Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships?

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In a relationship, we depend on comprehension and love from our partner to help us grow and develop as people; however, some relationships can be unhealthy, and even abusive. After reading ‘Sweat’ by Zora Neale Hurston, I asked myself; Why would Delia stay with Sykes and suffer constant humiliation and torture? I believe that many people wonder why someone would remain in an abusive relationship and continue to deal with their misery. When people find themselves in these abusive relationships, they may feel as if they are trapped in their marriage. Trapped by religious beliefs, family pressure or fear of being judged by society. I believe that religious beliefs, gender roles, and commitment to a marriage were some of the substantial factors of why Delia remained with Sykes until his death. Another story like the ones above is ‘The Doll House’ by Henrik Ibsen. This story reveals some of the characteristics mentioned above. For example, a female protagonist, psychological behavior that will increase as argument advances and women oppression. ‘The Doll House’ communicates to us how Nora could not express her ideas due to the machismo that existed at that time. I Identified with their stories; I was married to an abusive and controlling husband. Like these women, I also felt that trapped in my marriage, I felt as if I had no option to leave. He beat me up, humiliated me, and I thought that I deserved it. Hurston’s writing demonstrates a common theme that when people are in a violent relationship, they may feel trapped by society’s beliefs, with death being the only escape.

Hurston mentions religion and work often during the reading to show the reader the great impact he had on Delia’s life. When Delia describes her routine, she says that all she does is ‘work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat.'(Hurston) This tells us that she had a vocation in her work, religion and in her marriage. Delia’s faith was the main impediment that prevented her from getting divorced. Delia had a strong faith in God and thought that if she got divorced, she’d be failing God. We are shown this not only through her commitment to church, but also through her dedication to her job and her failing marriage. We absorb this when Delia says to Sykes “Ah been married to you fur fifteen years, and Ah been takin’ in washin’ for fifteen years’ (Hurston). She felt responsible for keeping her marriage and had to sacrifice because she had a powerful commitment to God. Delia believes that it is not her job to handle her situation, but that God or the Devil will eventually punish Sykes for all his bad actions. This religious pressure to stay in a marriage helps reinforce the theme that women can feel trapped when they are in a situation like Delia’s. Like Delia, I am Religious and thought that if I left my marriage I would go to hell and lose my strong relationship with God. Sykes shows through the reading the power he has over her by scaring her with the bullwhip he liked to carry when he drove. The small acts of fear that Sykes does throughout the story are small reminders to Delia not step out of boundaries because he will put her back in her place. As we can see as a result of religious beliefs and social norms, some women may obligately stay in toxic relationships.

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Similarly, in ‘The Story of an Hour,’ by Chopin, Mrs. Mallard felt trapped in her marriage and felt that her days were only dedicated to her husband. ‘Sweat’ and ‘The Story of an Hour’ have a common theme; both claim that death can cause not only pain and sadness but can also represent joy and freedom. When Mrs. Mallard heard the news that her husband was dead, she experienced a mixture of emotions. At first, Mrs. Mallard seemed inconsolable after her husband’s death, but she concludes that she will be free without him. She repeated herself many times ‘free, free, free” (Chopin); she had finally, taken control of her own life. Along with the death of her husband, Mrs. Mallard felt sadness but, at the same time felt freedom and independent. Similarly, in ‘sweat,’ along with Delila’s husband’s death, she final felt liberated because she would finally be free of Sykes’s abuse. When Delia witnessed her husband’s death, she felt satisfied and she felt justified for not helping him. For me, death was also an option. I tried to kill myself, I thought death was my only option. I planned everything; hid the phones, waited for my ex-husband to leave and locked myself in the bedroom. Then I took all the medicine I had all at once; I wanted to die. Then I heard that someone attempt to open the bedroom door, I wanted to get up and my body was heavy, I could not lift a finger. Then I felt my Heart in my throat and in my head, my saliva was thick, making it hard to swallow. Then passed out and didn’t know what had happened next. Three days later, I opened my eyes in a critical care unit, it was as if I had been in a deep sleep. I was in a detention called 5150 hold, with two policemen at my side. Although I did not die that day, another Maria was born, wanting to be happy and no longer be mistreated. I too decided I would take control of my life. Similarly, like Delilah and Mrs. Mallard, it took a death related experience for me to finally take control over my life.

Like the women mentioned above, Nora from “The Doll House” was tied to a commitment. Nora’s religious beliefs restrained her to her toxic marriage. This story shows that Nora was used as a doll by her husband. However, Nora was not like the rest of the women mentioned above, Nora was different. When Nora left her house careless of her husband and children, she felt that she was free. Nora proved that Death, doesn’t need to be involved to be free. This story spreads a message for all women who are in an abusive relationship. Nora proved that it doesn’t matter what mainstream society thinks of her, Nora wants what is best for her.

At first glance it may appear that the only logical thing for one to do in an abusive relationship would be to simply leave. However, many times this does not seem like a real option. People often become enslaved in their relationships by many opposing factors. Some people may be pressured by societies beliefs in monogamy and their religious beliefs. Delia was trapped in an abusive marriage and was forced to put up with Sykes’s torment for far too long. She should have left him earlier, but her faithfulness, fear of her husband, and loyalty made Delia feel as if she has no choice but to bear the taunting of Sykes until one of them died. As seen above, death can either be a wakeup call or can be an excuse to finally seek freedom. Unlike Delia and Mrs. Mallard, Nora took initiative and didn’t wait for her husband to die to start her new life, she simply did what was best for her. What all three women seem to aspire Is a new life consisting of freedom and independence. Sadly, many women can relate to Delia because they too are confined to an unhealthy relationship. Unfortunately, toxic relationships may be more common than they appear, but I think that women should self-advocate and demand be treated with respect.

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Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships?. (2022, Feb 15). Retrieved from


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