As someone who endured an abusive relationship for four years, I can tell you firsthand that leaving can often be harder than staying. Aside from the logistics you have to consider with a breakup, the love/hate dynamic of a toxic relationship further complicates the situation and hinders your ability to see things clearly. But also speaking as someone who got out of one, it is possible to escape and come out stronger than ever. Though it might be one of the most difficult things you do, you’ll thank yourself in the years to come when you think back on what you went through.
And keep in mind that a relationship doesn’t have to be physically or even verbally abusive in order for it to be considered unhealthy. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, signs of abuse can include any act in which your partner attempts to intimidate you or take control of the relationship. That can include constantly monitoring your texts and calls, showing extreme jealousy when you spend time with others, putting you down, controlling who you see and where you go, etc.
If you’re looking for a way out of your own relationship, see below for guidance.
Give yourself a reality check.
It’s easy to get sucked back in the same vicious cycle of fighting and making up. But know that the longer you stay, the harder it will be to leave. Have an honest conversation with yourself without making any excuses for your partner. Does he or she put you down in any way? Are you unhappy in your relationship? Do you feel unsafe? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you are not in a healthy situation. If you want to leave but your partner won’t let you, reach out for help.
Seek relationship counseling.
Address your concerns with your significant other, and if they’re receptive to what you have to say, suggest seeing a professional. He or she can then serve as a mediator and provide impartial feedback on how both of you can improve your relationship. If your partner returns with anger and stubbornness, you may want to consider reevaluating your relationship. According to relationship expert Dr. Jane Greer, it’s typically a red flag when a partner is unwilling to take any responsibility or refuses to see their wrongdoings. Things will most likely remain the same if both parties aren’t open-minded.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If your partner has turned you against your friends and loved ones over the course of your relationship, don’t lose hope. Despite shutting them out, you never know who’s been waiting for you to reach out. I know for me, it was mainly an issue of pride, but once I realized that I was only hurting myself, I made the decision to accept the extended hand. Ask anyone who’s willing to help for a place to stay while you transition, for moving assistance, or any other ways they can ease the process. And if you don’t have available help, check the nationwide directory of Women’s Shelters for single-mother assistance, transitional housing, and other resources in your state and/or call the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).
Have a bag packed.
In case the need to leave your household becomes more urgent, pack a few essentials into a small bag or backpack. You should include a small amount of cash, a phone charger, a list of contacts, pajamas, and overnight clothes. But do not wait until things get worse. This is only meant to prepare you if leaving ASAP isn’t currently an option.
Have a contingency plan.
You may want to think ahead in case your relationship doesn’t show signs of improvement or worsens. Have a potential new residence lined up, ask a friend or family member if they’d be willing to give you a spare key for times you just need to separate yourself from your partner, etc. It’s always best to be prepared as much as possible so that you feel you have options when and if you want or need them.
Get a restraining order to protect you.
If you’re worried about your safety upon leaving the relationship and/or if your partner is holding you against your will, you have the right to request an Emergency Protective Order (EPO) from the police. An EPO will provide you immediate legal protection from your abuser for up to seven days and can include custody orders if you have children. Only a police officer can obtain an EPO with the approval of a judge (available 24 hours a day) by showing probable cause supported by physical harm, verbal threats, details of a recent incident, fear for your children’s safety, weapons your abuser has access to, and more. An EPO will keep him or her from contacting you in any way until you’re able to obtain a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) from the courts.
Although laws can vary by state, the process of requesting a Domestic Violence Restraining Order typically requires you to visit the court and fill out paperwork detailing why you need protection. According to California Courts, “. . . abuse in domestic violence does not have to be physical. Abuse can be verbal (spoken), emotional, or psychological.” It can also include behaviors like stalking, destroying personal property, disturbing the peace, throwing things, scaring you, and more. Unfortunately, the burden is on you to provide as much proof as possible. If the judge believes that you need protection, you will be granted a TRO of up to 25 days until your court hearing date. At your scheduled hearing, the judge may grant you a “Permanent” Restraining Order for up to five years, which you can then ask to renew at the end of your protective period.
Although it’s often a lengthy and inconvenient process, your safety, mental health, and wellness are priceless. And remember, staying is not your only option.