Leaving an Abusive Relationship
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Practical and emotional steps for escaping abuse
When people hear about an ongoing abusive relationship, they often asked, “Why doesn’t she leave?” This is a legitimate question, but it neglects the complicated nature of abusive relationships. There are a range of reasons why women stay in abusive relationships, including safety and financial concerns, lingering affection for the abuser, the victim’s emotional well-being, and a desire to protect the children.
Leaving an abusive relationship can be a complicated and painful process, but if you’re in an abusive relationship, please know that you’re not alone. It is possible to leave, and the reward for leaving an abusive relationship is a lifetime without fear, the ability to make your own decisions about your future, and, for Solo Moms, the opportunity to raise your children in an environment free of anger and violence.
It’s never easy to leave an abusive relationship, but here are some practical and emotional steps that you can take in order to make the process safer and easier.
- Create a safety plan with a professional. A safety plan is a practical plan for remaining safe when leaving an abusive relationship. Even if you don’t think you need a safety plan, remember that abusive individuals are volatile, and the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is often when the victim decides to leave. You can read more about safety plans at the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
- As part of your safety plan, arrange for a safe and confidential place to stay with your children. This could be at a domestic violence shelter or with a friend or family member, but confidentiality is of utmost importance. Be mindful of who you speak to about your location. Well-meaning friends and family members might talk to the abuser out of a desire to help, but they might not fully grasp the severity of the situation. A sad reality of leaving an abusive relationship is that many concerned people simply will not be able to understand what you have been surviving, and their attempts to help may do more harm than good.
- If needed, file for a restraining order. Restraining orders are not perfect, but they act as a deterrent for many abusers. More importantly, they provide you with a record of the abusive behavior. Having a record can be important in both criminal and family courts.
- Document everything. Try to limit your communication with your abuser as much as possible, but document all abusive communication. Take photos of injuries. Record abusive conversations. Make note of the dates and times. Documentation can be difficult and feel wrong, but having a paper trail will help you if your partner tries to get custody of your children or tries to claim that the abuse was mutual (both common strategies from abusers).
- To the extent you can, free up money that is not tied to your abusive partner. Abusive partners are quick to close or drain mutual bank accounts. When leaving, you should have some other source of income, whether it is in a separate bank account or cash that you’ve squirreled away. Still, if you don’t have a separate source of income, don’t let that deter you from leaving. Domestic violence shelters often offer short-term financial assistance to assist victims in leaving the abusive relationship. Friends and members might also offer personal loans. What is important is your safety and the safety of your children. Once you’re safe, it will be easier to figure out the financial logistics. You can read more by reading ESME’s article, “Escaping Financial Abuse.”
- Line up reliable child care. Solo parenting is hard, but a support system of caregivers can make it easier. Whether it’s a grandparent, a friend, a daycare center employee, or a babysitter, make sure that you have someone you can call in a pinch to help with child care. You might have unexpected obligations that arise, such as a meeting with a divorce lawyer, a job interview, or the need to set up a new bank account, but you might also just need an hour to yourself, and that’s OK.
- Accept that there will be times when you’ll need to cry. There is a great deal of loss involved in leaving an abusive relationship: the loss of dreams, financial losses, and perhaps the loss of in-laws, friends, pets, or time spent with your children. These losses are real, and the only way to get through it is to grieve. Give yourself the space and time to grieve in any way you can. It’s also important to have a neutral party who can listen to you nonjudgmentally. Find a good therapist who has experience counseling survivors of abuse. For more information, read Susan Lemere’s personal story on therapy and abuse.
If all of this sounds overwhelming, rest assured that, in the end, the decision to leave will have been worth it, not only for you, but also for your children. Know that there is hope for a life full of love, safety, and happiness.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.