Hello! Morally corrupt anon from like a month or two ago lol. You've helped me sooo much with the issues I've had, allowing me to ACTUALLY WRITE! So thank you! Buuut, I do have another question, this one requiring a TW for abuse, unfortunately. How do I correctly write the MC abusing her boyfriend physically and mentally, yet she manages to make him come back to her many, many times? Thank you!
I’m so glad I was able to help you, love! Thanks for continuing to follow me :) This is an interesting question, which I’ve been eager to answer for a few days now!
CONTENT WARNING: This post contains the discussion of physical and mental abuse. I’ve tagged it for TWs, but if this topic is upsetting to you, please scroll past!
Why People Stay in Abusive Relationships
So first, I’m gonna drop a link in for my post on the different causes behind abusive behavior. The reason behind your MC’s behavior affects the kind of abuse, as well as their S.O.’s ability to justify it. The less you understand the heart behind your MC’s behavior, the more difficult it’ll be to portray it realistically.
But shameless self-promotion aside – there are a few different reasons that people stay in (or return to) abusive relationships, and some of them probably won’t fit with some character personalities. Consider your character’s strengths, weaknesses, and personal desires as you read these options. These are also numbered for easy navigation, not as a most-to-least common list.
Fear is one of the chief reasons for a person to stay in a bad relationship, primarily because fear is a common consequence of abuse. If the abuse is physical, the abused person may be afraid of being harmed if they were to break off the relationship. Even if the abuse is non-physical, there is fear of how the MC will react; an abuser may, depending on the type of abuse, lash out verbally, damage the victim’s property, share secrets or lies about the victim, release sensitive material (e.g. nudes), or even threaten to harm themselves/commit suicide as a means of manipulating the victim into staying.
Going further, the abused person’s fear may not have anything to do with the abuser. They could be afraid of loneliness or living alone. Some people remain in bad relationships to avoid dating again, having to find a new apartment/job/school in order to separate from the abuser, or simply standing up for themselves and having that conversation with the abuser. It may be as simple as a fear of change itself,
These issues are most common with (but not exclusive to): dominant/submissive relationships, in which the victim is aware they’re being abused.
Codependency is more commonly a result of mental/emotional abuse, and it inconspicuously gives the abuser a lot of power. It runs as a two-way street, sometimes both ways at the same time – the victim may feel dependent on the abuser, or they may feel that the abuser is dependent on them. In any case, breaking up is more of a matter of “Can I?” instead of “Should I?”
Codependency develops in a few different ways. If the abuser makes a habit of insulting or belittling the victim, controlling them, or isolating them from other support systems, the victim will begin to feel a different kind of attachment to their abuser – one borne of necessity. Abuse puts the victim in a constant place of defense, or “survival mode”. If the abuser erases all other parts of the victim’s life, so that their only comfort can come from the abuser, the victim will feel incapable of “surviving” without them.
The other kind of codependency, though, is a reversal; the abuser, manipulating the victim consciously or not, presents themselves too weak, mentally unstable, misunderstood, or isolated to “survive” without the victim. This places a feeling of responsibility on the victim, prompting them to be a “good boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/partner” and stand by them. They may even like the feeling of taking care of their abuser. The responsibility may even take over their life, until they feel that without their abuser to maintain, they’d have no direction or purpose.
These issues are most common with (but not exclusive to): relationships where one member is more responsible or controlling and the other is more emotionally unstable or unconfident. It may be that the victim has a history of being taken care of or having to take care of loved ones, making this less of a manipulation and more of a natural (but still unhealthy) reaction.
In many cases, victims of abuse can be wide awake to their situation – everyone around them could be telling them they need to get out of the relationship, that this treatment isn’t deserved or fair – and yet, they don’t leave their abuser. Rather, they normalize the treatment, or believe the abuser when they tell the victim it’s normal. They may buy into the idea that the abusive behavior is: A) a typical reaction, B) an abnormal but fair reaction, or C) a reaction forced by the victim’s “mistakes” or “shortcomings”.
Normalization can be a result of poor self-esteem – a belief that the victim doesn’t deserve better, because this treatment is good enough – and is often exacerbated by a lack of trust in anyone other than their abuser. It can cause the victim to isolate themselves from friends/family, or even from anything that shows a “fairytale relationship” – TV, movies, music, books, etc.
These issues are most common with (but not exclusive to): people with avoidant personalities or kind/forgiving types. It’s most prevalent in extremely young relationships (when the victim has no other romantic experience) or in mid-life relationships (when the victim is willing to settle for fear of being alone).
When a person first experiences abuse, it’s a shocking (and often humiliating) experience. They may not immediately speak out about their experience, nor will they always confront their abuser about it. This leads to the victim allowing abuse to continue, and the longer this goes on, the more embarrassing it can be for the victim to leave the relationship – especially if the abuse is physical and has left evidence of the mistreatment. Even if they don’t tell anyone about the abuse, the victim may be afraid that their abuser will talk about the relationship to friends or family.
There’s also the case of the victim telling their loved ones about the abuse, in which case the loved ones would advise them to leave. If the victim ignores their advice and stays in the relationship, they may be embarrassed to later admit they were wrong. In another vein, the victim may feel ashamed of how they acted or treated others in defense of their abuser. Bad relationships can create rifts in families, friendships, or non-platonic relationships (potential lovers or ex-lovers for example).
These issues are most common with (but not exclusive to): people with pride or insecurity in their image, as well as stubborn or private people. This seems more obviously applicable to physically or sexually abusive relationships, but can be common with verbal/emotional abuse (as this kind of abuse is considered “mild” or not even “true abuse” by some people).
I saved the worst for last. When the victim is in love with their abuser, leaving the relationship becomes even harder to accomplish. Love can inspire the victim to justify, support, and defend their abuser’s actions – and love being the passionate feeling it is, convincing the victim that they’re being abused can be that much more difficult. Victims who love their abusers can misinterpret abuse as an expression of love, which, even once they’re out of the relationship, can damage their view of love and respect. It can lead to future abusive relationships, and in some cases, to the victim become an abuser to someone else.
On the other hand, love can also blind the victim to the abuse, causing them to focus on the “good times” and good qualities of the abuser. The victim can go into complete denial, lying to others about their treatment and getting defensive when loved ones ask about the abuser. The victim may believe that they can change the abuser, or that the abuse is only due to a tough time – the abuser’s stress, or their own “bad behavior”. And ultimately, the victim may be hesitant to leave for fear of never loving anyone the same again.
These issues are most common with (but not exclusive to): dreamer types, romantic types, or longstanding relationships that develop into abusive relationships.
A final note: Your question was specific to returning to an abusive relationship multiple times, so I want to add that once an abused person gets the nerve up to leave their abuser, there will likely be a (perhaps brief) victory period before they return to the relationship. This is usually sparked by some emotional compromise (getting fired, getting dumped, or any feeling of rejection, loneliness, or need) which sends them back to the abuser for comfort. It won’t just be a situation of leaving and coming back, back and forth. There has to be a reason for every change.
Anyway, this post was long as hell, but I hope this helps you! If any of my followers have something to add, I’ll gladly signal boost it :) If you have any more questions, my inbox is always open. If not, good luck!