How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship

Woman divorcing and taking off wedding band


Knowing the Safest Way to Leave

Several factors can make it difficult to leave an abusive relationship, including financial limitations, pregnancy, shared children and feeling that your abuser needs you. Choosing to end this kind of relationship is one of the toughest decisions you can make―and one of the best. However, you should take care to depart from the relationship as safely as possible.

Types of Relationship Abuse

It's important to know how to recognize what you're experiencing as abuse. Abuse can take many forms; a few of the major types include:

  • Physical abuse: Your partner commits violent acts, such as pushing, pinching, biting, slapping, beating, kicking or choking. He might back you into a corner, pin you down, throw things or pull your hair. Physical abuse could also include locking you outside, leaving you in dangerous places, keeping you from eating or sleeping, or refusing to help you when you're sick, injured or pregnant.
  • Verbal abuse: Your partner can display abusive behavior without being physically violent. Verbal abuse includes degradation, name calling, yelling, insulting, humiliation, blame and questioning your sanity.
  • Emotional abuse: Some victims of emotional abuse don't recognize what's happening to them, so it's important to know the signs. You might be experiencing emotional abuse if you feel as if there's something wrong with your relationship, but you're not sure what. Or, you feel as though your partner controls your life, or your partner accuses you of cheating or becomes angry and jealous often. On the other hand, maybe he says that no one else would want you, and you're lucky to have him. Alternatively, perhaps your partner insists on having sex to make up for arguments.

Signs You're Ready to Leave

Perhaps you've been toying with the idea of ending your abusive relationship for a while, but you're just not sure if you're ready yet. That's perfectly valid, but a few milestones in your own behavior often signify your readiness to escape the relationship. Keep an eye out for the following:

  • Taking better care of yourself―paying closer attention to your health and happiness.
  • Planning for a future that doesn't include your abuser.
  • Accepting that your abuser doesn't need you.
  • Prioritizing your emotional well-being over that of the other person.

Any time is an acceptable time to escape an abusive relationship, but if you've noticed yourself moving toward one or more of these milestones, consider the possibility that you're probably ready to take that step.

When You're Strapped for Money

It's common in abusive relationships for the abuser to take control of your finances, which means you might lack the financial resources to get out of the situation by yourself. If you've found yourself in this situation, you still have some ways to get out of it, even if you have no money of your own.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline runs 24 hours a day, and its operators can help you find a place at the nearest women's shelter. You won't have to pay anything to stay at a domestic violence shelter, and many shelters can help you pay for transportation to the shelter, as well. Once you arrive at the shelter, you can expect to receive free basic toiletries, as well as food and, in some places, child care. The shelter can then help you find counseling and other support resources, job training and placement, legal help, financial aid, and long-term housing.

When You Share Children

If you and your abuser have children together, it can make the decision to leave just that much harder―and that much more necessary as well. Part of you might feel obligated to stay because your children need their father. On the other hand, if your abuser is a threat to you, he's a potential threat to your children, as well, and it's important to remove them from the dangerous situation.

The best place to start is with a safety plan. Arrange a secure place for your children to escape to, and make plans with them so they know when and where to go, and how to get help. Have your kids memorize important phone numbers. Make sure they know it's their job to stay safe, not to protect you, and that the abuse isn't their fault. Emphasize that violence is never the answer.

Once you and your children are in your safe space, get in touch with a legal advocate or attorney who can help walk you through the process of getting a protection order while you work to obtain custody.