If you've landed on this page, chances are that you are either concerned that you are in an abusive relationship or you know you're in one and you're ready to leave. If this is you, feel free to skip to the tips below.
For those of you who may still be on the fence about whether or not your relationship is abusive, however, reflect for a moment on the following (the opposite of an abusive relationship):
In a healthy relationship, each partner supports the other’s individual goals and dreams. You are each other’s cheerleader. Together, you have shared goals and dreams.
A healthy partner takes responsibility for their bullshit—meaning, if they say/do something that is hurtful they take action to make changes instead of stopping at “I'm sorry.”
A healthy partner listens to you and tries to hear you, even if they don’t understand right away.
A healthy partner wants to see you become the best version of yourself. They don’t ask you to change who you are in order to fit what they want you to be. On the other hand, an abusive partner sees you as a means to an end. Again, to them you’re barely a person, and instead, you're an object to meet their needs.
1. Be compassionate
Before you leave, and especially after, it is important that you are compassionate with yourself. Your inner critic, which has most definitely become louder and louder thanks to your abuser, will undoubtedly show up.
Keep in mind here that it’s normal to wonder if you made the “right” choice. Lots of people that I have worked with who have suffered from trauma think things like, “Did I make this all up? Am I actually crazy like I’ve been told over and over?” Such thoughts are to be expected—meaning, they’re par for the course. Again, these feelings and thoughts are normal and it’s best to try to see them for what they are—reverberations or leftovers from your abuser. When this happens, it’s best to simply notice it, and then let it go.
If you know or feel like you’re in an abusive relationship, one of the most crucial steps you can take is to either build a community or reestablish with the community you were a part of before you met your abuser. In fact, I would argue that this is the most important first practical step you can make, as you will need a positive support group during, throughout, and after you leave. In other words, do the opposite of what your abuser has done you: instead of isolating, put people back in your corner, even if you’re merely thinking about leaving.
“Look for people who you can truly be honest with: people who love you—the ones who have been there for you not just at your best, but also at your worst."
If you’re afraid to talk to family, don’t be. Most abusers try to convince you that they’re all you’ve got. So, reconnecting to others helps to reinforce the truth that you are not alone. More importantly, it decreases your felt dependence on your abuser. Again, while not impossible, without this type of community in your corner, it becomes much, much harder to leave.
Remember: when you’ve been suffering abuse, you’ve gotten use to being told what to think, what to do, and what to feel. Unfortunately this trauma becomes your normal, and as a result, you may find yourself reaching out to people who, while often well intended, act like your life coach. This is why it's important that you reconnect with yourself first—to trust yourself again.
*When to get professional support.
All too often, people wait until they leave an abusive relationship to start getting help. As mentioned above, it is recommended that your first step be reaching out to family and friends for support. However, not everyone has this type of support, and even if you do, it can be really helpful to have a trusted professional like a therapist in your corner before you make the decision to leave.
A therapist can help you understand your thought processes, uncover harmful patterns or ways of coping (like addiction), support you as you make the transition, and be there for you after leave. Don’t wait to see a therapist until after it’s all over. Begin talking to someone you trust. Then, that person will be able to help you through the transition at the end of the relationship and aid you in the aftermath of emotions that come with leaving.
3. Plan ahead
Most people who find themselves in abusive relationships do not leave impulsively. In fact, the research show us that it takes the average person about 7-12x to leave before they actually do so for good. In light of this, it is a good idea to plan ahead, considering the who, the what, the where, the when, the why and the how. All this aside, if you fear for your life, run as fast as you can. This is sometimes referred to as a “safety plan” (at the bottom of this blog there are links to helpful resources, including an interactive safety planning tool).
Communicate your plan with people who are in your corner, and let these people care for you. Do not tell anyone who you’re afraid will tell your abuser.
If you are currently employed, it may also be a good idea to inform your boss or human resources about the situation so they can have a plan for if your abuser shows up to your workplace unexpectedly.
Bring important documents, including passports, birth certificates, immigration papers, etc., in addition to anything you need for you or for your kids, such as medicines, formula, diapers, etc.
Change your phone number, passwords to your social media or accounts.
Block your abuser from being able to contact or follow you.
If you fear for your life or your children’s lives, file a restraining order.
Know when you will leave. Will it be in the middle of the night? When your partner is at work?
Go somewhere that is both safe and secure, for example, a shelter, a trusted family member or friend’s house, etc.
Write down why you’re leaving. Make a note in your phone or in a journal. Refer back to it anytime you start to doubt your decision. If you’re afraid of your abuser finding this, do this as soon as you leave—the sooner the better.
Will you leave in your own vehicle? Will someone pick you up? Make sure you have a plan for if your abuser finds out where you are at.
*What to tell your kids
If you have children, make sure to remind them that while they may love their abuser, violence is never acceptable. Further, release them from worrying about you, namely, tell them that their job is not to protect you, but to stay safe. By doing so, you are helping to unburden them from feeling overly responsible for your safety.
If you are thinking about leaving, here are some resources that you might find helpful:
domesticshelters.org (list of shelters by city/state)
loveisrespect.org (lots of great information as well as a FREE interactive safety plan to help you prepare and plan to leave)
thehotline.org National Domestic Violence hotline (find support, get help, educate)
womenslaw.org (legal help for women by state)
If you are currently suffering abuse or have suffered from any trauma in the past and need support, we can help. Make an appointment with us today to get started.
If you're interested in learning and hearing more, you can check out my interview on the “Something Was Wrong” podcast, where I talked about safety and coping strategies for leaving abusive relationships (you can listen to the episode by clicking on the pic below).