Leaving an Abusive Relationship
Domestic abuse is defined as a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. Every abusive relationship is different, but there is one commonality: the abusive partner does many things to establish and maintain power and control over their partner.
Domestic abuse can include physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse, and economic deprivation. A relationship does not need to be violent to be abusive, but the danger of being seriously injured or killed greatly increases within relationships that include physical and sexual violence.
People who are in an abusive relationship may feel confused, afraid, angry, or trapped. All of these emotions are normal responses to abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, you may also blame yourself for what is happening, but the truth is that you are never responsible for your partner’s abusive behaviors.
Despite promises and pleas from the abusive partner, change rarely occurs. Rather, the intensity and frequency of the abuse often increases and escalates over time.
How to Get out of an Abusive Relationship
Abusive partners often do and say things to shift the blame onto the victim or even deny that the abuse ever took place. There are many other reasons people stay in abusive relationships and leaving can often be very complicated.
Leaving can also be the most dangerous time for a victim of abuse. Because abuse is about power and control, leaving the relationship is the victim taking control and the abusive partner’s power is threatened. This could cause the abusive partner to retaliate in destructive ways.
If you are in an abusive relationship, there is help available to you. There are local, state, and national organizations dedicated to helping you leave, be in a safe space, and gain control of your life and wellbeing. These organizations can help you create a safety plan.
A safety plan will map out preparing to leave, when you leave, and after you leave. It will plan ways to cope with emotions, tell friends and family about the abuse, take legal action, and more. Having a safety plan laid out in advance can help you protect yourself in stressful moments.
Preparing to Leave
As mentioned above, leaving an abusive relationship can escalate the abuse. It is important to take certain actions as you are preparing to leave:
- Keep evidence of physical abuse (pictures of injuries)
- In a safe place, keep a journal of all violent incidences (noting dates), and of events and threats made, if possible
- Know where you can get help. Tell someone what is happening to you
- If you are injured, seek medical help and ask that your visit is documented
- Plan with your children and identify a safe place for them
- Contact your local shelter and find out about laws and other resources available to you before you have to use them during a crisis
- Try to set money aside or ask family or friends to hold money for you
Leaving an Abusive Relationship
As you create your safety plan, you can make a plan for how and where you will escape quickly. You may ask for a police escort or stand-by when you leave. If you have to leave in a hurry, try to take as many of the following items as possible:
- Driver’s license/identification/passports
- Birth certificate and children’s birth certificates
- Social security cards
- Checking/savings account books, money, financial information
- Legal protective order (if you have one in place)
- Copies of lease/rental agreements or deed to your home
- Car registration and insurance papers
- Health and life insurance papers
- Medical records for you and your children
- Valuable jewelry
- Pictures/sentimental items
After you Leave
There are precautions to take after you leave to keep you and your family safe. Below are some examples, though you may want to collaborate with domestic abuse organizations that can help you create a detailed safety plan specific to your situation.
- Call law enforcement to enforce the protective order and give copies of the restraining order to employers, neighbors, and school officials along with a picture of the offender
- Get caller ID and screen your calls, maintain a different daily routine, go to work different hours and take a different route
- Change the route in taking your children to and from school, or consider changing their schools
- Use different stores and reschedule appointments the offender may be aware of
- Install security systems if possible, and replace wooden doors with steel or metal doors
Though leaving an abusive relationship can be complicated and require many changes in your life, there is help available to you for every step along the way. You can find help leaving an abusive relationship by talking to a counselor.