Facebook Pixel

Reasons Women Return to Abusive Relationships

Rate This
why women return to abusers BananaStock/Thinkstock

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

Add a Comment2 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

If you wa t the abusers take responsibility for their feelings and actions the “victim” needs to as well. And the truth of what they are doing is hurting theirselves & to avoid responsibility of that they use the abuser to project that on. While the abuser, instead of hurting theirself chooses to inflict that pain onto others. “I’ll get you before you get me” & “I’ll get me before you get me” hurt people hurt people & the only way to rid the cancerous hurt that continues person to person generation to generation is Love. True Love. These women or abused men don’t Love their partners they placed their identity in one another in an attempt to fill that void for Love we all have but we can not give away what we dont already have for ourselvesfirst. The “abused” dont respect theirself, protect theirself, the only reason their in relationships is for others to meet their needs.. avoid loneliness, avoid judgment, a source for opinions, compliments, etc. this is self seeking ...when True Love is chosen into our lives/hearts and made our #1 motivation, goal, source for living, etc (our God) it will complete us & that Love will be what overflows I to the lives of others. We can walk away from any relationship bc we arefull and overflow I to others lives instead of dependent upon them for acceptance, attention, attraction, affection, attachment constantly feeding our void w temporary fixes. Love is an action. We must choose patience instead of being panicked or annoyed. We choose trust instead of worry. Always firgive instead of guilt trips. When we Love ourselves peace & joy will be fruits produced. Love gives us an option for every hurtful feeling known to us. We must choose Love always. If we leave our hearts door wide open any shameful feeling or insult from others will ransack our home and leave us empty at the end of the day & although the criminal is the guilty party not protecting what we value is asking for the consequences. A home w no boundaries, no fence, no door will soon be a shell of a what wasonce a home. Our hearts are no different. We must build red flags for anger, disrespect, lies, despair and check them at the door before letting those words or thoughts stroll right in to do what it wants. We’ve gotta look through that peephole & kick it to the curb keeping that which is Love in always instead. Love is patience, kindness, hope, Truth. The same idea goes for our countriesborders. If we allow anyone to walk right in not telling us who they are first we will soon be a shell of a nation. The abus d return because they relied upon their significant other to validate them, fill in their faults, make them worthy of living. They believe their “abuser” can change & that they are exactly what they need to make them happy & who they were created to be. Just like the “abusers” see their mate as if they were the glue keeping them together and without them they’d fall to pieces. They both have a god-complex. The victim & the hero. And it’s because the “Love” they chase after isn’t truly Love it’s the wolf in sheeps clothing. There’s is only 1 Love because God is Love and thetesonly 1 True God. It may look & feel like Love but with just one ingredient off, such as guilt trips instead of forgiveness/grace that shame will slowly but surely little by little eventually whittle you away to nothing. It’s drinking that koolI’d that has a little funny feeling in your stomach at the end of the evening. If you don’t know true real Love & what it feels like & the power you’re given to navigate your life, not be held on to situations in the past or people you can’t control you will slowly poison yourself before waking up a shell of a person or sitting in that boiling water cooking without ever noticing. Love aka God can not exist in our hearts at the same time worry or anger or insults are welcomed at the same time. It’s one or the other. If sadness is present and is welcomed in we are not Lovibg ourself. That guilt we allow space will be what will come out onto others in sane way. The abuse was always there , the abused just never recognize it and the abusers are desensitized as well being that’s the way they “love” theirself daily. Judgmental people pick theirselves apart. Gracious people allow theirself grace. There are those that know what Love is & those that do not. We attract those like us and stay away from those that aren’t because the needs aren’t met or the other is too demanding, high-maintanence, clingy. Victims that return are just as blind as the “abusers” treating them in the same way they treat theirself. Make Love your God and your foundation stays internal. It doesn’t matter who comes who goes. If your house burns down. If you become paralyzed. Anything external that you have no control over can happen and your identity, peace, joy will not be shaken “victims” have an identity issue. They make their abusers God. Wish to be controlled, they see their weaknesses no longer as faults, they live to please this person and their rules instead of God & His which do nothing but good. Life without God is disrespecting the true selves we are created to become. This disrespect will be passed onto others &/or we will point fingers at others as if they said something to make us feel it when in reality our feelings are our responsibility. Completely. Nobody can make us happy. Wechoose to allow it. Nobody can make us angry or punch a wall. That’s our choice when we could choose to Love ourselves instead.
Redefibe Love. The world Loves to deceive us to believe its a feeling or the disgraceful definitions alluded to in popular music. Create red flags. And go where the Love is. Thanks for reading. Hope this helps.

May 10, 2018 - 10:52pm

Unfortunately this is a vicious cycle. You hope that the abuser(either male or female) will eventually change and become the person you hope they will. But its a rare person that changes like that.

Marielaina Perrone DDS
Henderson Dental Implants

October 16, 2012 - 9:05am
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Domestic Abuse

Get Email Updates

Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!