Photograph of two young men, shown from their mid-torsos down, wearing casual clothes and jeans, walking and holding hands in the middle of a street

“Why Do I Love My Abuser?”

We hear from many people who are in abusive relationships, and even those who have left relationships, but say that they love their abusive partner. They wonder, “Why do I love someone who has hurt me so much?” It can feel strange, confusing and even wrong to love someone who has chosen to be abusive. 

While these feelings can be difficult to understand, they aren’t strange and they aren’t wrong. Love isn’t something that just disappears overnight. It’s a connection and emotional attachment that you create with another person. Love comes with a lot of investment of time, energy and trust. It’s not easy to just let go of a life you’ve built with someone, whether they’re abusive toward you or not.

If you’re struggling with feelings of love for an abusive partner, it could be for a number of reasons. Let’s dive into what might be contributing to these feelings:

You Remember the “Good Times”

Abuse typically doesn’t happen right away in a relationship, and it tends to escalate over time as an abusive partner becomes more controlling. You may remember the beginning of the relationship when your partner was charming and thoughtful. You may see good qualities in your partner; they might be a great friend to others, or maybe they contribute to their community. It’s not shameful to love someone for who they could be, or for the person they led you to believe they were.

After hurtful or destructive behavior reaches a peak, there may be periods of “calm” in your relationship when your partner makes apologies and promises that the abuse will never happen again. During calmer periods, it might seem like your partner is back to being their “old self” – the wonderful person they were at the beginning of the relationship. You might feel that if you could just do or say the “right” things, the person you fell in love with would stay and the abuse would end. But, there is nothing you could do or say to prevent the abuse, because the abuse is not your fault. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the choices your partner makes. Those periods of calm are often a tactic that an abusive partner uses to further confuse and control their partner.

Your Partner Has Experienced Their Own Trauma

Abusive partners are human beings who are complex, like everyone else. They may be dealing with their own traumas, past or present. As their partner, you care about them, and maybe you hoped you could help or “fix” them. But whether they’re dealing with a mental illness, addiction or an abusive childhood, there is NO excuse for them to abuse their partner in the present. Abuse is always a choice and is never okay. The truth is, even though you love your partner, you can’t “fix” another person. It’s up to them to get help addressing their own trauma and their abusive behavior.

Love Can Be a Survival Technique

For many victims, feelings of love for an abusive partner can also be a survival technique. It is very difficult for a non-abusive person to understand how someone they love, and who claims to love them, could harm or mistreat them. To cope, they detach from their pain or terror by subconsciously beginning to see things from the abusive partner’s view. This process can intensify when an abusive partner uses gaslighting techniques to control or manipulate their partner. The victim begins to agree with the abuser, and certain aspects of the victim’s own personality and perspective fade over time. By doing this, the victim learns how to “appease” the abusive partner, which may temporarily keep them from being hurt. The need to survive may be compounded if a victim depends on their abusive partner financially, physically or in some other way.

You might want to believe your partner when they say that things will change and get better because you love them, and they say they love you. It’s ok to feel that love and want to believe your partner. But it’s important to consider your own safety and that what your partner is giving you isn’t actually love. Love is something that is safe, supportive, trusting and respectful. Abuse is not any of these things; it’s about power and control. It IS possible to love someone and, at the same time, realize that they aren’t a safe or healthy person to be around. You deserve to be safe, respected and truly loved at all times.

Want to speak confidentially with an advocate about your own situation? Call, chat or text with us any time!

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24 replies

Comments

  1. Collette
    Collette says:

    [Admin note: This comment has been edited for safety per our community guidelines]

    I have never seen my situation on a site about abuse. My college student daughter is verbally, emotionally and mentally abusing me. As a single mom, she is dependant on me as a place to be when on school break, for student aid applications, and most motherly things. So, how can I set boundaries? I have set them, enforced them, and increased the consequences many times, but it is at the point of, if continues, I am at the final stage of “stay somewhere else”. But I can’t bring myself to do that . In high school, after a very difficult time, she literally became a different person. I know she must have a serious mental disorder, has gotten counseling at college, can see an increase in effort to change, but her rages come out of nowhere, are extreme, with head banging, wild eyes, throwing herself on the floor, screaming and is relentless. Most disturbing are the times she insists on an apology for an imaged harm I have done. I consistently refuse to give a false apology, instead remaining calm. Instead, I will try to gently hug her, however, the last two times, I caught her expression and it was a contemptuous smirk and fear ran through my body. Sure enough, I just learned that she has expressed at college that I was mentally ill and she suffered neglect and abuse at my hands. I calmly confronted her about it and her response was to try to “gaslight” me. It was a complete betrayal, slander, and horrifying, yet I am sure she actually believes it. As you have mentioned, I always have this thought that somehow, someday, she will return to the loving, delightful, happy, sincere, thoughtful, person she once was. But that hope has faded to almost nothing. How does a mother handle this without abandoning her child?

    Reply
    • LIRAdmin_BR
      LIRAdmin_BR says:

      Hi Collette,

      Thank you for sharing your story with us. This sounds like such a difficult situation, and we are so sorry to hear that you are being treated this way by your daughter. It sounds like you have tried your best to make things better, but your daughter is still choosing to be abusive toward you. Abuse is always a choice, and only the person who is choosing to be abusive can stop the behavior. Even if your daughter is diagnosed with a mental disorder, that is not an excuse for abusive behavior. We specialize in dating abuse and intimate partner violence, so we may not be the best resource for you. The BoysTown national hotline might be a good place to start finding help and resources for your situation. We wish you the very best moving forward.

      Reply
      • Collette
        Collette says:

        Thank you for your kind and supportive words. I will try the BoysTown. The idea that abuse is a choice really woke up my mind. Seeing it that way changes everything. Thank you.

        Reply
  2. Stockholmsister
    Stockholmsister says:

    [Admin note: This comment has been edited for safety per our community guidelines]

    Yup,it feels like an impoosible to overcome barrier keeping me from moving oni love my abusive husband. Its just my situation looks so different from the sterotype. My spouse is really strange i know he has adhd out the ass but there’s something very sinister about his antics, my husband abuse looks like something out of a 3rd grade bully, he rough houses and wrestles with me like its all just fun and games, ive play fighted with others but he is the only person who doesn’t stop when asked. I’ve had neighbors athreaten to call the cops cause he was tickling me and wouldn’t stop even though i was screaming my head off asking him to stop, the other day out of the blue while driving nol less he grabbed my wrist pulled my arm up and back and held me like that and demanded i call him ‘daddy’ cause he knows how creepy i think it is,he get off,not sexually, on making me uncomfortable or angry, thinks its cute when im mad. He’ll try and tell me quit overacting quit screaming this doesn’t hurt or im not actually going to break your arm relax. He’s also a terrible driver who insist hes great and im just crazy. He’s messed up both of our credit because weve had to apply for so many car loans cause he totaled two cars already and is working on number three he just hit a semi cause he drives like hes in a fast and furious movie and drnted our front end so now the driver door popps when you open it and it pisses me off that yet again a car i like tyrns into and ugly beat up ugly mobile. If i crashed a car i would learn from it but to this day i cantbe in the car as a relaxed passenger iim constanly like stop tailgating breaks or just screaming gasping or flinching. Sometimes he drives worse or gets mad at me when i freak out. He also does the whole mutal abuse thing when i defend myself so the day i hit him cause he was holding me down, tickling wrestling playing would not stop gave him fair warning so i hit the closest r thing the top of his head and threatened to divorce and call the cops, i wish he did it would of been his dumbest mistake. I could go on and on this motherfucker is going to kill me but i freaking cant stay mad. The thought of dumping him seeing him sad or hurt never having him in my life never seeing or talking him holding him . Were practically newlyweds i cant stand to see him sad. He was crying because his mom wanted to put down his childhood dog, even though the poor animal is suffering from chronic infections, i put the dogs needs aside and went crazy to find a no death solution at the expense of the poor animal and did so he cried and got what he wanted. He has me tied to his finger. I know i should leave but i dont want to, i guess ill have to waste years of my life until i either die or something changes and i hate him. Ive always sucked at breakups, a bit of wisdom for you dads with daughters, dont ban her from dating, she will do it behind your back and you wont beable to teach her how to be safe whats healthy and whats not. If your never allowed to date you wont go to parents for advice, like how and when to breakup, and end up like me. Anyway thats my rant thank goodness for resources like this at least now im willing to admit and recognize that this is an obviously abusive situation whether i do anything about it is another matter. Right now my thing is i draw a hard line at having kids I’m not bringing innocent children into this and he wants kids for some reason as soon as possible even though we are in no way capable of supporting one … its crazy he has no respect for how hard parenting is, and impact it has, very naive cavalier additude. I could do this all day so just going to cut myself off here thanks again great blog.

    Reply
    • LIRAdmin_BR
      LIRAdmin_BR says:

      Hi Stockholmsister,

      Thank you for sharing your story here. We know that abuse looks different in every relationship, because every relationship is different. It sounds like there’s a lot going on in your relationship that concerns you or doesn’t make you happy. You absolutely deserve to be in a relationship where you feel safe, heard and respected. We’d be happy to talk through your situation with you any time. Just call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website or text loveis to 22522!

      Reply
  3. Sam
    Sam says:

    So, for my senior project I’m gathering resources about abuse in relationships and putting them in a booklet format, I really want to use this article. Can I use this article? How should I go about putting it into my booklet? I can’t find a way to just contact the website besides the “online chat” which is for people who are in bad relationships and need help. Is there just an email that I could contact?!

    Reply
    • LIRAdmin_BR
      LIRAdmin_BR says:

      Hi Sam,

      Thanks for your comment! We’re glad to hear this article will be useful for your project. You are welcome to cite any content or information from our website in your project, as long as you credit loveisrespect.org as the source.

      Reply
  4. Star
    Star says:

    [Admin note: This comment has been modified for safety per our community guidelines]

    Hi I thank you for this article. Everything mentioned here applies to my situation. I am currently separated from my abuser. we have two boys … I still struggle with this issue since I feel that I love him and wish that he is the person that he is to everyone else. As time passes by my will power, self esteem and especially my personality are slowly returning but do struggle with other areas. I am especially concerned for my children since it is their father and they love him and they suffer if he disappears for too long. But if he is around his way of bonding with them is abusive; he plays rough like biting their cheeks, pretending to tickle them but digging his fingers too deep, having no conversations with them, he does not have an emotional bond with them or when he does he ends up getting mad at them or at me at some point and disappears for days or weeks unless I contact him again. Unfortunately i depend on him financially. He is abusive weather he is around or not.

    Reply
    • loveisrespect
      loveisrespect says:

      Hello Star,

      Thank you for your comment. We hope this post was helpful to you. It can be so confusing and difficult to love and depend on someone who is abusive, but please know that you are not alone. You and your children deserve someone who respects and cares for you. We are here to listen and support you, if ever you feel like reaching out. Just call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website or text “loveis” to 22522.

      Reply
  5. Tali
    Tali says:

    I’d really loved this article. I’d like to add something that took me many decades to learn: another reason why victims don’t leave their abusers. Typically, abusers abuse on a “random schedule”: that is, their behavior is not predictable. The same behavior on the part of the victim can elicit a positive response from the abuser one day and an explosive, violent response the next – and blaming the victim. That creates a situation in which the victim is never sure, always takes the bleme on her/himslef, and always hopes that the positive response will come this time. When the explosion comes, the victim “didn’t see it coming” but still takes the blame. What the victim needs to learn is that if the abuser’s attacks are unpredictable they are not the result of the victom’s actions but of something that is coming from the abuser, and that even if they are unpredictable they are never going to stop till the abuser takes responsibility.

    Reply
    • loveisrespect
      loveisrespect says:

      Hi Tali,

      Thanks so much for your comment! You’re absolutely right that abuse is a choice the abusive person makes, and it’s never the victim’s fault. We appreciate you reading our blog and sharing your experiences with our community.

      Reply
  6. Kitty
    Kitty says:

    [Admin note: This comment has been modified for safety per our community guidelines]

    I read the article and cried. Cried because it hurts, it hurts to see that I was blind. That I laid down to take everything so willingly, I believed that I deserved everything because I was wrong or bad. That I was (am) worthless. That I am still with him because I feel like I have no choice or other options. I have to love him. He’s the father of my children.

    [...]

    My fear is that I have been with him my entire adult life; I don’t know how to function outside of his wants, needs, demands, and desires. He keeps telling me that I was made for him. That I am his, but he says in the next breath says that we (he) need a girlfriend to pick up the slack. I’m not bisexual so what is the point of having a girlfriend. He also says that if I did ever leave and found someone else, that person would be a lot worse than him because I am an easy target.

    Reply
    • loveisrespect
      loveisrespect says:

      Hello Kitty,

      Thank you for your comment and sharing your story. We removed much of your comment for safety reasons, but you have been through so much, and we are so sorry to hear your partner treats you this way. You absolutely do not deserve to be controlled and abused, and you are not worthless. If you’d like to speak confidentially to one of our advocates about your situation, we’re here to listen and support you in any way you need. Call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website or text “loveis” to 22522.

      Reply
  7. Seraphima714
    Seraphima714 says:

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    I don’t have an abusive relationship with my husband, but I do with my mother. Some of my friends suspect that the abuse started before I was ten, but at least for me that’s when I can identify the problems.

    [...]

    She won’t go to family therapy so we can work things out. She won’t go to couples therapy with dad. She won’t read self improvement books or go to seminars. She says she’s fine and she just has needs and doesn’t understand why I can’t just fill those needs like I’m supposed to.

    Dealing with her is a delicate balance of giving her enough of what she wants so that she leaves the rest of my life alone. I call her every night so I’m not getting four phone calls a day. I go and clean her house for two hours every week so that dad has a clean living environment, so she stops complaining and so she can’t say that i never do anything to helping them. I go over on holidays, even the stupid ones, so she can stop saying that i don’t seem to want to be a family.

    I don’t know where to go for help. I can’t afford therapy for myself and there is no community therapy in my area for low income. I don’t want to lose my dad to her keeping him from me by standing up to her, not when i am losing him to cancer already.

    Ideas?

    Reply
    • loveisrespect
      loveisrespect says:

      Hi Seraphima714,

      Thank you for your comment, and for sharing your story. We deleted much of your comment due to confidentiality concerns, but it sounds like this is an incredibly stressful and difficult situation with your mother. Since this abuse has been occurring since your childhood, we encourage you to reach out to the National Child Abuse Helpline at 1-800-422-4453. They provide support to survivors and may be able to locate some additional resources in your area.

      Reply
  8. Troubled-soul
    Troubled-soul says:

    [Admin note: This comment has been modified for safety per our community guidelines]

    I am reading all these post and I still cannot believe I have been in an abusive relationship for more than 16 years. I am married with children. I probably thought it was normal due the way I was raised, I saw this daily at home and it was like a normal thing to accept. My husband even implied that is normal in my culture for the men to hit woman and it is completely acceptable. He even said in the soup operas we watch men slap women and that is okay.. I do not know what type of soup operas he is implying but .. it is funny that I guess since i have stayed .. I took it like is normal too. He got physical with me before we even got married but I excused his behavior due to a lot of childhood and traumas he got. He also abused alcohol but for some reason, he has managed to stay at his job, no issues at all. He is even a Manager. He blamed me for all the bad things that happen in our relationship but at then, he start crying and asking me what is that I want. He remember events differently and made me doubt myself to the point that I was thinking maybe he is right and I am exaggerating. He cook for us, he enjoy cooking and he complement me all the time, call at all the time at work but… he also use my credit to purchase stuff behind my back without consulting me. Take money from my purse, check my bank account balance and hide money he has from me. When he got aggressive towards me, I have responded and defend myself and after arguments, he always made me feel stupid. He is great with his daughter, but always treated my older (not his daughter) differently. We had many argument because he made her feel stupid and call her names and scream at her all the time. I feel like the referee between him, my daughter, her grand parents (from biological dad) and my mom. I am exhausted, I do not feel happy, no matter we have a nice house and stable jobs. I have attempted to leave him and I did once but he convinced me to give him another chance.. it has been MANY other chances through these years. He never forget I leave him that time and always bring it up in discussions. His mood can switch very easy.. He enjoy fire arms, and always watching those shows and buy parts to build himself the weapons (Fired arms). I am days away to leave him and I am terrify of his reaction and also all the upcoming changes. I do have information on resources to help me with the transaction, but it does not make it less hard. I have been with this only man for more than 16 years and I am so use to him.. It breaks my heart when he cries.. he is even willing to go to church to prove he will change….I’ve been in that road before.. He changes for a few weeks, but then slowly get back to his old habit. Drinking everyday, neglect me, and put his activities with friend first than his family needs.. So, I am confused with the description of Narcissist and psychopath because he does have some symptoms but not all of them.. I just learned in this post that he has been using Gaslighting techniques on me.. I was not even aware..

    Reply
    • loveisrespect
      loveisrespect says:

      Hi Troubled-soul,

      Thank you for sharing your story with our community, we deleted some of your comment due to confidentiality concerns. That sounds like a tough situation, especially when there are children involved. We’re so sorry to hear that you are experiencing this in your relationship, no one deserves abuse and it’s not normal in any culture. We recommend developing a safety plan if you are planning to leave the relationship, and safety is even more of a concern when a partner has access to firearms. If you’d like to speak confidentially to one of our advocates about your situation, we’re here to listen and support you in any way you need. Call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website or text “loveis” to 22522.

      Reply
  9. Ravyn
    Ravyn says:

    [Admin note: This comment has been modified for safety per our community guidelines]

    Once the physical violence stopped, and I wasn’t afraid anymore, I guess I was celebrating improvement or just chalking up the other kinds of abuse as “rudeness” or “disrespect.” I worked on myself and tried to ignore the issues but find myself more and more drained with each passing week. I dread going home, I look forward to times when he’s at work and I get to be home alone. I avoid talking about my thoughts, dreams, fears, or feelings because that just opens up the possibility for more “verbal attacks” and invalidation or a total lack of response or maybe triggering him and being subjected to an hour (or more) long “rant” about his feelings. I feel like I don’t matter. I definitely don’t feel “cherished.” I thought maybe my expectations were too high and grieved the loss of my dream of being cherished. And, after all, I’ve been gaslighted for years, told “I’m too sensitive,” “I never said that,” “I never promised that,” or that, when talking calmly about my feelings, I’m “being ridiculous” or “overdramatic.” So, I just stopped trying — avoidance always worked when I was a kid, so maybe now. . .

    Having grown up in an abusive home, I really thought that if hands weren’t laid on me, and I wasn’t bruised or bleeding that “you’re OK” (my dad’s words). I got really good at ignoring issues, problems, comments, lack of a response, name-calling, yelling, etc. and believed I was “improving” and that I was practicing “fruits of the spirit” demonstrating patience, love, kindness by overlooking these things. However, [] weekly meetings and 12-step programs and the acceptance and support of the women I’ve met there, has helped me see “my part” in all of this — I’m not loving myself. . . I’m not respecting myself. . . I’m codependently putting this other person above me, and taking the blame for his bad behavior (enabling). I’m failing to take up for myself. I may set boundaries, but I fail to enforce them. If I leave, I keep going back. I allow this to happen to me over and over again. As I grow in self-confidence and self-acceptance, and self-love, I feel like I’d rather be alone than live like this. . . only to learn that in the state in which I live, my home is considered marital property even though I bought it in my name only in [] and married in [] — so that in my state, I cannot “make him” leave my home. I have thought about relocating myself, but I’m the one who pays the house payment, and I can’t afford to make a house payment and pay rent — not to mention how I FEEL about leaving my pets and my home, which was supposed to be my “safe place.”

    Reply
    • loveisrespect
      loveisrespect says:

      Hi Ravyn,

      Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing part of your story here. It sounds like you’ve been through so much, and we’re so sorry to hear that you’ve experienced this abuse both as a child and with your current partner. We really want to emphasize that the abuse is not your fault. There is nothing you could ever do to deserve it or cause it. While it’s important to love and accept yourself (and we’re so glad to hear you’re working on this in a supportive environment!), in no way did you play a part in the abuse or “allow” it to happen. Abuse is a choice; the only person who has the ability to stop it or change is the person who is behaving abusively. This is a very complex situation, and we’d be happy to talk it through with you and help you locate some options. Please give us a call anytime at 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website or text “loveis” to 22522. We hope to hear from you soon!

      Reply
  10. Confused.com
    Confused.com says:

    I wasn’t aware at the time my ex was a heroin addict when we met. He made me feel like nobody else in the world mattered which was experience i had never received (my father abandoned us when i was 5). That soon turned into control, then arguments and then forced intercourse and then the abuse mentally and physically (strangulation, spitting in my face, cracked ribs, black eyes etc) started. I loved him so i stayed and wanted ro help him get clean. This destroyed my life further and i ended up in a unit for abused women when i had nowhere to go. I am now married with 2 beautiful little girls and love my husband but my ex and i have been in contact for the last year and are meant to meet next month, i just can’t resist and i have no idea why as i have it all. Please help me understand as i am so confused. Any help appreciated.

    Reply
    • loveisrespect
      loveisrespect says:

      Hi Confused.com,

      Thank you for your comment. First of all, we are so sorry to hear that your ex treated you that way. Addiction is not an excuse for abuse. It can be so confusing and difficult to work through these feelings after experiencing so much trauma. We definitely encourage you to seek support, either through a hotline or with a counselor or therapist who has been trained to work with survivors of abuse. If you are in the U.S., you are always welcome to call, chat or text with us!

      Reply
  11. why
    why says:

    I been on the internet Searching for what abuse is. I’ve been with my military boyfriend for a year and a half. At first he was so loving and caring to me. He would take me out n was so affectionate and wonderful. Then after our first Valentine day he started hitting me. At first it was slaps to the face during arguments and then it was cheating on me and verbally and emotionally abusing me. During the verbal and emotional abuse he would compare me to other females and his ex’s my body wasn’t sexy I was stupid I was not to think or help solve problems in life situations. But he never took control of my finances or my school life. When we were good we were great. It would be like I had the man I fell in love with back. Everyone loved him he’s so smart and a great person but he would get so angry with me. But once that good cycle was over the abuse came back but instead of beating me up he would pinch me or bite me n use pressure point tactics on me if I didn’t listen. My mouth became the reason for abuse. One day I told him I didn’t want to have sex n he held me down n did it. I didn’t even resist I actually let it happen because we rarely see each other due to work and I felt guilty aftwards he acted as if everything was fine never to be mentioned of again. I love this man but I keep telling myself it’s not abuse if I’m not bloody and bruised. I’m just so confused

    Reply
    • loveisrespect
      loveisrespect says:

      Hi why,

      Thank you for sharing your story. This sounds like a very scary and difficult situation, and we are so sorry to hear about what you’re going through. Abuse comes in many forms, not just physical, and it sounds like your partner is choosing to be very abusive toward you. Slapping, hitting, insults, pinching, forcing you to have sex – these are all abusive behaviors, and you do not deserve to be treated this way. It sounds like you are taking the blame for his behavior, and we want you to know that none of this is your fault. This post on how “good” behavior is part of the abuse might be helpful to you. We also encourage you to reach out to us and speak confidentially with one of our advocates about your situation, whenever you feel ready to do so. Just call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website, or text loveis to 22522.

      Reply

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