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We’ve all said it or heard it before, “why don’t they just leave?”. It seems easy from the outside. There are chants of “I’d never allow that,” or “No one would ever hurt me”, but the bond created in abusive relationships is a very strong one.

The cycle of abuse in relationships causes what is known as traumatic bonding. Just like an addiction to a substance, a person can get tangled in a relationship making it harder to get out of. The abusive partner may be a good parent. They may also be a source of comfort for the partner experiencing the abuse. The abuse may not be continuous, and the abusive partner is apologetic. The longer the relationship and abuse continues, the harder it is for it to end.

In my work as a therapist, I’ve heard many times that people were hoping to get back to the “way it used to be” with their partners. They had hopes that it would get to the way it used to be in the beginning of their relationships; before the abuse got as intense or violent as it is now (or was at the end). Sometimes they may not realize how abusive their partners were until a violent encounter. Abuse isn’t always violent – it can be sly and not obvious. There still is this piece of them that is bonded to their partner. If you’ve ever felt like you couldn’t leave a relationship because you can’t live without them, if your friends and family are concerned about your partner’s behaviors, if you fight about the same things without a solution, or if you still desire close intimacy with this person despite how hurt you are by them; these might be signs of a trauma bond.

If you are experiencing this type of bond or you know someone who is, hope is never lost. Expect there to be a time of grieving. Even if you don’t think there should be, allow them to grieve the loss of a relationship that was significant to them. Be supportive and listen to the variety of emotions and feelings they will have as they move through the grief cycle. Keep moving forward, expect there to be lapse in judgement, as that is part of the process. Healing takes time, effort, and consistency to change. Live one day at a time.

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