Leaving an abusive relationship can be difficult. This may be due to a person’s underlying love for the individual or the hope that they will change. Even when someone is ready to leave, financial and safety concerns can keep them in an abusive relationship.
Individuals may try to leave multiple times before permanently leaving. It can take an average of seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship. Leaving often requires time, resources, and a plan.
Every relationship is different, and abuse survivors should trust their intuition and their experiences when cultivating a plan to leave. However, abuse can also erode a person’s self-esteem and belief in their own abilities, which may make leaving feel more dangerous or impossible.
Read on to learn more about how to leave an abusive relationship.
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Leaving an abusive relationship begins with developing a plan. A person may wish to start by listing the potential risks of leaving. This can help them develop strategies for dealing with each challenge.
Some common concerns include:
- child safety
- child custody
- financial issues
- physical safety after the relationship ends
Create a safety plan
A safety plan supports individuals in keeping themselves as safe as possible if abuse escalates. It is an emergency plan that empowers a person to leave and get help quickly.
Some tips for building a safety plan include:
- determining a safe place to stay after leaving
- practicing quickly escaping the home
- learning where any weapons are in the home
- preparing an overnight bag that has basics such as diapers, a change of clothes, and cash in case a person needs to exit quickly
- purchasing a backup phone and keeping it in the bag or a hidden location
- telling at least one person about the abuse and developing a code word indicating the need for emergency help
- seeking legal advice about securing a protective order
Make an escape plan
An escape plan is a person’s long-term plan to escape the relationship as safely as possible. The goal of this plan is to identify barriers to leaving, such as financial dependence, and steadily remove them.
For example, an individual can start a savings and credit card account in their name only and specify to the institutions that their partner should not have access to the accounts.
Every escape plan is different. However, the process often begins with seeking expert advice — especially if children or property are involved. A person can consider seeking legal advice from an attorney or a domestic violence advocacy organization about protecting assets and children. Then, they can develop an escape plan that addresses
- financial issues
- child safety
- when and how to tell others about the abuse
- personal safety after leaving
- emergency resources, such as a domestic violence shelter where a person can stay
Help is available
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of domestic violence, call 911 or otherwise seek emergency help. Anyone who needs advice or support can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 via:
- phone, at 800-799-7233
- live chat, at thehotline.org
- text, by texting LOVEIS to 22522
Many other resources are available, including helplines, in-person support, and temporary housing. People can find local resources and others classified by demographics, such as support specifically for People of Color, here:
Privacy is important to personal safety in the lead-up to leaving and afterward.
A person can protect their privacy by:
- changing all passwords
- opening a new email account that the other person does not know about and linking all important accounts to this account
- locking down social media accounts
- not telling anyone about the plan to leave unless they are fully supportive of the decision
- turning off location services on cell phones and leaving them on E-911 only
- running anti-virus and security software on cell phones regularly
Build a safety network
People who engage in abuse
- telling medical professionals about the abuse, which creates a record
- considering starting therapy
- getting support online if in-person support is not possible
- reconnecting with old friends and telling them about the abuse
A person may wish to talk with trusted connections about whether they are willing to help in an emergency, such as by providing a place to stay.
Work toward being independent
Financial dependence often keeps people in abusive relationships. Gaining financial independence can empower a person to leave an abusive relationship. Ideas for finding financial independence include:
- getting a job or taking up freelancing
- stashing cash somewhere whenever possible
- building new skills with the aim of finding employment
Read about the early signs of abusive behavior.
Abusive relationships often cut people off from support. They also erode the person’s self-esteem and sense of self, and may convince them that they deserve the abuse.
Some of the many reasons a person may stay or return include the following:
- They fear losing custody of their children or worry about their children being hurt.
- They fear an escalation of violence if they attempt to leave.
- They are financially dependent on their partner and fear poverty or homelessness.
- They do not have adequate support to leave.
- They hold religious or cultural beliefs that do not support divorce despite abuse.
There are various hotlines and organizations available to help people in abusive relationships.
Hotlines are available to help people find shelters, counseling, and legal support and develop escape and safety plans. Most hotlines are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Some hotlines for people experiencing abuse include:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- The National Domestic Abuse Helpline from Refuge
- Safe Horizon
- Crisis Textline
Support groups and organizations
A number of different organizations can support a person who wants to leave an abusive relationship:
- Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) offers a hotline, as well as advice and support for survivors of sexual violence.
- The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health offers mental health and recovery resources, as well as links to local support groups.
- Domesticshelters.org can help locate local shelters and create escape plans.
Many experts state that therapy with a person engaging in abusive behavior can pose a risk to the person experiencing abuse.
Therapy may help an individual to overcome the lasting effects of abuse. Shelters and domestic violence hotlines can help connect a person with mental health professionals.
Abusive relationships can be challenging to leave. It may take several attempts to leave permanently.
Leaving is possible with the right resources. A person can reach out to trusted friends or family members, healthcare or mental health professionals, or domestic violence hotlines for help and support.
The first step is to create a safety and escape plan before attempting to leave. If a person feels they are in immediate danger, they should call 911 to contact emergency services.