Leaving an abusive partner is intricately more complicated than leaving any other type of partner or relationship. Leaving an abusive partner can put a survivor at risk of violence, stalking, psychological torment or even homicide. That’s why leaving an abuser is not often a split-second decision, but rather a well-coordinated effort akin to rescuing hostages from a kidnapper.
So why, then, would a survivor ever choose to go back to an abuser once they’re out?
What can appear to be a dangerous, foolish or even suicidal decision on a survivor’s part to return to an abusive partner is actually nothing of the sort. Survivors may return to an abuser for multiple, complicated reasons and, according to a survey of 844 survivors by DomesticShelters.org, will leave and come back 6.3 times on average before leaving for good.
Why Survivors Go Back
There are a multitude of reasons survivors may feel their only or best option is to go back. Among them, is hope that the abuser has changed or that things will be different this time. They may still feel love for the abuser, or fear children they shared with the abuser will blame them for separating.
It may also be one of these reasons below:
How Survivors Have Left for Good
We asked survivors on social media to weigh in on how they have kept themselves from going back to a controlling or abusive partner, and here are some of their answers.
“I wrote down on one side of a piece of paper all the horrible things said to me. On the other side, I wrote all the things I wanted, my goals, like the type of job, places I wanted to see, things I wanted to do or become. I kept that paper in my pocket so when I was feeling weak or lonely, I would pull it out and remind myself that the things said would not get me closer to my goals, but pull me further from them.”
“I cut off contact. I refused to be alone with him and I refused to talk to him outside of attempting to co-parent our kids. Gaslighting is his specialty. I needed distance to be able to let that bond go.”
“When he hurt my children, that sealed the deal. No way.”
“I started believing in myself.”
“I started a diary of my life with him. Seventy-five percent was bad. I wrote … until I finally ran out of things to write.”
“Got a tattoo that says, ‘On the other side of fear lies freedom.’ It is my daily reminder.”
“I left the state.”
“I joined a support group, tried to make friends, cooked good food, watched shows I wasn’t allowed to watch before, read books and finished my college degree. The support group and counseling helped me to change the voice in my head.”
“One day at a time. Remembered how many people it took to get me out.”
“Look up at the clear blue sky, listen to the sound of the birds, children playing or cars passing by. You’re not allowed to hear those things [in abuse]. All you hear is the footsteps or the door slamming … waiting for that next slap.”
“Wrote out a list of every nasty thing he did and reread it until I quit romanticizing a life that never existed. Then I decided I was the most important person in my life and no one else came before me.”
“I told my therapist that he hit my child. That way, if I did go back, my child would get taken from me. And my child means the world to me.”
6 Steps to Leaving Safely
When a survivor decides it’s time to go, taking a moment to pre-plan the escape can mean the difference between leaving safely and being trapped all over again. Consider these four steps: