How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship

How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship

Divorce specialist Natalie Maximets
Natalie Maximets is a certified life transformation coach with expertise in mindfulness and sustainability. She is a published author focused on the most progressive solutions in the field of Psychology. Natalie helps people go through fundamental life challenges, such as divorce, and build an entirely new life by reframing their personal narrative.

Did you know that almost 20 people are being abused by their partner every minute in the U.S.? Abuse includes not only physical violence and sexual assault but also psychological manipulations that cause depression and anxiety among the victims. Approximately every third American woman and every fourth American man suffers from the above types of abuse accompanied by stalking and rape.

Abuse causes deep psychological wounds that are hard to heal. It makes people less focused and impairs their relationship with significant people because it involves a lot of inner pain. The fact is, it’s much harder to trust others if a person was ever abused and knows the heartbreaking feeling of deceit. Such people fear opening their hearts to other individuals because instead of help, they might suffer from painful rejection and violence.

In fact, recovering from an abusive relationship includes a prolonged grieving process, according to Hoff, Kirkwood, and Landenburger. However, their study also reveals that grieving does not necessarily have to be directly associated with the loss of the relationship with an abusive spouse.

Please don’t take this wrong. It is normal to regret that the relationship didn’t work out for a while, but there’s an important nuance here. In most cases, we connect such feelings with the lost hopes and dreams as well as the damaged sense of self, not with the loss of a violent partner.

Nevertheless, many victims of abuse fail to realize that what they regret lies beyond the personality of the abuser. Thus, many people attempt to reconcile with their abusive spouse, which leads to repeated cycles of domestic violence or psychological pressure. Did you know that it often has aggravating consequences?

The statistics related to such decisions are very sad - the homicides of women in 15 states involve the participation of their romantic partner. Moreover, circa 85% of women suffer from domestic violence, while only 15% of men face similar issues. At the same time, the men who fall victims to abuse are less likely to report those cases to the police, probably because of social stigma.

Domestic violence made 28% of the U.S. families homeless. Unfortunately, there is also a correlation between the victims’ suicidal behavior as well as depression and the violent behavior of an abusive partner.

This means that even if you consider forgiveness a virtue, this should not involve testing how far you can go in letting your partner violate your personal boundaries.

In other words, you shouldn’t mix forgiving and forgetting. Even though you might be likely so forgive an abusive spouse, it might be dangerous for you and your children (if you have them) to stay in touch with them.

Apply the following steps if you want to eliminate the adverse effects of maintaining a connection with an abusive partner.

First, you should become aware that you are abused, either physically or mentally. If you are unsure whether your spouse is an abuser, take a step back and watch your partner’s behavioral patterns as though he or she was a complete stranger. Stay objective and don’t let your feelings towards this person interfere with the facts that you should rely on.

Second, if you found out you are being abused, remember that you always have a choice and that your life belongs to you, not someone else. Also, be sure that you will get help and that you will cope with the tough situation. Read further to find out the details of getting out of an abusive relationship.

18 Tips on How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship

1. Define the Type of Abuse

Physical Abuse

The signs of physical abuse include not only overt violence on behalf of your partner but also aggressive behavior, verbal threats to hurt you which your spouse later carries out, and making you have sexual intercourse when you don’t want it. Sexual abuse also includes making a woman pregnant against her will and pressing her to make an abortion when she wants to keep the child.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is much less overt, but it is also possible to trace its signs if you pay close attention to your partner’s words. For instance, verbal abuse includes calling names, deliberately saying the things that often insult you, although you asked not to do it. Humiliation, shouting, blaming you without an obvious reason and doubting whether you are sane at all regularly are also the signs of verbal abuse.

Emotional Abuse

This kind of abuse might be even less conspicuous than the verbal one - so be super attentive if you intuitively feel that your partner manipulates you. Be careful if you’ve noticed that your spouse doesn’t seem to acknowledge the feedback that you provide regarding their ambiguous behavior, you are losing energy and probably heading for a depression.

So many people fail to recognize that they have fallen the victim to the dirty manipulations, and they don’t realize why they feel so bad while they might be severely gaslighted.

The latter is the first and most threatening sign of emotional abuse. It is characterized by denying all your reasonable arguments and misleading you regarding past facts.

So double-check whether your partner is applying to gaslight you.

For instance, many victims of gaslighting were told by their abusive partners that certain things just didn’t happen at all while in reality, they took place. The victims were also blamed for being inattentive and accused of irrational behavior caused by a probable mental illness while being sane.

Of course, none of this was true, as the abusive spouses just made everything up on purpose to gaslight them. This type of manipulation allowed the abusers to cheat on their partners, steal their money, and simply derive pleasure from the sadistic games they played with them, such as watching how their victims are gradually losing the trust in themselves.

If you suspect your partner to gaslight you and you find it difficult to “catch” them red-handed, try to communicate in writing more often. This will allow you to have a written history of the things said by the abuser and double-check what facts took place, no matter what your spouse is saying about them.

2. Record the Abuse on Camera or a Voice Recorder

In case you’re physically or verbally abused, try to record the evidence of your partner’s violent behavior. You will later present it in court to prove that this person violated your personal boundaries. This will help you win a custody fight or to receive a restraining order. If neither of these work, the recorded evidence will still help you guarantee that your spouse never abuses you again.

3. Protect Your Money

Find out how to open an alternative bank account that will belong to you only and make sure you receive your personal income there without sharing it with your spouse.

The fact is, abusive partners are likely to control everything including your finances and might know your passwords, so you have to take proper care of your financial independence.

This is important because you might need to move out quickly one day and may need money to pay your bills. What is more, abusers are prone to using their partner’s money to cover their own expenses that might be more costly than you could ever think.

If you have to leave immediately and you don’t possess any finances now, purchasing a prepaid credit card in a retail outlet might be an option to make ends meet for a start.

4. Have an Emergency Kit

Getting out of an abusive relationship might be extremely hard, especially if you are officially married and have children, or in case you feel guilty. The latter is a common reason to stay in an abusive relationship. But the truth is, abusive partners are experts in evoking the feeling of guilt in their victims, which is also a manipulation. Thus, even if you aren’t psychologically ready to break your marriage with an abuser, at least develop a simple escape plan (read further to find out what it includes!)

Furthermore, have an emergency kit under your bed or in any other secret place that your spouse is unaware of. The kit should include your documents, some money, your basic things like toiletry, your prescription medication, and some clothes. Also, make copies of important papers and store them separately somewhere else.

5. Develop a Plan to Leave Immediately if Needed

If your partner is unpredictable, it is necessary to come up with a well-thought escape plan. Thinking about your possible emergency leave might save your life and the life of your children if any. Thus, firstly explore what areas of your apartment or house are safe so you can hide there if you cannot escape. Make sure that those spaces are free from the objects that can be possibly used as weapons.

Second, never leave your car without petrol and have your phone fully charged. By the way, it is better to have a second cell phone and make an extra vehicle key. Make sure to keep them in secret spaces. When your spouse isn’t at home, test your emergency plan by trying to quickly leave your place and get into the vehicle.

6. Make and Memorize the List of Your “Safe” Contacts

Think beforehand who you can call and go to in case of emergency. It is essential to print out the list of the people you trust and their phone numbers as well as their addresses.

However, it is even more important to memorize all those details so that if you don’t have the access to the hard copy, you can still call your close relatives or friends to get help or host you for a night.

Also, memorize the phone numbers of the police, a local shelter, and the hospital. Protect your physical list so that your abusive partner doesn’t get crucial information regarding where you can go if you leave. Furthermore, if you have children, make sure they memorize important contacts, too.

To get immediate help, dial the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

7. Come Up with a Code Word

Using a code word might be especially helpful if you have kids as you can agree with them upon leaving the place quickly. However, it will also come in handy in case of emergency.

You can say your code word whenever you need help from your friends, neighbors, relatives or people at work. It is also essential to develop an emergency plan that your opponent should execute to help you out, such as instantly calling the police.

8. Find Out and Memorize Where You Can Get Help

Home violence survivors have to investigate all the procedures available in governmental organizations that provide help to such people. Even if you feel defenseless at the moment, it is very important to realize that help is still available. You just have to come to terms with how to get it.

For instance, victims of abuse can benefit from income assistance and unemployment insurance. Shelters are vital when you no longer have a place to live. They can host both you and your children in case you can’t stay under the same roof with an abuser anymore. They will provide you with food and even look after your kid.

Although you can use a shelter for a limited period, its workers will help you with finding a new home, getting counseling or attending a support group. They will also help you receive legal help, deal with unemployment, improve your health, get financial counseling and even pursue your educational goals. What is more, some refuges and shelters are capable of keeping you under a false name so that your spouse doesn’t find out where you are.

9. Start Preparation for Divorce

Unlike an ordinary divorce where two partners would at least try to communicate and reach an agreement, the divorce with an abuser is totally different.

First, you shouldn’t tell your spouse you keep in touch with legal experts such as an attorney. Second, you should keep all your correspondence secret and increase your cyber protection. Change the passwords to all your email inboxes, social media accounts and make sure that any important papers don’t end up in your physical post box if you and your spouse still live together.

Even if you no longer live under the same roof with your spouse, double-check the information you provide to the lawyer as it might be sent to your former address. In some cases, it is also recommended to look for spy programs on your cell phone or a laptop which can allow your abusive partner to reach sensitive data without directly taking your devices in his hands. Furthermore, you should also change your locks if you’re the one to stay in the family house.

It is better to find an attorney with experience in divorces because of an abusive relationship and domestic violence. Apart from giving you a valuable piece of advice regarding your specific situation, these experts will be able to advise you on financial issues.

10. Take Your Destiny in Your Own Hands

You are most vulnerable when you prepare for a legal divorce because you might start regretting your decision. In fact, many victims want to give their abusive partner a second chance that ends up in third, fourth, fifth and twenty-fifth chances if you’re lucky enough to survive.

Thus, be careful if you are thinking about a reconciliation. There is nothing more dangerous than recreating the circumstances that have already threatened your existence either in a physical or moral way.

Of course, your spouse might switch to the tactics that can help him get you back such as saying that they need your love and support to cope with their issues. Nevertheless, you are the only person responsible for your own destiny and make crucial decisions. You shouldn’t allow anyone to cross your personal limits in case violent behavior previously compromised them.

Moreover, try to go as deep in your feelings as you can to find out what you want, exactly. Are you sure that you are missing your abusive partner that used to hurt you? Do you truly believe they will change easily?

As mentioned above, you might grieve over your failed dreams to build the “lived happily ever after” type of relationship. If so, focus on restoring your broken self or building it from scratch. And please, never believe the words no matter how touchy or beautiful they might sound.

The only thing to trust is action, so if your abusive partner truly transforms, you’ll notice that. But until you witness this magical transformation with your own eyes, it’s better to avoid experimenting with your life and well-being to check if you can survive another round of violence, especially if you have children.

11. Protect Your Boundaries Once You’ve Set Them

Many victims of abuse face such issues as receiving phone calls with threats or begging to come back from their spouse, including threatening to attempt suicide.

To make matters worse, abusers also tend to involve children in their manipulations and might try to get some information with their help. They might also hassle your new partner, calling your relatives, sending you a gift against your will, and bracing you because they “need to talk.”

These strategies are as old as the moon so focus on protecting your personal boundaries instead of following these manipulative paths. Try to stick to every limitation you’ve set regarding your spouse - don’t allow them to break your boundaries because it is another kind of abuse.

Keep your correspondence as formal as possible. If you have to meet an abusive partner in person, don’t do it without the presence of another grown-up in the room. If this doesn’t help and your spouse still “haunts” you, consider getting legal help.

12. File for a Personal Protection Order

A personal protection order will allow you to get your boundaries safeguarded by law. To receive it, you must show the evidence of the abuse and be able to prove to the court that you need protection.

You’ll also have to include a letter describing your situation. Don’t be afraid of the paperwork - the result is definitely worth the effort! The police will be able to protect you whenever you need it if you have a personal protection order. The good news is, sometimes, your spouse won’t be even allowed to approach you due to the restrictions.

If you have children, it is recommended to ensure extra protection for them. Consult the attorney on the matter of safeguarding the kids as they also might need additional measures to keep their boundaries safe. Professional advisors will also help you sort out the issues associated with the financial support of your children on behalf of your abusive partner.

Make sure you have the evidence that you’re the primary caregiver to your children to avoid ambiguous situations with your local court. For instance, it is better to take the photos of you taking care of your kids, including taking them to school. Also, ask for testimonials from their teachers, friends, and relatives. Additionally, apply to the court to reclaim all the things that belong to you.

How to Decrease the Emotional Effect of Abuse

13. Start a New Life from Scratch

No matter how hard it may seem at first, start a new life to build the future you want. Indeed, it is difficult to overcome all crises associated with the abuse and divorce as they hurt, but once you deal with them, things will get better.

Going through a divorce with an abuser is like recovering from a serious illness. A plethora of pain is involved in the process, and it takes lots of courage to deal with. However, your fate is in your hands, so it is only you who can attempt to overcome the agony of the separation.

Although it won’t happen overnight, you’ll be able to cope in the long run. All you need is to believe in yourself and wait patiently for when the pain is finally over.

Nevertheless, it might be hard for you to figure out what direction to take to reach the turning point. Thus, it is essential to follow the advice of psychologists who specialize in divorce with abusers. For instance, they recommend getting rid of all things that remind you of your spouse including clothes and souvenirs.

14. Practice Meditation Regularly

Try to practice Self-Compassion Meditation regularly. It will assist you in taking the situation as it is and, at the same time, in getting morally prepared to shift your focus from the past to the future.

There are various kinds of Self-Compassion Meditation; however, all its types include a few similar steps to accept your feelings including regret and grief. Just sit or lie in a comfortable position and accept the flow of your emotions as they come and go.

Say to yourself, “I accept my feelings as they are no matter how hard they might be. I accept my life as it is with all its ups and downs. It doesn’t matter how many times I fell because the main thing is that I got up and went on.”

Also, connect with your Inner Child and send him or her much love and care. Say to your Inner Child, “You are safe with me now. I will never let you down again. I will protect you whenever you need it.” This meditation will help you reclaim yourself and become empathetic toward your feelings.

Furthermore, you will also greatly benefit from Release and Surrender Meditation. You’ll be able to practice it to let go of all hard feelings associated with the divorce. It will give you an enormous relief and true freedom from your past as well as from the things that you are unable to control, such as someone’s behavior. You’ll be also free from your anger, frustration, sadness, regret, and grief. It is one of the best meditations that are capable of helping you to restore inner peace.

15. Get Back to Your Daily Routine

If you still feel like a social dropout, creating a new daily routine or adjusting the old one will help you to reconnect with simple things that keep your head above water.

You can also benefit from seeing your relatives and friends on a regular basis as they will help you to carry on. What is more, they can assist you in moving your things to a new apartment and looking after your children when you’re busy.

16. Don’t Take Social Stigma Too Personally

Although communication with close people is usually very helpful for the abusive relationship survivors, some people prefer to suffer alone because they are afraid of social stigma. It is true that society treats the victims of abuse in a different manner. However, if you are compassionate towards yourself, no victim-blaming will threaten your well-being. Indeed, reclaiming your self among the members of your community might take extra effort but don’t isolate yourself because of it!

Just be aware of the fact that abuse was not your fault as it can happen to anyone. Nobody is responsible for someone else’s actions - people are only in charge of their own behavior. So you didn’t “deserve” to be abused and did nothing “wrong” that would justify your abusive partner’s violent actions.

What you truly deserve is life free from humiliation. So concentrate on making conscious efforts to start over instead of paying attention to what other people say. In fact, the opinion of the individuals who never tried wearing your shoes costs nothing.

17. Seek Therapy or Attend a Support Group

If you’re currently getting out of an abusive relationship, chances are high that you are suffering from PTSD or other severe mental health issues. This doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you! On the contrary, feeling intense pain is a sign that you’re a normal person who’s reacting to stress.

Still, it would be better to address a victim services counselor that will help you to go through the hardships of your separation. What is more, you can also join a domestic violence support group to overcome emotional trauma together with other abuse survivors.

Your healings process will accelerate once you meet other people who have been dealing with similar issues. Individual or group therapy will not only alleviate your pain but also help you to avoid abusers and form healthier relationships in the future.

18. Learn What Precious Gifts This Situation Gave You

Relationships with abusive partners are tough yet they are deeply transformational. When you get calmer and are able to restore inner balance, ponder upon the possible gifts of such transformation.

For instance, you might have received a life-long immunity to abusers. Or you might suddenly reveal that your experience turned you into a completely different person - more confident, more independent, more resilient.

What is more, you might discover that you can do the things you didn’t dare to do before. For example, you might find fun in new hobbies such as dancing or hiking. Finally, you might find out that you can now help other people deal with their emotional traumas related to getting out of an abusive relationship. There’s definitely a gift that will help you on your way to happiness - you just have to take a closer look, and you’ll see it!

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