Facts on Why People Are Unable To Walk Away From Toxic Relationships

Turning the pages on your newspaper or scrolling through your news/social media app is likely to yield one or two pieces on abuse.

And by that I mean abusive relationships like this…

Image: Screenshot from TNP

… or this.

Image: Yahoo

In the former, Jane (not her real name) was beaten with a hammer and screwdriver and had been in and out of hospitals no less than 5 times through the course of her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, the abuser.

The aftermath of the abuse leaves her now blind in one eye and only 80% vision in the other.

Their relationship lasted 5 – 6 years.

In the latter, in what has been termed a “sickening case of abuse” by The AsianParent , “a 27-year-old Singaporean was sentenced to 25½ years’ jail and 24 strokes of the cane on Feb 19, 2019 after he admitted that he had forced wife into prostitution.”

The man had also confessed to sexually abusing his 6-year-old daughter and 13-year-old niece.

His crimes only came to light after his own mother reported his actions to the authorities.

What is a toxic relationship?

In both cases, physical harm was inflicted on the victim(s).

That is by definition, the most widely accepted known form of abuse; and rightly so, for the damage done is deep and wide, far beyond the imagination of unsuspecting bystanders.

Abuse though, is inflicted and experienced more than just physically, for it comes in the form of emotional abuse as well.

Tell-tales signs of such a relationship range from a tearing apart of one’s self esteem via one’s partner’s words/actions, or even a simple yet perpetual emotion of feeling fear; ranging from the fear of upsetting her/him with wrong words or opinions, or just a constant fear that she/he would leave you as one has been told explicitly/implicitly that one wasn’t good enough.

Image: Zulu.sg

Why do people stay in such toxic and abusive relationships?

Notwithstanding the type of abuse, there are many reasons why people stay in such relationships.

Here’s a few that may ring true in the Singaporean context, or in the writer’s mind.

1. People may not understand that their relationship is abusive as aspects of such a relationship have been normalized

For some reason or other, people may not understand that their relationship is abusive. One reason may be that bad behavior like “ghosting”, spamming of multiple missed calls and accentuation of a power-play dynamics (which leads to self-esteem issues) are often depicted in shows and/or meme-fied.

The funny thing is what was once a caricature to bring out odd and unwarranted behavior, has now come full circle to be co-opted and accepted as norms.

If it’s funny, it shouldn’t be wrong right?

2. Inertia

If you’ve been living your life together, making a change will not come easy.

There is firstly the impending loss of familiarity, routines and even common (body) language one has to deal with cognitively, before the actualization of it even comes to pass upon the actual break up.

If you think changing your favourite brand of instant noodle is hard, no matter how unhealthy it is to you -and you know it is – what more a relationship with a person you are in contact with 24/7?

This does not even take into account yet financial or other forms of livelihood constraints that may be in play.


3. Fear of the unknown

Similar to, but not quite the same as inertia, a fear of the unknown may also keep a person in an abusive relationship.

While an inertia to change may be caused by the perceived inability to adapt, or thoughts like “I won’t find any better” or “this is the best love I can get”, fear of the unknown works differently because it functions like paralysis.

“I won’t find any better” or “this is the best love I can get” issues may stem from a low self-esteem brought about by years of physical and emotional abuse; but I would suggest that these can be remedied by consultation and even some self-coaxing.

Not easy, but possible.

Deeper-rooted though in our psyche is the fear of the unknown.


Like our fear of darkness and anything hidden from sight; the fear of the unknown has its origins in then-rational fear out of self-preservation back in the hunter-gatherer days.

If you can’t see it, there may be danger lurking around the corner.

So why risk it?

Yet these says, they are often more irrational than rational, for really, what could be worse than an abusive relationship in sight?

So complex is the notion of abuse, its definition, causes and its detrimental effect that this article barely scratches the surface.


Yet daily, countless numbers are facing this prison ironically brought about in the hands of their loved ones.

If you need help, you may contact the following organisations:

For counselling services:

AWARE: 1800 777 5555 (Mon–Fri, 3 pm– 9.30 pm)
Family Service Centres (FSCs):1800 222 0000

For counselling service on dating and domestic violence:

PAVE : 6555 0390
TRANS Centre (SAFE Centre – Stop Abuse in Families) : 6449 9088
Care Corner Project StART : 6476 1482

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