Women don’t plan to get into an abusive relationship. In fact most don’t realize they are in one until it is too late. For anyone who hasn’t been the victim of a controlling, abusive partner it may be difficult to understand how it’s possible for someone to not recognize the fact that they are being abused. If you are one of these people, simply be grateful and don’t judge. Abusive and controlling men don’t come out swinging on the first date. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In the beginning they are extremely affectionate and rush the woman to get into a committed relationship very quickly. At the time, the woman is probably thinking that he is too good to be true — and he is. It is also important to note that not all abuse is physical; there is also mental, emotional and financial abuse. All of these are broken down into two categories, overt and covert. Overt abuse is exactly how it sounds, it’s obvious and literally in your face. Covert abuse however is not so cut and dry. Covert abuse makes a woman question her judgment, memories and sanity.
Leaving an abusive relationship can be risky because the abuser doesn’t want to lose his “property” and control. The most dangerous time for an abused woman is the time right after she leaves the relationship. However, all hope is not lost; there are support systems in place and safe ways to get out of an abusive relationship.
1. Recognize the Signs
The first step is to recognize the fact that you are in an abusive relationship. Denial is a strong force that can keep us in toxic situations far longer than is safe or necessary. You may feel that your partner is an overbearing jerk, but he’s not that bad. Until you acknowledge the behavior as abusive, you won’t be motivated to take action. Here are a few of the signs:
Controlling: takes charge of the household money; demands to know your whereabouts; threatens to leave or throw you out; forces you to socialize, even if you don’t feel like it; withholds affection or attention; tells you how to dress; makes sure that the one thing you want is exactly what you won’t get
Isolation: causes a riff between you and your family; slowly makes you stop spending time with your friends; all of his friends are now your friends; doesn’t allow you to go places without him; withholds money so you can’t go anywhere
Crazy-making: blames his mistakes on others; is a different person in public than he is at home; changes history (denies saying or doing something that you know he did); tells you you’re too sensitive; has unpredictable mood swings; twists your words and uses them against you
Emotional: disrespectful to you; harms animals or things you love; rolls his eyes at you; humiliates you privately or in public; seems energized by fighting; says things that make you feel good but does things that make you feel bad; treats you like a sex object
Physical: hitting; pushing; blocks you from leaving the room or house; holds you down; forces you to have sex
If you are experiencing these things in your relationship, seek help immediately.
Before preparing to leave your abusive partner, you need to regain some of your power. First of all don’t announce that you are leaving him. It will only make your situation escalate or he will act like the perfect partner for a while until he begins abusing you again. However, you can stop the pattern of: abuse, guilt, excuses, normal behavior, fantasy, set-up then back to abuse. Instead disengage when he tries to bait you into an argument.
3. Secretly Save Money
If your abusive partner controls finances, this can be difficult but not impossible. Get a post office box that any mail from the bank can use to send statements. If you don’t set up a secret account, find a place away from the house to hide your money. A few alternate places are a locker at work, with a trusted friend or a safe deposit box. If you receive your paycheck through direct deposit, have some of it go into a different account.
4. Get Help
Many women stay in abusive relationships because they are too embarrassed to tell their friends and family. If their partner acts like Mr. Perfect when he’s in public, they may feel that no one will believe them. Although your family and friends love you, you may have trouble believing it if you’ve been emotionally beaten down. You can also find help through online sites or local women’s shelters. This is not something you have to go through alone.
5. Get Documentation
This is a two-fold process. You want to get documented proof that you are being abused. If you are getting a divorce or have children it is imperative to prove to the court that your partner is abusive. Take pictures of any physical abuse; save any abusive messages or emails; keep a dated journal; talk to your doctor and call the authorities when he is abusive.
You also want to have copies of all your important documents and keep them safe. Once you leave, he’s not going to politely hand over your tax records, birth certificate and insurance information.
6. Pack a SHTF Bag
You want to have an emergency bag already packed and hidden in case the shit hits the fan and you need to get out in a hurry. Have clothes for you and your children, some but not all of your money, a key to the car and a spare cell phone. If you fear for your life and need to leave the house in a moment’s notice, you want to be prepared.
7. Have a Safe Word
Have a safe word in place with any people involved, including your children, that will let them know if you are ok in the moment or if it’s a “code red” situation.
8. Have a Place to Go
Know where you will be going when you leave. This may seem like an obvious thing, but when you are in the moment it may be difficult to think. You also don’t want to worry people involved in helping you if they find that you’re not at home or if they get a call from your soon-to-be-ex. If you’re planning to stay with a friend or family member, make sure you have a key to their home. If you are leaving during an emergency situation, you’ll need a way to get inside if they aren’t home.
9. Call for Back-up
If all goes according to plan and you have movers reserved to move your things, let the police know ahead of time. They will be there to make sure there isn’t any trouble. If your abusive partner somehow finds out, and shows up to stop you (which is illegal) it will be a good idea to have the police already there.
10. Call a Lock Smith
If you plan to stay in the home and kick out your partner, you will also need to have a rock solid plan in place. Most abused women find it safer and easier to relocate themselves instead of their abusive partner, but it can be done. If you have proper documentation of his ongoing abuse, you should be able to get a restraining order. Once he is out, call a lock smith and have all the locks changed. You may also want to have a security system installed or have the code and password changed on the existing one. Before making this choice, please get all of the professional advice you can pertaining to your specific situation.
12. Get a Restraining Order
Once you have left him, get a restraining order. You want to have documentation in place to be able to have him easily removed when he starts harassing you. Remember that this is not the time to feel relaxed. This is the most dangerous time. If he doesn’t come at you with escalated anger, he will come to you with hearts and flowers. They are equally dangerous. If he doesn’t harm you now he will harm you later if you choose to take him back. So, do what you can to cut all contact with him.
13. Take Time to Heal
Once you get out of an abusive relationship it is time to begin your recovery. Finding a therapist who specializes in domestic violence is always a good idea. You’re broken and will require help putting yourself back together. You may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression. Don’t ignore this very important step. You won’t be completely out from under the abuse if it is still affecting you. You also don’t want to repeat the mistake of getting into a relationship with another abuser in the future. It will take time, but you will heal from your experience.
Making the decision to get out of an abusive relationship is extremely difficult. People must understand that women who are in the situation are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Although the term was first associated with kidnap victims, it also applies to women who are unable to leave abusive men. By changing the perception of the problem, perhaps more women can find the strength to leave and more people will be willing to help. If you are in an abusive relationship or suspect that someone you know may be do everything in your power to get the help you need.