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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Why can't I leave my emotionally abusive relationship?

    My partner refuses to go for treatment, or even to identify that he has problem. To stay in this relationship is to accept the unacceptable. Nevertheless, I’ve been unable to leave him. Why do I stay in a relationship that causes me such emotional anguish?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • I have been working in Eltham, Melbourne as a relationship and family counsellor for over twelve years. I draw on current theory and research about … View Profile

    I agree with Grant - it sounds like you are still hoping that things will improve, and you may also be dealing with fears or ambivalence about leaving. Sometimes a ‘way in’ to getting help can be to let your partner know that what is going on for him is causing problems for your relationship, and ask him to come to relationship counselling. This does not require him to accept your definition of what his problem is, but to work on what you need from each other to be happier together. For example, your partner may not agree that he has a problem that requires treatment, but he may feel that you con't communicate well, get into conflict a lot,  or lack intimacy in the relationship, and be willing to work on improving this with you. 
    Going through a process like this may well restore a sense for you that improvement is possible, even if your partner never agrees that he has a problem requiring treatment. Alternatively, he may realize at some point in working through the relationship issues that his problem is getting in the way of having the quality of relationship he would like to have with you, and become interested in seeking treatment in order to achieve this more effectively.

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    I am a Melbourne Relationship Counsellor and Family Lawyer who is skilful in helping people get out of the pain of relationship distress and create … View Profile

    To anwer why you stay in an abusive relationship would require specific work to look at what your individual history and life situation is. It is complex. There are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships. Sometimes, the meaning of love has become entangled with behaviours in growing up that cause confusion about what is healthy or not. When a person has been parented with mixed messages or with a “love” that is disempwering, such as where a child is infanticised or where the parents needs have been given priorty over the needs of the child, it is hard to form adult relationships and to distinguish what is healthy and what is not. It is easy to become dependent on this kind of “love” if that is all one has ever experienced.
    i agree with Vivienne above. It may be possible if you frame the situation as being one where you would like to get some assistance for the elements of the relationship that are problematical for you. It is better not to blame your partner as he is coping by using defence mechanisms in order to protect himself which are necessary for him from his point of view. Do not waste time trying to get him to see he has a problem. Rather try seeing a relationship counsellor who is skilled at getting each partner to see the other's point of view. 
    Whatever you decide it is best to get some professional help as your situation is complex. Good luck.

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    I am a registered psychologist with many years of counselling experience in the field of relationships and fertility issues. In particular my focus is on … View Profile

    I agree that this is a complex question with not a simple answer. Emotional abuse sometimes is a habit that starts off quite subtly and can look like teasing but it hurts. It is possible that your partner is not aware of how it is affecting you emotionally. Perhaps he started as very different or perhaps it is a cycle of sometimes being very good between the 2 of you and then after a build up of tension you experience emotional abuse. This will keep you in the relationship because you hope it will get better and stay better. Any relationship will experience some ups and some downs so it is important you seek professional help to see if you cannot improve on your situation.
    Best Wishes

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    I am a registered psychologist with many years of counselling experience in the field of relationships and fertility issues. In particular my focus is on … View Profile

    In any relationship there will be good times or times when you get some of your needs met with affection from your partner especially in the beginning. When a partner is emotionally abusive it might be that there are times when they are not and many partners hang on to the relationship in the hope that things will get better and the good partner will come back.
    It would be good to assess how much of the time you are unhappy because even if it is 90% it means there are times when things are good or better. Those times are what keep you in the relationship and perhaps fear that this is as good as it gets.

    it would be good if you could seek professional help to work out what you need. Otherwise perhaps you have a trusted friend that you can get feedback from as to what to do.

    The danger is that if you stay and things do not improve that you will get worn down by the emotional abuse and start believing it. I believe it is also important for you to share with someone professional your story of the emotional abuse as if your partner only does it when you are alone it might be hard for others to see that side of him and of course unlike physical abuse there are no bruises to see.
    Take care of yourself and think about the pros and cons of leaving or staying. Also think of your life in a years time if you stay and in a years time if you leave.

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