Why do people stay in domestic violent relationships?


About the Author: Leigh Gray


  • VOC GRAD DIP, Family Dispute Resolution and mediation (2011)
  • B. Social Work (2008)
  • CERT IV WT & A
  • CERT Suicide Intervention – First Aide / Assist 2006
  • B Social Welfare (2003)
  • DIP Human and Community Services (1998)
  • Social Injustice, bigotry, Bugs n slugs, mess.



You must be the change you wish to see in the world - Gandhi

Why Do People Stay in DV?

By LFG, B Soc Wk

*** All names changed to protect personal identity ***

Picture this: Five people sit in a room together.

  • Liz - executive-level working Mum;
  • Jana - young gay UNI student;
  • Rod - burly plumber;
  • Rosa - Immigrant who married a much older Australian man.
  • Leisa - just barely out of her teens.

All five are affected by DV. All five choose to stay in this situation. WHY?

DV is a relationship dynamic that’s essentially a POWER STRUGGLE where one party uses coercion & intimidation in various forms - physical, emotional, sexual - to ‘control’ or dominate the other party.

As in Liz’ case, there CAN be a pattern to it as couples cycle through honeymoon; build up; stand over; explosion; and remorse phases, over & over again. John had been ‘very charming’ during their courtship nearly two decades ago. The DV incidents started with ‘John having hissy fits’ and ‘mild pushing & shoving’.

Within a few years, she was covering up facial & body bruises. Liz could hardly believe that this was happening: she was ashamed, embarrassed, believed that ‘this was not my John’. She did NOT want him to go to jail or have kids exposed to police intervention. The neighbours ‘turned a blind eye’. Over the years, the violent incidences escalated.

The general understanding is that the less time between ‘cycles’ following remorse means the cycle is getting tighter & there may be a greater of the risk of DV ending in death: and DV can prove to be ultimately fatal. Liz is currently considering leaving as ‘John is so nasty’ but now fears him, does not think anyone will believe her & does not want to disrupt their 3 children. She frets that John will work through the kids ‘to get at me & make me suffer’.

Victims of DV can describe themselves as ‘walking on eggshells’ around a perpetrator - especially in a build up phase & may also experience low self esteem, depression, guilt, a sense of isolation & poor physical & mental health themselves as a result of on-going manipulation.

This is what Leisa has experienced: Her boyfriend Craig constantly tells her she is useless, ugly & ‘washed up’. She has no skills or qualifications & has two children under 3yo. Craig tells her regularly that ‘no one will want you anyways’ so the thought of leaving is daunting.

He checks the car daily & asks her to account for her whereabouts. Her friends & family feel ‘weird’ when he’s around so have naturally dropped in numbers. Her access to money is also limited: Some weeks she is given small amounts of money & asked to perform miracles with it. It just won’t stretch! Leisa feels both deflated & defeated.

Perpetrators can erode self esteem of the other party - often over time & some victims will talk of the other party slowly & gradually isolating them from other sources of support. In Rosa’s situation, she speaks only broken English. Kerry, her Octagenarian Farmer husband allows her little money, freedom  or resources of her own. Rosa’s faith does not ‘believe in divorce’ and she is not entirely aware of any rights or DV laws anyways.

Rosa would love to talk in her language of origin with some other older ladies in her town however Kerry strictly forbids it. Rosa tries to protect her now adult children from ‘Daddy going crazy’.

DV can affect people from all walks of life… It’s transcends gender & sexuality, race, religion, socio-economic standing & /or intellectual levels. Rod’s partner Ellie has been hurting him for years. Everyone knows she’s a ‘bit of a firebrand’ but she constantly nags & belittles him to the point he regularly considers suicide. Who would believe him if he DID say something? Ellie controls all the money & ‘has brainwashed the kids – I would never see them again’.

DV CAN also be inter-generational in nature & children – known as Child Witnesses of DV – can be affected by hearing or watching DV unfold in their midst. Same-sex role Modelling can occur with children affected by DV which can explain why some perpetrators & victims cite similar dynamics with their own parents.

Jana recalls clearly how violence permeated her entire childhood. She is gay & ‘actually did not believe that DV could happen in a same sex relationship’. Despite some horrific physical & sexual assaults, Jana believes her partner Mossie is ‘remorseful’ & not a bad person.

Perpetrator programs DO exist: People CAN change their behaviour. The research from the US however suggests that violent behaviour modification aims tend to be more effective when court mandated & long term & offenders are placed a group situation so they cannot minimize or externalise or collude.

DV is against the law. An Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) or Domestic Violence Order (DVO) can be sought by an aggrieved party &/or the police to attempt to place some safe space between parties embroiled in DV. There exist telephone counsellors (DV hotline 1800 811 811); assistants to help at DV court; Centrelink may approve emergency funds & there do exist refuges that can provide a safe space to ‘plan the hext move’. Of course no system is perfect nor meets everyone’s exact needs.

Leaving a DV situation can also take several departures before it remains permanent. There can be many reasons that prevent victims from up & leaving at the first sign of DV such as fear, limited resources, cultural or religious pressures or beliefs, believing the other party can change, low self esteem, shame & guilt etc.

To best support someone in this situation is to listen. No judgement. Provide information without expectation. Believe their story. When they are ready, they can act.

Posted in:  Relationships & Marriage, Mental Health

7 Replies

Jo Budd

that was an amazing read, thankyou for your insight

The Imperfect Mum

Wasn't it we are so lucky to have Leigh on board.

Debbie Burton

Love this blog, hits everything right on the head. I was in a DV relationship with 5 children all still at school and it took many plans and attempts before it 'stuck'. Even then it continued as he would visit the children and still emotionally and mentally abuse us all. Protection Order in place was the lightbulb moment for him that it was over and he had to change. But everybody's story is different so every solution will be different, either way the change needs to come from the victim deciding 'this is it' not others saying 'just leave'. Thanks Leigh :)

The Imperfect Mum

I agree Debbie, the victim needs to make the commitment to leave.

Kim Reid

Yes I too was in a DV relationship and it was so hard having to go through that and not having anyone understand why I was still there or go back if we did have a short break. I cannot explain it myself but yes 'I' had to be brave enough and ready when the time came to actually follow through on what I had been wanting for so long - it cannot be decided by anyone else. It took me years and even now I need to grab my courage to deal with him as we have children together. It is a very hard thing to explain to anyone who hasn't been through it. People just really need to be there and support the person not try to make their mind up for them - we know you are only trying to help but sometimes it makes it worse when you criticise and 'don't understand'. We don't understand either but we are battered and bruised both physically and mentally and until such a time that we find our inner strength to pull us out of the situation then just stand by us and be there to laugh with us at the end when we can find the laughter in our hearts again :))

Kim Reid

Thanks Leigh for getting the word out there to help everyone - those in a DV relationship and those watching people go through one xx

Jamey Boyle

My own personal experience. To report domestic violence or try to flee from it sometimes is not as easy as it seems. If you call the police usually they do not do much but separate the 2, sometimes somebody will go to jail for the night...get a slap on the wrist and be back out in no time, even more resentful/revengeful then they were to start off with...If you have no family and friends whom you can go to, its hard...especially if you have kids, and the home is in his name. To pick up and leave seems overwhelming, with no job, no car, no way...so you stick it out, hoping things will get better. Sometimes women can be threatened, that if you ever leave...they will find you, and your yours or no-ones. They threaten your family, your life, sometimes even threaten the children. So out of fear of leaving, making angry...trying to get away, strikes fear of getting people outside of the relationship hurt, or even killed. So its believe that to stick it out and sacrifice yourself, you are saving the rest of those who you love...FEAR.
My spirit never broke, I was like a mustang trying to be tamed, never did I stop speaking my mind. But that was my spirit, I myself felt like I could not leave. I KNEW that if I did, something would happen. Finally I had friends get me out. I moved in with them, my daughter stayed with my parents for awhile. --- He made good on his threats. I ended up being VERY lucky in my situation.
I say, at the VERY FIRST SIGN of control (cloths/freedom/friends/job/jealousy/anger/physical-emotional-spiritual abuse) To be on guard. Sometimes people mess up and try and control, BUT if you address it and let them know you cannot be CONTROLLED, and they are wanting to make everything work, they WILL listen, and apologize...and CHANGE their ways. The problem is...if they repeat it, over and over...and then try and gain more control.
I look back at my situation, who I am now I could NEVER imagine staying with somebody/in a relationship like that. But at the time...I knew no better, I really didn't. I knew it wasn't right, but I "loved him" Always in hope he would change, and realize how much I loved him...and start to love me in return, especially if I could SHOW HIM how hurt I was by crying, and asking, and showing him how bad I felt. But when I did this, he would only get angry. It started with a dink on the head, then a pin to the ground, then an elbow in the shoulder real hard, then keys to the skin, punches, kicks, slams...
---I stayed because I lost my self-esteem. I lost my desire, my drive, my fire, my enjoyment, my spark...I would sit at home and cry and try and think of what I should do. How he will react, what he is doing, how to change him, how bad I felt, how lonely I was, how heart-broken I felt...completely and utterly lost in confusion. Lost in yesterday, fearful of tomorrow...throwing my present out the window. I didn't want to get up, clean, cook...garden, walk, run, play music. I just layed around all day, miserably tired. NO motivation - depressed.
When you feel hopeless, tired, worried...you have nothing to move you to move on. Nobody cares, nobody understands...nobody calls, nobody comes by...I separated myself from all contacts. Of course it was forcefully. I was empty, cold, void, blank, bland. I was a carcass. The only thing that could fill me was his acceptance, and remorse, and to gain closure. But with me being this way (lazy/sad/hateful/blank) would be the very thing which set him off. It was a situation which dug itself a deeper hole.

---THANK GOD...I had a friend who stepped in. Stood up to him, got me out of there...loved me, helped me, was not afraid, and took all steps to make sure I got out in 1 piece.

...when you see somebody treated wrong, hurt, abused. DON'T SHRUG IT OFF!!!! It could be the VERY thing which saves a life.
Of course trial and tribulation came later, one of life/death, an experience which literally was life altering. BUT that is only because I didn't take all the steps afterwards as I should have.

TAKE ALL STEPS POSSIBLE in these situations, warn neighbors, alert 911 of your situation and let them know the importance of a phone call from you, have safe calls (people you call, that will be struck as strange if you miss a call) --- Have a bag packed in-case you have to run, warn family, friends of the situation...have them stay with you, and 1 on guard (as long as possible) Have a system. A plan, locks and security. Get a restraining order, and if you can...leave town. Set up lights with movement sensors. Never think you can go overboard, TRUST ME. This could save your life. So many women, EVEN men have been victim to DV. --- its not taken seriously enough. BUT IT is VERY serious. It doesn't make you paranoid to do such a thing...it doesn't make you over-protective, a chicken, or whatever else...it means your smart.

Break the cycle, be a survivor. Learn, Understand, Accept, Teach, Be a friend, Step up....and guide the way to freedom for others.

Sometimes people just need a hand/voice/encouragement. Don't let the opportunity slip away from you. Be somebody's light in their darkness. It means the world to them, and you gain a new friend along the way.