“Why Do They Keep Going Back?”

“Why Do They Keep Going Back?”

It can be so tough to watch someone you care about deal with an abusive relationship. Even more difficult is watching that person leave and return to their partner, time and time again. You might feel frustrated, angry or you may even feel like giving up on your friend or family member. These are all totally normal and understandable feelings to have.

But it’s important to remember that dating abuse is extremely complex. Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy, and it isn’t always the safest option. In fact, some studies say that survivors of abuse return to their abusive partners an average of seven times before they leave for good. That may sound unbelievable or unreasonable to a person who has never experienced abuse. But there are many reasons why a person might stay or return to their abusive partner. As frustrating as this may be, someone in a position to support a survivor can play a crucial role in the survivor’s ability to stay safe or even leave for good.

If you find yourself in this role, you might ask yourself, “What can I do to make sure I’m staying helpful and supportive?”

First, Educate Yourself

Understanding the dynamics of dating abuse is really important when supporting a person in an abusive relationship. A better understanding of these dynamics may help you develop more empathy for your friend or family member who is experiencing these things in their relationship. We know that abuse is really about power and control; part of maintaining that power and control requires the breaking down of a victim’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Gaslighting, a very common abusive tactic, can even make a person question their own thoughts or understanding of reality. Leaving the relationship may seem like an easy solution, but it’s important to recognize that leaving can be a very dangerous and challenging time for a victim. Many victims do not feel they have a choice; they are tied to their partners due to finances, children, housing, disability or even love.

It’s also important to understand that abusive people can be very manipulative. After violence or verbal attacks happen, there is often a “honeymoon” period; the abuser may apologize, promise it will never happen again or otherwise appear like a perfect partner for a time. However, this is an abusive tactic meant to keep the victim ensnared in the relationship, and it can even make the victim question whether the abuse is really “that bad.” The victim may also believe that if they could just do everything right, their partner would stop the abuse and be that wonderful version of themselves all the time. An abusive partner knows that if they can keep their partner second guessing themselves, they will be less likely to feel empowered to take steps towards leaving. These are just a few of the complications that victims might face when thinking about ending an abusive relationship.

For more information about dating abuse, you can always contact your local domestic violence program or loveisrespect to speak with a trained, knowledgeable advocate!

Let Your Friend Know That You’re Concerned

This can be a really difficult conversation to have, but you can start it by simply saying, “I’ve noticed that your partner says mean things to you/doesn’t let you go out as much/puts you down in front of other people/etc., and I’m concerned about that. Is there anything you want to talk about?” Your friend may not want to talk, or they might even defend their partner. They may be ashamed of getting back together with their partner, and they don’t want to admit that things aren’t okay. Try not to judge them, and instead remain open and supportive. Letting them know that you’re there for them and that they’re not alone can be a huge comfort.

Listen and Support Their Decisions

People in abusive relationships often feel like they have little control over their lives. Their abusive partners have taken control, and they may be dependent on them in multiple ways. It can be tough to support a person’s decision to return to or stay with their abusive partner, but try to avoid telling your friend what they should do. In abusive relationships, an abusive partner is constantly taking away the other partner’s right to make their own choices and have their own thoughts or feelings. So, it can be really beneficial to model healthy behaviors for your friend or family member, showing them that you believe they are the best person to make the decision that feels right to them. Let them know that you trust them to know what’s best for themselves. This will place power back in their hands! Keep in mind that if a person doesn’t leave on their own terms when they’re ready, they are more likely to return to their abusive partner.

Encourage Small Steps and Help Them Find Options Specific to Their Needs

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to dating abuse. Many survivors feel overwhelmed by the idea of leaving for good or taking drastic measures (like calling the police), so try to help them identify small steps they can take to feel safer and more empowered and/or move toward leaving the relationship, if that’s something they want to do. For example, you might encourage them to contact loveisrespect or speak with a counselor. Point out that they can just talk to someone, and that they don’t have to make any big decisions right away. Encourage them to practice self-care in whatever ways work best for them. You could also help them create a safety plan that supports their needs in that moment, whatever their situation might be. A safety plan can include resources and options for getting help, even if they’re not ready to leave the relationship. Additionally, it can help to identify resources that are uniquely qualified to help, for example, if your friend is a teen or LGBTQ. Check out our list of recommended resources.

Practice Self-Care

Secondary (or vicarious) trauma happens, and it is real. Supporting someone in an abusive relationship can take a mental and emotional toll on you. If you find yourself getting frustrated with your friend, that can be a really important time to take a step back and focus on your own self-care, so that your frustration doesn’t impact your ability to provide empowering support to them. Taking time for yourself can help you recharge so that you are emotionally equipped to support them for the long haul. We must be healthy on an individual level before we can effectively help others! Your own boundaries are important, too. You have the right to step away from a situation when you need to, while letting your friend know that you still care. Remember that you cannot save or “fix” a person and that, ultimately, it will be their choice to leave or not.

Is someone you care about in an abusive relationship? We’re here to help. Call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website or text “loveis” to 22522! Chat en español esta disponible de 12 p.m. a 6 p.m. Hora Central.

Comment section

17 replies
  1. I’m nearing the end of my abusive relationship. I still feel pushed around in many ways. He offered to cosign my new apartment for me. He kept doing this countdown thing for me and if he ever got to 0 he wasn’t going to do it.

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for your comment. Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy, and we are here for you. You can contact us directly by calling 1-866-331-9474, chatting here on our website or texting loveis to 22522.

  2. I have been an abuser myself and i tend to think its a disease by itself…what are the ways forward to healing?

    1. Hi Naphtali,

      Thanks so much for your comment! You’ve already taken the first step in recognizing that your behavior has been abusive. It’s great that you want to move forward in a healthier way! Abuse is a choice, so it’s important to recognize that you can choose not to be abusive. This is easier said than done for many people, however. Please know that you’re not alone, and having support through this process is key. Check out this page on our website and feel free to call, chat or text with one of our advocates for more support and information!

  3. I am going through the emotional rollercoaster of ending an abusive relationship. Im finding it very hard because I never got to say goodbye. He was arrested and a no contact order of protection is in place thankfully or I probably would have been assaulted again. But I truly make ss him. Im trying my best to “get over him/us” but it is hard!!!

    1. Hi Donna,

      Thanks for sharing a bit about what you’re going through. What you’re feeling is totally normal. It’s never easy to end a relationship, even if it was abusive.
      This post on loving an abusive partner might be helpful to you. We also encourage you to call, chat or text with us anytime. We’re here to support you!

  4. How to leave an abusive relationship ..?

    I find it very DIFFICULT because I have 2 Small children ..

    This relationship has been down a black hole for at least 7years NOW …


    1. Hi Diamond,

      Thanks so much for commenting! We understand that leaving an abusive relationship is never easy, especially when there are children involved. You know what’s best for you at this moment. We are here to support you and help you locate options for your next steps. If you’d like to speak confidentially with an advocate, please call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website or text “loveis” to 22522 anytime!

    2. This is how I felt. I was with him 3 years. It kills me not to go back. We are still talking. I want nothing more than to go back. But Im trying to make a better life for me and my daughter. Its almost like I am 2 different people. I can talk myself into going back in 2 seconds. The next minute I will tell myself Im better off without him. Kinda scary to think after 3 going on 4 months away from him I could go back so easilu and all this time to heal was a waist. Hoping the best for my future self and yours.

  5. Hi, I have a problem whit a boy I like,I told him what I feel for him but it’s to difficult to go over it.
    What can I do?

    1. Hi Noa!

      Thanks for reaching out to us. Relationships can be so complicated, we know. If you’d like to talk confidentially with one of our advocates, we’re here for you! Call, chat or text us anytime.

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

    I have recently again been a victim of domestic violence. But this time I was sure I was going to dye. He threw me on the floor put his knee on my chest and began choking me. I don’t know how I got away or how long it lasted but I ran out of the apartment and asked 2 guys too call the police while they were calling my husband got in his truck drove three blocks turned around and was driving 100 per hr and tried to run me over missing me by 4 feet. I have never seen so much rage in his face telling me that he was going to kill me I have never seen death before but I did that night. I have been putting up with this abuse for 13 yrs and I am done I always went back. But to see that rage in his face I never want to see again. He is in jail for now I left. I will continue reaching out for support as I have never asked for help before. But that night I will never forget. I see his face and rage when he was choking me telling me to die bitch everyday.

    1. Hi Shelley,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Wow, this sounds like such a terrifying and difficult situation, and we’re so sorry that your partner treated you this way. You do not deserve abuse, ever, for any reason. We are so glad that you have decided to seek support. Please feel free to reach out to us anytime, if you’d like!

  7. I left my abuser a 15 months ago. I still don’t trust anyone outside my family. The day I left. I was scared for me my parents and his kids. I damaged all my relationships. With my kids. My family. I will never have what I had before him. At least I have my life. I attempted suicide 3x. Once was his force feeding me a deadly cocktail. I have no clue why I’m still here. But I am happy. I was supposedly his first. Hopefully his last..

    1. Hi Candis,

      Thank you for your comment. This is such a difficult and heartbreaking situation, and we are so sorry that you have been treated this way by your ex partner. Abuse causes a lot of trauma, and it’s normal to feel like you can’t trust people. You absolutely deserve support as you move forward in your life. We are here to help anytime – just call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website or text “loveis” to 22522!

  8. I have been in an abusive relationship for almost 10 years. Managed several times to leave but after apologies and being the nice guy I went back every time. Finally had to decide whether to stay and know this will be what the rest of my life will be like or to make a break and safe myself. I had .many broken ribs, broken nose, broken jaw etc injuries during the years. After terrible confrontations, protection orders and having him arrested I finally broke free. My question is why, after 15 years I still have nightmares and then remembering things I think I shut from my mind at the time. Also my son was 16 at the time and now suffers from anxiety. Can this be because of what he witnessed? I kept a lot of what really happened from him. After he found out he said to me he feels that he failed me because he couldnt help me.

    1. Hi Suzette,

      Thank you for sharing your story with our community. It sounds like you’ve been through so much. Please know that you never deserved to be treated that way by your partner, ever, for any reason. Abuse is extremely traumatizing, so having nightmares and anxiety are very normal reactions. It’s very possible that your son’s anxiety is connected to the abuse you experienced. Growing up in an abusive home can have emotional and psychological effects on children. Healing is a process, and it takes time. We definitely encourage you to seek support for both you and your son. We’re here to help whenever you feel ready to reach out. Feel free to call us at 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website or text “loveis” to 22522 anytime!

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