Getting out of an abusive relationship can be scary—and dangerous. Here’s how to do it as safely as possible.
If you are thinking of leaving your marriage because your controlling and power-crazed spouse has crossed one too many lines, you are about to begin a path to emotional health and peace for the first time since you hooked your wagon to an abuser.
Domestic abuse takes many forms and is defined by the Department of Justice as a criminal pattern of coercion, power and control of one person over another in a family relationship. It can be physical, emotional, financial, legal—basically any form of threatening behaviors against the victim.
Abusers, according to many experts in this field, learn this behavior as children and rarely change it. In fact, they very often continue the behavior after divorce and against just about anyone who will allow it without consequences or accountability, including their own children.
Divorcing this type of person brings eventual freedom from the fear and chaos, a double life and pain, but it should be done carefully.
Here are my suggestions, based on my own experience and the many years I’ve spent researching this horrible dynamic: (I use the male pronoun for the abuser, though I know that in about 5% of domestic abuse cases, the abuser is a woman.)
- Stop all couples counseling immediately. It will not work and it will provide your abuser with valuable information he can use against you in the future. And do not tell him that you are considering a divorce. This is very important for your safety.
- Seek immediately trauma treatment therapy, preferably with a licensed clinical social worker, trained in domestic abuse.
- Call your local domestic abuse center or the National Hotline for domestic abuse from a safe phone and ask for help.
- If you have children, you should read attorney Barry Goldstein’s work at Stop Abuse Now or contact him for advice through his website.
- Next, you need to find a good, empathic attorney willing to listen to the importance of bringing the domestic abuse history into the case. Do not use an attorney who tells you not to or that because of “No Fault” divorce, it isn’t relevant.
- If your abusers does any of the following acts of violence listed by the Department of Justice, call your therapist, your attorney and the domestic abuse hotline right away. If you fear for your safety or the safety of your children, call 911.
- Tell your family and friends, your employer and your church pastor, everyone, that you are the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of your spouse and that you will be leaving soon and may need their help. I understand why you have been leading a double life and keeping quiet the abuse your have been suffering. I also understand why you have tried to sweep it under the rug for the sake of the children and your own fantasy that it will get better. But, you must find the strength to do this. It is very important.
- You may want to get a restraining order with the advice of your therapist, attorney and domestic abuse center. You need to think of this like dealing with a dangerous illnesses that requires a multi-disciplined approach. Don’t just talk to an attorney, most don’t understand abuse. But, you need to understand the legal aspects, too.
- Then begin to research domestic abuse, co-parenting with an abuser, the state law regarding divorce and custody, your local resources and how to navigate the emotional damage that has been done and will be attempted by your abuser through the divorced process.
Only when you have done your homework and with the help of others do I advise telling your abuser you want out. Of course, if he is beating you, you need to get out now with the kids and everything you can carry, but still do all the steps above after you get out.
There is a lot a stake, and the process isn’t easy. In fact its filled with pitfalls, but it is truly worth it. Getting out of an abusive relationship is the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life. I will always be incredibly sad about it, but I have never regretted doing it. Ever.
Blessings to you if you are reading this and considering making this very scary move. I know you are on shaky ground right now. Maybe even reading this on a secret screen you don’t want your spouse to see. Hang in there. I know you feel alone, but there is a whole army of women out here who have been through this exact thing. Don’t give up. You do deserve a better life.
About the author
Julie Boyd Cole is a mother of two sons, a journalist, writer and business woman. She has written for the Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Yahoo.com, among many publications around the country. Currently, she is the chief executive administrator of a non-profit in North Florida. And Julie is a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband, an NFL sportswriter, and today is an advocate helping other victims sort through the trauma of domestic abuse. Julie also writes for bruisedwoman.com and @bruisedwoman on Twitter about the topic of domestic abuse, co-parenting with an abuser and the emotional damage caused by narcissists and personality disorders.
She can be contacted at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Divorced Moms.