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Coping With An Abusive Relationship

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224

Domestic abuse takes many forms.

There are no “better” or “worse” cases of domestic abuse and domestic violence. If you are victim of domestic abuse, it’s not okay. You may feel terrified; unsure of how to get help, or how to get out of the situation.

Know this: there is help available.

First, understand the Cycle of Domestic Abuse:

  1. Abuse: The abuser lashes out in a power play designed to show the victim who the boss is.
  2. Guilt: The abuser feels guilt, not for what he’s done, but over being caught for his abusive behavior.
  3. Excuses: The abuser rationalizes what he or she has done. The abuser may rationalize what he/she has done by making up excuses or blaming the victim. Anything but take responsibility for his/her actions.
  4. “Normal” Behavior: Abuser tries to regain control of victim to keep victim in relationship. May act like nothing has happened. May turn on the charm. This may make the victim think that the abuser has really changed.
  5. Fantasy/Planning: Abuser fantasizes about next abuse. Spends much time deciding what to punish victim for and how he’ll/she’ll make victim pay. Then he/she makes a plan to turn the abuse into a reality.
  6. Set-up: Abuser sets victim up, puts plan into motion to create a situation to justify abuse.

Help! I’m In An Abusive Relationship:

If you are in an abusive relationship, you may want to downplay the abuse, telling yourself “it’s not so bad,” or “so many other people have it so much worse.” But that’s irrelevant – if you’re being abused even a “little,” it’s too much. Why? Domestic violence often escalates from threats to verbal abuse to physical abuse. And NO ONE deserves to be abused.

Here are some tips for handling domestic abuse.

First, are you being abused? It’s REALLY hard to know what’s abuse and what’s not. Recognizing abuse as abuse is the first step to getting help.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Does Your Partner:

Embarrass you or put you down?

Act in a way that scares you?

Isolate you from your friends and family?

Take your money or refuse to give you money when you ask?

Make all of the decisions for you?

Tell you you’re a crappy parent and threaten to take away your kids?

Prevent you from going to work or school?

Act like hurting you is no big deal?

Stop you from seeing you friends or family?

Intimidate you with guns or knives?

Shove you, hit you or slap you around?

Threaten suicide?

Threaten to kill you or someone you love?

Use your pets and/or farm animals to control, punish, manipulate or exact revenge on you?

If the answer to even ONE question is “yes,” you may be in an abusive relationship.

Call the National Domestic Violence hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY: 1-800-787-3224.

Domestic Abuse/Violence and Safety Planning:

Safety planning is critical for someone involved in an abusive relationship. You can start planning while you’re still in a relationship with your abuser or after the relationship is over. If you’re in a domestically abusive relationship, your safety is VERY important.

Here are some tips for safety plans in an abusive relationship. Following these suggestions does NOT mean you’ll be 100% safe, but it can absolutely help. 

Personal Safety For Domestic Abuse:

  • Be on the lookout for the red-flags that abuser is getting upset and may be ready to strike out in anger and try to come up with a couple reasons to get out of the house. These can be used at any time you’re in immediate danger
  • Identify your partner’s use of force so you can assess the danger to yourself and your children before it occurs.
  • Try to avoid any episodes of abuse by leaving.
  • Identify safe areas of the home where there are no weapons and ways to escape. Try to move to those areas if an argument occurs. Avoid enclosed spaces with no exits. If you can, get to a room with a phone or a window.
  • Don’t run to the location of your children – your partner may hurt them too.
  • Keep a phone accessible at all times if possible. Make sure you know the numbers (local women’s shelter, local police) to call for help.
  • If violence is unavoidable, make yourself a small target: dive into a corner, curl up into a ball, protecting your face with both arms around the side of your head, entwining your fingers.
  • Let friends and trusted neighbors know that you are in an abusive situation and develop a plan and visual signal for when you need their help.
  • Teach children how to go and get help.
  • Make sure your children know to NEVER get in the middle of violence between you and your partner.
  • Develop a code word, gesture, or symbol to use when the children should leave the house or go get help. Teach the code word to EVERYONE you know.
  • Explain that violence – even if it’s committed by someone they love – is not right. Explain that the violence is not their fault and that when someone is violent, it’s important to stay safe.
  • Practice a plan with your children (and yourself) for a safe escape.
  • Plan for what to do if your children tell your partner of the escape plan.
  • Keep weapons like guns and knives locked away and as inaccessible as possible.
  • Make a habit of keeping the car backed into the driveway and full of gas. Keep the driver’s door unlocked.
  • Don’t wear long scarves or jewelry that can be used to strangle you.
  • Call a domestic hotline periodically to assess your options and get a supportive relationship.
  • Find domestic violence shelters in your area and see which will accept your family. Here is a state-by-state list of Domestic Violence Shelters.
  • Find out how to keep your pets safe, too. The Humane Society of the United States maintains a directory of the Safe Havens for Animals™ programs. Additionally, Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T) ™ maintains a directory of shelters equipped to accept families of domestic violence along with their pets and Ahimsa House maintains a directory of off-site housing options for pets.

Getting Ready To Leave Your Abuser:

  • Keep any evidence of abuse – like pictures, emails, texts, or voicemail messages.
  • Keep a journal of all violent incidents, noting dates, threats, and events. Keep it in a safe place your abuser won’t find it.
  • Know where to get help – tell someone what is happening to you.
  • If you’re injured, go to the ER and report the abuse. Make certain they document your visit.
  • Contact a local battered women’s shelter to find out about local laws and resources before you have to leave. Contact a family shelter for men, or for women with children.
  • Plan with your children and identify a safe place for them – a room with a lock, or a friend’s house they can go for help. Reassure them that it is YOUR job to protect them, not theirs to protect you.
  • Try to set some money aside (have friends or family hold it).
  • Start getting together some job skills or take some classes at a local college so you can become self-sufficient.
  • Have pets vaccinated and licensed in your name to establish ownership.

General Guidelines for Leaving An Abusive Relationship:

  • You may ask for a police stand-by or escort while you leave.
  • Ask for help from animal care and control officers or law enforcement if pets need to be retrieved from the abuser. Never reclaim animals alone.
  • If you’re sneaking away, be prepared.
  1. Make a plan for how and where you will escape.
  2. Plan for a quick escape.
  3. Put aside emergency money.
  4. Hide an extra set of keys.
  5. Pack a bag – extra clothes, medications, documents – and store them at a trusted friend or neighbor’s house. Try not to use the homes of next-door neighbors, close family, and mutual friends as your abuser may attempt to follow you there.

Take with you important phone numbers as well as these documents:

  • Driver’s license
  • Regularly-needed medication
  • Credit-cards
  • Pay stubs
  • Checkbooks

If you have time, also take:

  • Passport
  • Titles, deeds, other property information
  • Medical records
  • Children’s school and immunization schedule
  • Insurance information
  • Copy of birth certificates, marriage license, mortgage, and will
  • Verification of social security numbers
  • Welfare identification
  • Pictures, jewelry or other personal possessions.
  • Pet vaccination records, pet license, pet medical records, and other pet documents.

Creating a false trail may be helpful – call motels, real estate agencies, and schools in a town at LEAST six hours from where you plan to relocate. Ask questions that require a call back to the house to leave a record of phone numbers.

After You Leave A Domestically Abusive Relationship:

If you’re getting a restraining order and your abuser is leaving:

  • Be certain to change locks and phone numbers.
  • Change work hours and route taken to work.
  • Change route you take you kids to school.
  • Keep a certified copy of your restraining order with you at all times.
  • Because animals are considered property in all 50 states, include them in temporary restraining orders.
  • Let friends, neighbors and employers know that you have a restraining order in effect.
  • Tell people who take care of your children who is allowed to pick up your children. Explain the situation and provide a restraining order.
  • Give copies of the restraining order to employers, neighbors and friends.
  • Call law enforcement to enforce the restraining order.

Protect Your Privacy:

Computer Safety:

  • You are safest on a computer outside your home.
  • Be cautious on email, text, messenger, or on social media if you are seeking help for domestic violence that way. Your abuser may be able to access your account.
  • Change usernames and passwords for all accounts. Even if you believe that your abuser doesn’t have access to them, there are keylogging programs that can easily determine that information.

Phone Safety:

  • Get caller ID and ask the phone company to block so that no one will be able to see your phone number when you call.
  • Use corded phones rather than cordless telephones. Corded phones are harder to tap.
  • Use a prepaid phone card or call collect so that the charges don’t appear on your phone bill.
  • Check your cell phone settings as there are many technologies that your abuser can use to listen in on your calls or track your location, even if you do not answer the phone.
  • Get your own cell phone that your abuser doesn’t know about.

Safety After You’ve Left:

  • Get an unlisted phone number.
  • Use a PO Box rather than home address or use the address of a friend.
  • Be careful of giving out your new address.
  • Apply for state’s address confidentiality program (it will confidentially forward all mail to your home).
  • Cancel all old bank accounts and credit cards. When you open new accounts, use a new bank.
  • Be aware that addresses are on restraining orders and police reports.
  • You may want to get a restraining order, BUT DO NOT FEEL FALSELY COMFORTED BY ONE. Not all states enforce restraining orders. Contact your state’s Domestic Violence Coalition for more information about the legalities of restraining orders.
  • Replace wooden doors with steel or metal doors.
  • If possible, install a security system.
  • Consider changing your child’s school.
  • Alert school authorities of the situation.

Last edit 6/2018 BSH