Why People Stay Too Long in A Toxic Relationship

Why People Stay Too Long in A Toxic Relationship why people stay too long in a toxic relationship
Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

When we don’t understand the dynamics of a toxic relationship, some common questions we might ask ourselves are something like, “Why don’t they leave?” or “Can’t they see they are being abused?” Especially when a loved one is stuck in the relationship.

What we need to know is that, as an outsider, it may seem so easy, but for someone in an abusive situation, it’s not just a matter of packing their bags and leaving. There are many constraints and factors that keep them in the toxic relationship.

Toxic relationships are extremely complex situations characterized by deceit, power, manipulation, control, and invalidation. All these play a huge role in the factors that can keep someone in a toxic relationship. In this article, I’m going to share and explain the reasons why people stay in a toxic relationship.

  1. Distorted Thoughts & Sense of Reality

Being in a toxic relationship is depleting and draining, and someone will start thinking that that’s how life is supposed to be. The constant verbal abuse in the relationship makes someone think that they’re crazy, as they’ve been constantly called out in various ways, and that everything is always their fault (even what’s happening in the abuser’s lives).

The constant criticism and undermining in all kinds of weird and indirect ways leave someone constantly doubting and questioning themselves. All these distort someone’s sense of reality, and it leads to self-defeating thoughts (with their meanings) like:

“I deserve to be treated that way because I made a mistake” — (self-shaming because they’ve been constantly told everything is their fault)

“The names they’ve called me are just a portrayal of who I am” — (constant gaslighting has made someone take their words as actual facts)

“I am the problem in this relationship, and I need to give more” — (feelings of guilt because they’ve been constantly told everything is their fault)

“At least I’ve not been physically mistreated, it’s just words” — (watering down emotional and verbal abuse)

All these self-defeating thoughts will keep someone in the relationship longer and longer as they feel that they’re either responsible for what’s happening in the relationship, or what’s happening in the relationship is not abuse.


2. Damaged Self-Worth & Self-Esteem

Being in a toxic relationship is a huge blow to someone’s self-esteem and self-worth. The constant degradation and belittling comments make someone feel like they have no value at all. Every interaction with a toxic person leaves a dent in someone’s sense of self. Also, the fact that being in the relationship, we neglect our needs and priorities (from physical hygiene, grooming, mental health, body physique), ends up doing more harm to our worth.

A torn-down self-esteem and self-worth will keep us trapped in the relationship longer and longer, as we now lack the confidence to stand up for ourselves and even decide. The feeling of worthlessness is crippling, and someone feels that they deserve no better than where they are presently. It might also make someone feel that they will not find someone else and will end up being alone if they leave, as they believe they’re not good enough.

3. Fear & Intimidation

Another factor that may keep someone in a toxic relationship is the fear of what might happen if they leave. Some toxic people may emotionally or physically threaten their partners if they leave the relationship, and this is entrapping.

Some of the common emotional threats they might use are threatening to expose their secrets or confidential information (e.g., exposing their nude photos on social media) or make them lose their jobs. Some partners may even go to the extreme end of death threats.

The fear out of this is crippling and controlling, and ruins the dream of leaving the toxic relationship, as the consequences of leaving are too much to bear and may even ruin someone’s ability to be independent.

4. Lack of Enough Finances/Resources

Another factor is the lack of enough finances. In most family dynamics, there’s always one main breadwinner, which is mostly the husband, and then the wife does household chores and light duties (that’s mostly in my African setting). This means that one partner exerts more financial control, and the other partner will find themselves being short of personal finances or even short of time to focus on their career or build a profitable business. Also, some toxic partners may be so domineering & controlling that they won’t allow their partners to look for a job or even start a business. When things turn sour in the relationship and without financial independence, leaving can be quite challenging as someone will lack the funds to fend for themselves (and their kids -if involved). So, the only option remaining is just staying for their survival. Financial independence goes a long way in carving out our freedom.

5. Children

In cases where children are involved, someone chooses to stay as they don’t want to disrupt the traditional family setting. There are two sides to this; the abused may choose to sacrifice their safety for the sake of the kids, as they want the kids to have a mother/father and not stay in a single parent kind of household.

The other side is the abuser may use having children together as leverage or a guilt-trip that the victim cannot leave the relationship for the sake of their kids. The other factor within this is the possibility that the victim may lose custody of their kids, so staying is a guarantee that they will have time for the kids.

6. Familiarity

For someone who was raised in an environment where abuse was rampant, they may not have an idea of what a healthy relationship looks like. This means they may not see their partner’s actions and behavior as toxic, but just how relationships are supposed to be.

The most common one is even associating physical abuse or excessive control as a sign of love and care. This conditioning will make someone stay as they have blinders drawn for the abuse that’s happening. This familiar toxic environment may also bring out the feeling of ‘safety’ in the drama and chaos, as that’s what you used to experience as a kid when your mum and dad were quarreling or fighting.

As we know, the mind feels safe with familiar environments, and it hates change.

7. Isolation

One of the most common forms of manipulation in a toxic relationship is isolation from friends and family. Toxic partners will forcefully, subtly, or cunningly drive their partners away from their friends and family so that they can have full control of their lives.

This makes it really hard for someone to seek support if they want to leave the relationship, as they’ve disconnected from what was supposed to be their support network.

Isolation makes someone stay longer as they’ve lost contact with people who would have called out some of the toxic behaviors in the relationship, as well as validate their experiences. The result of this is feeling stuck with nowhere to run to or ask for help.

8. Societal Conditioning

Another factor that makes it really hard to leave a toxic relationship is the fact that the society we live in has made relationships (especially marriage) as something worth fighting or even dying for.

Most people cannot leave as the culture we’re entrenched in keeps ringing in our heads that the relationship is supposed to be a permanent thing and you should fight to stay together, and it’s wrong to leave a relationship. This is a very dangerous ground to tread on, as it leaves our decisions in the hands of the societal illusion of making it work.

Seeing beyond this illusion is not an easy thing, as it is mostly reinforced by those close to us (family & friends), which leaves someone with no choice but to keep maintaining the patchwork.

9. Hoping that things will Change

The early stages of a toxic relationship can be something colorful, amazing, and worth reliving over and over again. Toxic partners start out as these charming people who pour to our needs and make us feel like royalties, especially at the beginning of a toxic relationship, and we love this about them.

So, one reason we stay too long is we still cling to the illusion that things will go back as they were early on. To make it even harder, some partners may display hot and cold behavior, and this gives someone more hope that they will change.

They may also promise that they will change, and someone will end up staying and give them countless chances.


Beyond all these, there are other countless reasons why people stay in toxic relationships, and the experiences of all victims are unique. What we need to understand is that a toxic relationship is a complex dynamic, which may be hard for an outsider to comprehend. I hope this article will be an eye-opener for all of us to be more compassionate to those going through hard times, not by scolding them but by actively listening and leaving our windows open for them to jump in once they have the strength and courage to leave. We can also offer them space to speak up and seek support without criticizing or judging them. Irrespective of the circumstances, survivors deserve to be supported in their decision-making and empowered to find peace in their lives again.

“Compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering.” — Dalai Lama

Note from the Author

If you’re ready and you’d like my help with healing, finding peace in life and breaking free from these toxic patterns (in less than 2 months) , then you can book a FREE BREAKTHROUGH CALL with me HERE. Happy healing 💙💙. Feel free to share and comment! Use this information with caution, it comes from my own thoughts & bias, experiences and research😊.

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Edwin Bii
Edwin Bii

I'm Edwin Bii, a trained advanced conversational hypnotherapist (ACH) and Mind Shifting Coach from Kenya offering mental health support, and life coaching to help you crush your goalsand overcome your problems. Together, we'll navigate challenges, build self-awareness, and create a happier, healthier you. Let's unlock your potential.

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