When dealing with a partner who is abusive, it can seem impossible to get out of your relationship. You are constantly walking on eggshells, and almost any incident could detonate World War III. What’s worse is feeling like you can’t end the relationship, because things will escalate, resulting in your partner being destructive. An example of this is when Michael Douglas tried to break things off with Glenn Close in the movie Fatal Attraction, and she stalked him, showed up in places uninvited, killed and boiled his daughter’s pet rabbit, became physically abusive, and physically attacked his family – all because he didn’t want to continue the relationship. The abuse ended when his wife shot her. Many of my clients find themselves in similar situations, where they are unable to set limits or say no to their partner without severe consequences, leaving them hopeless about getting out of the relationship. They ask, “how can I safely get out of this relationship?” Here are 7 tips and suggestions to help you with safely leaving your partner.
1) Acknowledge that you are being abused. If you are in a destructive relationship, it is important to acknowledge that what constitutes abuse. Common quotes like “she slapped me once, but I wouldn’t consider that abuse” or “he just took control of the money I made, and that’s just how it was” are a couple of examples of how people minimize or don’t acknowledge abuse. When abuse is minimized, victims rationalize or dismiss it like this: “it only happened twice, I just got used to it, I thought he did it because he loved me, he was the provider – what could I do?” Still there are others, are just not well informed on different types of abuse, and what constitutes abusive behavior. If you type in the word abuse in Wikipedia, it will list and define several types of abuse.
2) Tell someone that you trust about what is happening. Often, people who are being abused are embarrassed and isolated and may feel like no one can understand or that they shouldn’t be talking about the business that goes on in their home. Reach out to someone to get help and support. If there are no immediate family and friends who are not supportive, then contact a 24-hour crisis line to talk to a counselor trained in abuse. You can also seek out the advice and guidance of a professional therapist for ongoing support. Support groups (including online) provide a safe network of peers and resources.
3) Be wise about who you trust. If you are communicating with people about the abuse, and your plans to leave your partner; be sure to know who you can trust. In other words, you don’t want to confide in people who are going to tell your abusive partner everything which puts you in jeopardy.
4) Be aware of your surroundings and plan for safety. When leaving an abusive partner, this may cause their anger/rage to escalate because they are losing control of the situation and you – which is something they don’t want to do. Because of this, you need to be on high alert for any suspicious occurrences and behaviors, such as stalking, misplaced items in your home, changes in your bank account, attempts to sabotage your relationships with others, strange calls, etc. Pay close attention to everything going on around you. Take as many safety precautions as you can. Examples would be, having security walk you to your car, changing your bank accounts and passwords to electronic devices, changing your routine, checking in with someone to let them know where you are regularly, having items that you can use to protect yourself, or finding a safe place to stay are a few things that you can do.
5) Decrease or stop engaging with your abusive partner. If you have terminated the relationship and have left your abusive partner, it is best to stop engaging with them. If you are in the process of trying to leave, then you may want to decrease your contact with your partner as much as safely possible. Examples include refusing to engage in sexual intimacy, not engaging in arguments, or withdrawing from the relationship emotionally. You want to be able to disconnect your feelings as much as possible, so that you can stay focused on leaving. You cannot have a rational discussion with an irrational person. Having discussions about closure, or trying to remain friends is not a concept that an abusive person can understand; because they are more focused on gaining control.
6) Develop a safe plan for leaving. Safety planning could mean that you may have to leave everything and everyone behind if your life depends on it. Speaking with a counselor, a crisis line, close friends or family, an attorney, the bank (to get your finances in order), or even law enforcement can be instrumental in developing a safety plan for exiting your relationship. Some general safety tips that I recommend are keeping an overnight back packed and ready to go in a safe place (e.g. trunk of your car), keeping cash/social security card/driver’s license/passports and other important legal documents in a safe deposit box, canceling your credit cards (or at least not using them), keeping those that you trust informed about your plan, asking the police to do a civil standby while you get collect your things, utilizing a shelter in a undisclosed city or even in another state if possible, and notifying your job about your abusive situation.
7) Don’t think that you can help your partner change for the better. People don’t change unless they want to change. If your partner wants to change and get help, then they need to do it on their own. Due to the unsafe environment of the relationship; you need to focus on getting yourself out safely, so that you can focus on your own healing.
These are quick tips to help you navigating getting out of relationships which are abusive. While this is not an inclusive list, this will hopefully get you thinking about things that you can do so that you can move on safely. Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions below. If you like this blog, and want more tips and suggestions delivered right to your email, please subscribe to my newsletter!
© Natalie Jones, LPCC, PsyD. | Clinical Psychologist