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While it’s never easy to navigate domestic violence, you have lifelines — and you’re not alone.
Intimate partner or domestic violence is devastating for all involved — whether you’re the person experiencing it or the friend, family member, or loved one of someone who is.
This type of violence is not uncommon and affects people of all ages, races, and genders.
If experiencing domestic violence and you’re considering leaving, a solid plan can be the key to helping you navigate this situation.
If you need to keep yourself safe until you can leave, there are a few ways you can try to diffuse tense moments, such as:
- staying calm
- setting boundaries
- maintaining eye contact
- refusing to emotionally engage
- subtly moving toward an exit, public place, or a third party
- secretly documenting everything that happened, once it’s over
What if I feel physically unsafe?
If things are escalating and you’re afraid for your physical safety, try to leave for a brief walk so your partner can cool down during that time, says Charles DeVine, MD, a psychiatrist in Brandon, Florida.
“Or, try to get to an area of the house where there are no weapons,” he adds. “When abuse occurs, if you can’t escape, get on the ground in a corner, curl up, and cover your face. This makes you a smaller physical target.”
Once the altercation is over, call 911, reach out to a loved one, or find a shelter as soon as possible. If you’re unable to leave yet, it may be time to consider planning your exit.
In some cases, leaving or getting to safety isn’t an option. Here are some other ways you can navigate the situation.
Remember, this isn’t your fault.
“There is nothing that you did wrong that caused this,” says Dr. Sabina Mauro, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in Yardley, Pennsylvania. “You’re not responsible for your partner causing you harm. You did not put yourself in this situation.
“The circumstances of the relationship may have changed from the beginning because of an unhealthy cycle of behaviors as a way to try to keep you locked in the relationship,” Mauro adds.
Learn about domestic violence
Domestic violence is apparent when someone physically attacks you, but there are plenty of ways domestic violence flies beneath the radar, which can make the abuse all the more confusing.
If you’re having a hard time deciding whether your experience is abuse, our screening quiz might help.
You can consider using books that you can hide if your screen activity is monitored.
“There are two books I recommend to people in this situation: ‘Codependent No More‘ by Melody Beattie and ‘Boundaries‘ by Cloud and Townsend,” says DeVine.
Plan for altercations
Until you can leave, try to put systems in place to protect you, like a code word to alert children, family members, or friends about what’s happening.
“Let trusted neighbors know your situation,” says DeVine. “Have signals that alert them to an escalating situation. For example, you can leave the garage door open when you feel you’re in danger.”
If your partner suspects you’re trying to leave, they may become more abusive, says Mauro. To leave safely, you may need to carefully plan an exit strategy.
“Build your support network so that you can use resources when you leave the relationship,” she says.
As soon as possible, try to:
- make a list of “safe” people to talk to
- take photos of your important documents
- slowly remove valuables and belongings
- give a stash of your cash to a loved one
- make preparations for your pets
- enlist the help of a therapist
- review your local options
“You can also contact a local domestic violence shelter to review options,” adds Melissa Zawisza, a licensed clinical social worker in Dallas. “If you need to leave, decide where you can go. Once you’re safe and your basic needs are taken care of, you can focus on healing.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline also has a tool to help you craft a safety plan.
When you reach safety
Once you’re out of harm’s way, try to:
- take photos of any injuries
- take screenshots of text messages
- save voicemails
- call 911 to file a police report
- file a restraining order
Of the approximate 10 million people affected by domestic violence each year in the United States, about
If you do decide to call 911 for help, a police report will be filed.
From there, you can choose to press charges. Depending on where you live and how severe the incident was, the police may press charges, even if you don’t want them to.
If you press charges, the person may be convicted of a misdemeanor or felony charge, and a court date would be set. They may be ordered to pay fines, serve jail time, or participate in an intervention program.
You can learn more about domestic violence and abuse laws in your state by checking out the National Conference of State Legislators page.
If you’re reading this article, you’re already one step closer to healing.
It may be a good idea to:
- continue to gather resources
- learn about domestic violence
- strengthen your community ties
- form a solid exit plan
Domestic violence may feel like the end of the world right now, but there’s always hope for a better tomorrow. You can get through this. One step at a time.
To get support right now, you can try these resources:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Sexual Assault Hotline
- National Dating Abuse Hotline
- Pathways to Safety International
- National Center for Victims of Crime
- Casa de Esperanza (Spanish-speaking hotline)
- National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
- Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
- The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community
- National LGBTQ Task Force