If you are in an abusive relationship, it may become so volatile that you can no longer avoid the reality that you need to leave or you may not live. Even then, leaving an abusive relationship isn’t easy and can be more dangerous than staying, if you’re not prepared and careful.
In this article, we discuss options for leaving when you’re in a life threatening or dangerous situation, why it may be a hard decision and how to overcome the challenges, how to know when you’re really ready to go, how to leave your partner without returning to the abuse, we share resources.
If you are a friend, family member, or responder, we invite you to read along so you may develop empathy for how hard it is for victims to leave and learn helpful tips should you find yourselves to be trusted family or friends of a survivor needing to leave.
Let’s get started.
If you’re in a dangerous situation – do this
Leaving an abusive relationship requires personal safety, emotional support, and exit planning that takes into consideration the victim’s current circumstances. Safety is the top priority and a victim’s fears shouldn’t be dismissed by anyone helping them. Safety may mean waiting to leave; other times it means get out now!
Seek a Domestic Abuse Advocate’s Help
If you sense you are in imminent danger, please don’t wait to get help. Reach out to the nearest domestic violence shelter or trained advocate, but please be careful so your partner does not know what you are doing.
Assume you are being tracked
Odds are your abuser is tracking you through your phone, automobile, computer, and email. Please assume they are and use a burner phone or make calls from a confidential line your partner cannot access when reaching out to shelters, hotlines, attorneys or others. Conduct any internet research on a friend’s computer or those available at a public library, but not your personal computer. If your car is being tracked – and it likely is – turn off your phone and have a friend drive you instead. It could be very dangerous if your abuser discovers you are planning to leave.
What to say
Contact domestic violence shelters, a social worker, or an agency addressing intimate partner violence, and tell them you feel threatened by your partner and need a safety plan for escaping a dangerous or abusive situation. Ask them to do a danger assessment for you. You may also speak confidentially about intense feelings and the danger you sense with your physician or a practitioner at a community health clinic and ask for support. These providers should be able to connect you with resources to address your particular circumstances.
Find an ally
If making that call seems more than you can handle, reach out to a friend you can trust – someone who will NOT speak with your partner – and ask them to help you to the point of making the call with you or accompanying you to a shelter. Together, you can seek expert advice on the best plan with your trusted ally helping you keep track of what you need to do.
Don’t Let Self-Doubt Stop You
If you’ve been in an emotionally abusive relationship for some time (and if there is physical abuse, emotional abuse also exists) , you might be accustomed to your feelings and concerns being minimized, dismissed, or mocked so often that you feel no one will take you seriously or believe you. Please trust your gut when it tells you to LEAVE. Trained advocates can recognize and know how to respond to dangerous situations. Many are also survivors of emotional abuse themselves and are keenly aware of the self-doubt and fear you likely feel.
Establish a Code Word
It’s essential to identify a unique code word you share with trusted friends, family or your kids who know that when you use it, they should call 9-1-1 immediately and send them to your location, no questions asked.
Fast Help for Abusive Relationships
If you are unaware of what services are available in your area, Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1–800-787-SAFE (7233). They will answer your questions and help direct you to the best services in your area.
Why is it so hard to let go of an abuser?
There are so many reasons leaving an abusive relationship might be hard. Here are a few:
- Trauma bond
- You love them
- You don’t agree with divorce
- Lack of resources due to financial abuse
- Nowhere to go
- Confusion about what is really going on in the relationship
- Not believing you have any support
- Fear you or your children will be harmed if you leave
Please know that while there might be many reasons you’re staying, your abusive relationship often is unlikely to change unless your partner is willing to undergo the deep and challenging work transformation requires, which many abusers are unwilling to do. Often, leaving abusive partners is the best or only thing to do.
Loving someone doesn’t always mean you stay no matter what
Many of us have been taught that love conquers all and we firmly believe we are supposed to stay in the marriage no matter what! We fool ourselves into believing they will change in time if we love them enough. That’s not true when your partner is abusive. Abusive partners are often unaware that they are doing abusive behavior and/or do not care to change no matter what. A healthy relationship is not violent. Physical abuse, sexual violence and emotional abuse are acts of violence, not love.
Are you sure you’re ready?
If you are not ready to leave and your life is not presently in danger, it might be worth staying until you feel more confident about your decision to leave.
So how do you know?
Take Your Emotional Temperature
Far too many victims leave only to return and the abuse usually escalates when they return. It’s scary even when you’re ready, but if you are, begin taking concrete steps to create an exit safety plan, including setting aside emergency cash. This process will help build the courage you need to stay gone until real change happens.
Nothing is changing except your own health and well-being
You have tried everything but nothing is helping. Your health and mental well-being are on a downward spiral and you can’t remember the last time you didn’t feel like you were walking on eggshells. You are constantly coming up against warning signs that you can no longer ignore.
Nothing is changing other than you. Perhaps you’re depressed, your health is failing, you’re always anxious, and exhausted. These are all signs you should pay attention to.
You fear for your life or the life of your children
If you fear for your life or your children, see above and leave. Exclamation Point!
Steps to take to make sure you stay away once you leave
Make sure your phone, computer, email, texts, or car are not being tracked by your abuser. It is very common for abusers to secretly track their victims. Make sure you have a confidential home phone number and you either get a prepaid cell phone or have your mobile phone being checked by an expert for tracking devices or spyware. Most stores that sell these products have services to help you determine whether spyware or other tracking devices have been placed on your technology. Use them.
Write it down!
What made you leave?
The day you leave, write down why you left. Be specific. Whenever you’re tempted to return before they have changed, review the list and remember why you left.
What do you need your abuser to do to reconsider being in an intimate relationship with them?
- Individual Therapy?
- Anger Management?
- Parenting Courses?
- Abuse Education?
- Admitting they abused you?
A day will come when you may ask yourself, “Is there something more I could have done to make a difference?” “Was I overreacting?” The real question you should be asking is what steps have THEY taken to have healthier relationships and address the abuse they caused? Have they demonstrated positive change for healthy relationships over an extended time, such as two years or more?
Steps to Take When Leaving Your Abuser if You Live Together
Make a Confidential Exit Plan
Domestic violence agencies or websites can make a safe escape or safety plan for you.
We WISH you could trust everyone, but many in your community will not be able or willing to acknowledge the abuse. Some people believe separation or divorce are always wrong. Many don’t realize that domestic violence between adults has devastating effects on children in the home. Some friends and family choose to focus solely on keeping you in the marriage rather than how they can protect you from the abuse. They are not safe people in which you can confide.
Pick one or two people, professionals or friends, you know you can trust your plans with and share your plan with them.
Stay Safe While you Wait to Leave
Open your own bank account. Pack an emergency “go” bag, just in case your timing shifts. Always keep your car fueled and ready to leave in a moment’s notice.
Try not to threaten to leave your abusive partner or hint that you are planning to leave. Doing so could escalate the physical abuse or other domestic violence further, leaving you in serious danger.
Gather Key Personal and Financial Documents
In the same way that you would create a comprehensive packing list when preparing for a long trip, one must take careful consideration in gathering all the important documents and material assets necessary to safely escape their abusive relationship.
Must-have items to include:
- Bank account and credit card statements. The day you leave is the day they will cancel credit cards, change passwords or otherwise lock you out. Be prepared.
- Insurance policy information (medical, dental, home, rental, business, life, etc)
- Actual or copies of your and your partner’s passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, your children’s birth certificates, trust or other key documents.
- Mortgage or Rental agreements.
- Copies of the deed, the title, insurance policies, or lease for your home and vehicles
- Copies of all pertinent phone numbers or addresses you may need to access.
You get the gist. Whatever you do, please don’t assume they’ll willingly share this information with you once they leave. Usually, they won’t.
Protect Your Privacy
If You Are Being Monitored or Tracked
Unfortunately, abusers often monitor their partner’s location, home address, phone, or internet search history. In fact, many domestic violence shelters and agencies offer a free service to remove trackers or spyware from your phone or other devices so that victims’ locations cannot be tracked. Often, this is a precondition to admittance. And also follow our recommendations above.
Change Your Accounts and Passwords
As soon as they realize you are gone, they are likely to do everything they can to limit your financial and personal freedom.
So, create new accounts or new passwords for everything (bank, 401(k), or investment accounts, phones, the internet, emails, etc.). Cancel old, unused cards or accounts so they won’t be able to revive them to ruin your credit with unpaid debt. Bar their access to any money or credit you have so they are unable to freeze, harm or empty your bank accounts.
Send new cards or statements to a P.O. Box, your business address, or to someone you trust in the meantime. Moving forward you might consider using a different bank from your abuser.
Change Your Routine
If you can’t move far away from your partner, change your routine. Old routes to school, work, or common places may need to be replaced by a different path or different times of the day. Always have a cell phone with you to call 911.
What to do to Prepare
Develop emergency funds by decreasing your spending and pocketing the change into a location they cannot access.
Reach out to your local church, domestic violence shelter, or friends who would be willing to help you with food and housing until you have some financial independence. In some counties, there are foundations that give grant money to victims to help them leave an abusive partner.
Moving Forward from Intimate Partner Violence
Remember: It isn’t easy. And that is OK.
Build a Healing Cocoon
Start by recognizing that you likely need time to recover from the traumatic effects of an abusive relationship, but know you are no longer in immediate danger. Find a quiet, secret location, perhaps even at a friend’s house, where you can rest, restore and let your emotions, grief, and pain release. Try to think of the first weeks or months on your own as living within a cocoon, developing and healing so you can emerge and fly.
Don’t worry about others so much, or spend too much time trying to make them understand. Pick a few people in whom you can confide if you need to process with others. Try to be confident in your need for healing and restoration. Begin by building a healthy relationship with yourself. If it helps, ask your family and friends to wait before you share too much.
It can be difficult to care well for yourself if you have to manage the emotions and expectations of so many others.
Read, Listen, and Heal
Read, listen, and heal. Journal, meditate, pray, exercise and sleep, Read books, articles, blogs, etc. Listen to podcasts, youtube talks, courses, music, or the ocean. Do art, go for long walks, and hug yourself. Take baths. Light candles. Extend grace and love to yourself. Get the picture? You not only deserve this time, you need it.
Remember, the abuse is not your fault. It was never your fault.
Get Legal Help
Many family law courts offer free clinics to help you with legal separation or divorce. Family law advocates or attorneys can give you helpful advice on setting temporary custody arrangements, handling finances, limiting communication with your abusive partner without compromising your reputation with a judge hearing your case.
There’s nothing wrong with being prepared.
Physically leaving an abusive home may be step one of ending abuse. Leaving is unlikely to stop your partner’s efforts to coercively control you. Often, they will not allow you space to heal, and will continue to exercise as much control as you’ll allow to sabotage your peace (constant texting, insults, reputation defamation, repeated voicemails, stopping by school, work or places they know you go).
The types of boundaries you can set might differ according to your circumstances. Your attorney or a clinical psychologist could help you learn how to set effective boundaries.
Don’t Wait For Them To Change
Believing change is possible is good. However, YOU cannot change someone who isn’t willing to change themselves.Hard work over a long, sustained period is required before they will consistently demonstrate the transformation you need to see before you could return. Unfortunately, most abusers will never do the work.
Find your community.
It’s key that you develop a support system to remind you of why you left and what you can do to heal. Supporters could be mentors, spiritual advisors, advocates, friends, family members or others. Basically, you need one or two people, or more, who are willing to listen to you – without judgment – sharing the same things over and over again as you process all you have endured.
Other Resources For You
Consider some of the many resources available to help you in your healing journey:
- Support Groups available at most shelters
- Body massage
- Personal Empowerment Programs and other free courses for survivors
- Acupuncture or reflexology to help with PTSD
- Wellness facilities and gyms
- The MEND Project ongoing free courses to educate you and help you find healing.
And remember. The MEND Team is here to talk, educate, share and refer you to any resources we can. We believe in you and your ability to heal from abuse. You are WORTH it.