep love for the abuser, this hope can be a powerful thing that compels women to re-enter extremely dangerous situations.
Women who have been abused by multiple people, who grew up in abusive households, or who have low self-esteem may not view abuse as the aberrant behavior of someone with serious problems. For these women, abuse feels normal and it’s difficult for them to truly grasp the severity of an abusive relationship.
Fear is almost always a motivating factor in a woman’s decision to return to an abusive relationship. Women are in the most danger during the period immediately after they leave their relationships, and even women who truly want out may return in a desperate attempt to save their lives.
More mundane fears might also factor in. Many women are dependent upon their abusers or are afraid their abusers may attempt to take away their children. Other women worry that they will be unable to protect their children if the abuser is granted visitation with the children, so opt to stay in the home where they can supervise.
Lack of Support
Both emotional and material support are vital to helping abused women leave. The judgment and questions of friends and family often compel women to return to abusive relationships when they have no one to talk to or lean on.
And when women don’t have a place to go, don’t have people available to help with their children, or don’t have access to vital resources, they are much more likely to return to abusive relationships.
Berscheid, E., Regan, P. C. (2005). The psychology of interpersonal relationships. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Hunter, J. V. (2010). But he'll change: Ending the thinking that keeps you in abusive relationships. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Edited by Jody Smith