Stay Committed

How Common Wisdom Works Against the Abused Partner

Excerpt from Chapter 2

The idea of being committed to a life partner and the shared relationship is a piece of common wisdom that helps people weather the difficulties most couples face. Many people are not just committed to their partners, however. They are also committed to living by relationship principles such as: be compassionate, forgive, take responsibility for your part of the problem, accept others as they are, and don’t be a quitter. This sense of commitment leads abused people to stay with toxic partners in the belief that if they keep trying to work it out, things will get better:

I made a promise to her. We were engaged, dear God. I made a promise that I was going to love her no matter what, so I felt like unconditional love brought about more responsibility. I truly believed that if I did everything I could, then we would succeed, but again, it was very much one-sided.


The idea of being committed to a life partner is also an enduring social value that is passed on from generation to generation:

I believe in the institution of marriage. And we’re not supposed to just give up. We are supposed to work through our differences. As did my parents, whether they were good or bad, and I believe that with all my heart.


In addition to a value extolled by family elders and society at large, commitment in relationships is also a spiritual value. Spiritual or religious teachings are a strong force in many people’s lives and are not easily discarded:  

Those kinds of principles: compassion, compromise, and forgiveness remind me of the core training of religious paths about those things. I think that would be another reason why I worked so hard to stay in relationship. The religious teaching about how you’re supposed to be in relationship. Those seeds were planted very deeply for me.


For many people, being committed to their partner and the relationship is a matter of morality and character, so deciding to leave involves a struggle with their conscience:

When I was unhappy enough to think of leaving, I needed to grapple with my belief system and self-judgment about wanting to leave, and possible judgment from friends, family, children, and my religious community. There is the belief that relationships fail because people aren’t doing the work, so that means do the work.

— Abigail

Even after people have left the religious institutions where they learned these principles, they may still hold onto the idea that being committed to a life partner is a value to be honored:

I am not as religious as I have been in the past, but there is the sense of if I was just better at forgiveness, and letting go of things, and being patient, and letting people be who they are, all of those things, that it wasn’t just a good way of being; it was also a more spiritual or religious way of being, a kinder way of being, so that impacted my belief system.

— Abigail

These teachings are so powerful that even people who have been rejected by their religious institution are still guided by them. Jacob, a gay man, explained how the values he learned at church stayed with him, even after the church rejected him:

Even after I came to the realization that I needed to leave, my spiritual programming—I didn’t believe in divorce, and I was committed to this person—compelled me to stay and make it work. And so even though that whole idea system had shunned me and threw me out, I still carried it forward into this relationship. And that was one of the reasons I stayed as long as I did.

Whether people come from a spiritual or secular orientation, whether they took formal vows or not, and whether they legally married or not, most feel a deep sense of commitment to their chosen life partner. Consequently, they will invest a lot of time and effort—months, years, even decades—honoring that commitment and doing everything they can to make their relationship a success.