Why Do Men Stay Too Long in Toxic Abusive Relationships?

By Mila Koljensic

My best friend was in a Toxic Abusive Relationship (TAR) and was willing to blame himself for the all problems because he was the man.

He tried everything to make the relationship work, to figure out why he invested so much time when it clearly wasn’t getting any better. It took a few years, but he realized that his efforts were designed to (unsuccessfully) compensate for his own unmet emotional needs of feeling unloved as a child.

Because of the pain that he experienced in the toxic relationship, he accepted that no other person could ever meet these old needs, even though that is exactly what a part of “little him” secretly hoped for whenever he dated someone.

A study led by the American Sociological Association found that women start nearly 70% of divorces.

Why Men Stay

What are the reasons men stay in toxic abusive relationships, and what factors fuel this extreme exit fear? Consider these:

Some men are fixers.

Men tend to cling to something that’s already gone, hoping the relationship can be fixed. But that can only create resentment. My friend stayed in a toxic abusive relationship for over six years — just in case things got better. The irony is that this belief creates a TAR pit (endless loop) of wasted time and added trauma.

Men are programmed to deny their vulnerability in order to avoid shame and stigma. Women usually have no problem opening up to their friends and family when faced with an emotional crisis; men tend to keep topics of conversation light when around their peers.

During the most difficult times, men will put on a brave face and possibly overindulge in self-destructive vices or overwork. Men tend to confide in and open up to only a few people completely; when his most important relationship implodes, and he loses his main confidante, the long-term ramifications can be devastating.

Some men tend to avoid conflict.

Few things in life are more conflict-laden than breaking up with someone you’ve been with in a committed relationship. The longer you’ve been together, ending the relationship becomes a complicated process.

It is sad that many men stay in unhappy relationships for far too long because they fear the pain involved in breaking up and moving on. Some are even attracted to being in toxic abusive relationships because they don’t know better.

Face it — no relationship is perfect or happy 100% of the time. While there may be many valid reasons to stay in a relationship, fear of conflict, losing a confidante, and fear of what other people think should never inspire anyone to stay in a toxic abusive relationship.

Without access to appropriate mental health services, some men falsely believe that they do not deserve better. Their fear and lack of awareness may lead them to seek out other toxic abusive relationships; this cycle can be broken with appropriate support and care.

Some men get too comfortable being abused and don’t do anything about it.

Complacency. 

These terms can be used interchangeably when describing some men in the throes of a toxic abusive relationship. Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion defines inertia as a property of matter that causes it to resist changes in velocity unless acted upon by an external force. Applied literally — with all other influences being equal — an object (man) is either at rest (on the couch after a long day) or moves with a constant velocity (goes through the motions) unless acted on by an external force.

The problem is that the force necessary to start over isn’t external at all — it comes from within. This involves deciding what you can and can’t live with, setting boundaries, and defending them. It means breaking habits that have kept you frozen in a toxic place for too long. It means denying complacency and the ease of remaining unhappy simply because conflict and change are too difficult.

There are three constants in life — death, taxes, and change. Accepting change allows people to analyze their situations and move away from inertia with new inspiration to “move with great velocity” away from complacency and toxic abuse.

No one enjoys throwing their lives into chaos and uncertainty. But nothing ever stands still. As a tenable way of life, the status quo is a fiction that always sets us at odds with how the world works. And it is a lousy foundation for a romantic relationship/partnership. Don’t let the anxiety that comes with change keep you from moving on when you know it is time. The path to self-love and acceptance is a life-long project.

Sadly, some men will stay in toxic abusive relationships because they believe that doing so will have emotional or psychological benefits. I know of men, unfortunately, who enjoy playing a caretaker role with their partner or being a martyr. They believe they don’t deserve better.

If you want to move on but need help to take the steps, objectively examine what you stand to lose. Only you can know for sure when it is time to change and start over. If you’ve arrived there, don’t let inertia, complacency, or fear keep you from moving on to a better life.

What are the consequences of remaining in a Toxic Abusive Relationship (TAR)?

The victim may experience anxiety, depression, severe trauma, and suicidal thoughts. Some effects may present themselves as:

A distrust for people — Because of the abuse, the victim may have a deep-seated fear of being abandoned, betrayed, and even abused again. It can make it difficult to trust in love again and may lead the victim to develop an intense need for control in future relationships.

Emotional distance — The victim may seem emotionally guarded. They may be afraid to open up and get close to people for fear of being hurt again.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) — The victim may relive the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares and may have difficulty remembering certain aspects of the abuse or react unexpectedly because of triggers.

Isolation — The victim may be isolated from friends and family for protection.

Inability to set boundaries — The victim may have difficulty setting boundaries with people. They may feel like they must please everyone and say “yes” even when they want to say “no.”

These behaviors can be detrimental to the survivor’s well-being, but understanding them can help a victim cope with the pain of the abuse. Survivors often feel powerless and helpless, and these behaviors can lead to regaining some control over their lives. Survivors need to seek help from a therapist and join groups such as the CPTSD Foundation and Parental Alienation Anonymous (PA-A) for support and to learn the skills to cope with their trauma in a healthy way.

I’ve been let down, too — but looking back, I know that I was given a life lesson no matter how brief or long the relationship lasted. Every experience further shapes the kind of person/partner and parent you want to be. Yes, maybe your bank account took a hit… but what you’ve gained and learned about yourself is ethereal. Cherish it, please.

You will get through it, step by step and time after time. One day you will know that you deserve better, and you won’t regret leaving the past and closing the chapter. After all, there is a book to be written — and you are the author.

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