Why do women stay in abusive relationships? It's the $5.8 billion dollar question - the one so many people stumble over when they read about yet another woman killed by yet another boyfriend in yet another violent relationship: Why didn't she just leave? She's had two legs; she knew how to walk.

And yet, women don't. Five-point-eight billion is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's lowball dollar estimate of what intimate partner violence costs each year in medical care, mental health treatment and lost productivity - nothing in comparison to the cost of life, which is four women a day in the U.S., and on the rise for those in dating relationships. So back to the why: In the process of researching "Tell Somebody" - Glamour's report on relationship violence - we tried to get at the answer by asking experts, survivors and women in abusive relationships now.

The Experts Say...

"If people understood the dynamic of power and control, they wouldn't ask the question," says Jane Randel, head of Liz Claiborne's Love is Not Abuse campaign and a longtime leader in the effort to end domestic violence. Thanks to efforts like hers, we know that abusers don't show up on a first date swinging punches; their hands are too busy carrying roses and opening doors for us. It's only slowly that their destructive behavior - the controlling 300-times-a-day texts; the withering criticism; the terrorist threats; the interfering with your job, your sleep (yep, a tactic), your friendships - wraps around you like a noose. And the more you try to pull away, the tighter it gets.

Interestingly, neuroscientists are starting to find that repeated abuse actually changes the brain. For example, using fMRIs, Alan Simmons, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, found that intimate partner violence can affect the way a woman thinks, making her more prone to being withdrawn, forgetful and so stuck in negative thinking that she can't see how a situation can improve. Many survivors look back and say they were in a fog; often the phrase is: I lost myself. "There is something biological," says Simmons.
"It's not a sign of weakness. It's akin to what happens to the brain during war."
The typical rollercoaster of smack-downs and diamonds, anger and apologies, is also addictive. Diane Lass, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who treats domestic violence victims in San Diego, compares the intermittent payoffs to playing the slot machine - go back just one more time, you might win his heart again--but without the violence.

Survivors Say...

To find out first-hand why women stay, Glamour partnered with the National Family Justice Center Alliance - an innovative multi-service domestic violence resource with centers across the country - to ask 50 survivors coming in for help. "I was scared he was going to kill me if I left," said one - a sentiment repeated by many. It's a reasonable fear because the risk of homicide is highest after a breakup. "I thought it would change," or "I thought I could fix it," were other biggies. Money, children, and feeling worthless were also primary reasons women said they hung in as long as they did. But the most common refrain? "I loved him."

Women in Abusive Relationships Say...

Love, in fact, is the number one reason women are not leaving their abusers now, according an exclusive Harris Interactive online survey Glamour commissioned, polling more than 2,500 female respondents ages 18 to 35 on the issue. The next three reasons: lack of money, concern about custody, and fear of never finding someone else. "People think, 'You don't have kids? You're a beautiful girl. What's keeping you with him?'" says Reena Becerra, 38, who left her boyfriend Mike Vargas after he once bashed her head against the linoleum floor and strangled her. "I started out a confident, strong girl. But five years of someone telling me, 'If you just shut up, I wouldn't have to hit you, and I started thinking Maybe I should shut up."

Today, as chair of VOICES, an advocacy group through the Family Justice Centers, she shakes her head.
"I'm smart, I'm getting my Ph.D. - it's a shock when I think about it. But I had all these little hearts in my eyes for this guy. I just couldn't see him for the monster he really was."
Have you ever wondered why someone in an abusive relationship would stay? Does this surprise you?

About the author

Liz Brody is Glamour's editor at large. Learn more about relationship violence and join our Tell Somebody campaign to help keep women safe now.