No matter how many times you’ve gone back, you can safely move forward and permanently leave an abusive relationship.
Intimate partner abuse is an extremely common health crisis that impacts people of all genders, races, and ages.
If you’ve recently been in an abusive relationship, trust that you’re not alone and it’s never your fault. You can break the cycle of abuse and leave your partner for good, but it requires extensive safety planning, support, and care.
“It’s not always easy to tell at the beginning of a relationship if a partner will become abusive, as possessive and controlling behaviors may emerge and intensify as a relationship grows,” says Laura’s House clinical director Theresa Black, MA, MFT, ATR.
But there are certain red flags and types of abuse to look out for. Your partner may be abusive if they:
- isolate you from friends and family
- constantly want to know where you are and what you’re doing
- assume control over your finances, plans, etc. without discussion
- rarely take responsibility or admit fault
- manipulate or gaslight you
- exhibit intense feelings and behavior, like obsession and possessiveness
- engage in physical, emotional, or sexual violence
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, it takes an average of seven attempts for a person to finally leave an abusive partner.
“Many times, leaving an abusive relationship is not only emotionally difficult but can also be life threatening,” says One Love’s CEO, Katie Hood.
An older 2000 report by the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that threat of separation (or actual separation) can be linked with an increased risk of violence for the survivor.
Some common reasons for staying in an abusive relationship include the following:
- You feel a sense of bonding with your partner through trauma.
- Your partner won’t let you leave (e.g. they’re controlling or threatening).
- You have safety concerns.
- You have nowhere to go.
- You lack finances or independence (e.g. shared bank accounts or no job).
- You lack knowledge around how to leave.
- You lack support.
- You have feelings of fear, shame, or embarrassment.
- You want to keep your family together for the sake of your children.
- You worry about how your partner may feel or react.
If you’re unsure of how to leave an abusive relationship or worried that you may go back, here are some tips that could help.
Create a safety plan
Establishing safety is important. A safety plan can help you outline actionable steps to reduce risk of harm or danger during the breakup process. A safety plan may include:
- a person to contact for help or shelter
- important items to bring when leaving
- steps to protect children and pets
- steps to increase safety at work, school, church, and stores
- steps to navigate different potential scenarios with the partner
Hood notes that certain factors can make some abusive relationships more dangerous than others. “Every relationship and every situation is unique, as is every breakup, so it’s important to create a plan to end the relationship safely.”
If you need help getting out of an abusive relationship, Black recommends reaching out to your local domestic violence hotline and making a safety plan with an advocate.
“You have options, and there are several steps you can take to protect yourself (or a loved one) on your path to long-term safety,” she adds.
Build a safety network
“To avoid going back to an abusive relationship, surround yourself with a support network of friends and loved ones who are in the loop on why you left,” says Hood.
She also suggests reconnecting with loved ones, friends, and people in your community, especially if you’ve been isolated from them during your relationship.
Remember why you left
“It’s perfectly normal to miss an abusive partner, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right to be with them,” says Hood. “Rather, it means that there was some good in the relationship, but the bad outweighs the good because everyone deserves a healthy, safe, empowering and joyful relationship.”
She recommends writing yourself a note about why you chose to leave the relationship and why you feel it’s important to not go back. Whenever you start to miss them, look back at it as a friendly reminder of why the relationship is unhealthy and reconnection isn’t the best (or safest) idea.
Put yourself first
It’s common to think about how your partner might feel if/when you leave, especially if they’re emotionally abusive. But your feelings matter, too, and it’s important to prioritize your own well-being.
“Remember that leaving an unhealthy relationship is not ‘quitting.’ Rather, it’s a positive decision of choosing a healthier life,” adds Hood. “Bravo for making a hard, but right, choice for yourself.”
“It’s important you focus on your own growth and processing,” says Black, who recommends practicing self-care during this time. “Give yourself kindness and time to heal.”
Trust your gut
Hood reminds you to always trust your gut, because “if something feels off about your relationship or dating situation, it probably is.”
After all, you know your situation better than anyone else. Listen to your intuition and trust your own judgment on the safest time to leave. “You have the strength to leave, but only when you’re ready,” adds Black.
Work toward becoming independent
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Especially if you used to rely on your partner for shelter and finances, finding a safe space to live and a job can jumpstart your path to independence. “Establish financial independence, including your own source of income, savings, and credit,” says Hood.
This may improve your chances of staying away from your partner.
Several resources are available to support you when leaving an abusive relationship.
“Reach out to your local domestic violence hotline, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or [call] 211 to get connected to more information about domestic violence as well as gaining assistance in creating a safety plan,” says Black.
She also recommends asking hotline advocates about:
- case management
- legal advocacy
- other helpful resources
“Case management services can provide you with resources to help you gain independence, such as housing, employment, financial literacy, etc.,” Black adds.
Support groups and organizations
Getting involved in support groups, joining organizations, and connecting with other survivors can offer you comfort and support during this time.
“Many people who find and become involved in One Love because of an unhealthy or abusive relationship report a sense of relief in seeing their situations depicted in our content, strength in educating others, or support in joining our community of volunteers, student leaders, educators, advocates, and staff,” says Hood.
Laura’s House also provides shelter, support services, and non-residential direct services to people affected by abuse in the Southern California area. You can visit www.laurashouse.org or call 866-498-1511 to learn more.
“Legal advocates can also provide education and support in terms of restraining orders and possibly provide legal referrals,” adds Black.
Keep in mind that couples counseling doesn’t work in abusive relationships. But individual therapy can help you strengthen your relationships, set boundaries, and better understand the dynamics of domestic violence, says Black.
A mental health professional can also teach you coping strategies and tips for building healthier relationships.
“It’s important to educate yourself about the common patterns of abuse and the types of abusive behaviors you may have experienced in order to break the cycle of violence,” she says. “Knowledge is power.”
It’s possible for you to leave an abusive relationship for good. Every situation requires different planning, but creating a safety plan, establishing a support network, prioritizing self-care, and becoming independent can help.
“No one ever deserves to experience abuse, and there are many resources available that can help you heal,” reminds Black. Joining support groups, getting involved in organizations, leaning on your loved ones, and starting therapy are great places to start.
“You’re never alone, and your relationship is not a reflection of who you are, your strength, or your worth,” adds Hood.
Remember that you’re worthy and deserving of a love that feels good. You can build happier, healthier relationships if and when you’re ready. In the meantime, focus on your safety and well-being.