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Dating abuse is difficult for everyone involved, including people who attempt to offer support. Those who haven’t dealt with dating abuse before sometimes wonder why survivors don’t just leave their partner, not realizing that ending an abusive relationship is far more complicated than other break-ups (which can be challenging in their own right).
There may be any number of reasons why people stay in abusive relationships. Beyond just understanding and recognizing the warning signs of abuse, one of the simplest ways to support survivors is to understand the complexities of why they may not be able to leave, including:
- Conflicting emotions
- Fear of what will happen after leaving the relationship, especially if threats have been made.
- Beliefs that abuse is normal behavior may be ingrained by past experiences or values.
- Fear of being outed can be leveraged by partners in threats or actions, especially against young people just beginning to explore their gender identity.
- Shame over experiencing abuse or fear of judgement from others.
- Low self-esteem resulting from frequent insults, gaslighting, and other abusive behaviors.
- Love for the person being abusive. Remember that it’s natural to want to believe someone who says they’ll change. While change is possible, it is extremely difficult and requires a meaningful desire to do so from the person behaving abusively.
- Social or peer pressure based on dynamics between survivors, partners who are abusing them, and the larger community they belong to, including fears that no one will believe them or take their side.
- Cultural or religious settings can create pressures that influence a person’s decision about leaving an abusive relationship. Learn more about abuse in various cultural contexts.
- Pregnancy or parenting can create pressure to stay in an abusive relationship, including desires for children to have both parents present based on notions of traditional family structures, threats to harm or take the children away, or simply not wanting to raise children alone.
- Distrust of authority
- Adults often don’t take young people seriously, so when abusive behaviors emerge, many teens and young adults feel like they have no one to turn to who will give their concerns serious consideration.
- Fear or distrust of law enforcement may understandably deter someone from contacting the police, whether they suspect the police won’t help them or will make matters worse by escalating a dangerous situation or harming the survivor.
- Barriers to institutional support because of language ability, immigration status, past contact with the criminal legal system, or any other number of individual and institutional biases may limit a survivor’s ability to get help.
- Financial dependency is a common form of abuse that isolates survivors by limiting their ability to access funds and support themselves.
- Lack of support (including places and people to turn to) can make leaving an abusive situation feel impossible, especially while living with a partner.
- Physical dependency because of a disability, addiction, or other factor may mean someone’s well-being is tied directly to their relationship, making it difficult not to stay.
If you’re ready to help someone affected by dating abuse in your life (or just want to learn more about what support might look like), check out our resources below based on your relationship to the survivor. Or contact us 24/7 by text, phone, or live chat to anonymously connect with an advocate about your situation.
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